Generosity Is How Love Smiles

Martin Buber and the Xmas/Holiday Spirit

Posted Dec 23, 2011

generosity creates healing

generosity makes love shine

Researchers from the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women.

They found what they describe as generosity ranks in the top three as a predictor of marital happiness along with sexual intimacy and commitment.

Studying generosity in relationships couldn't be timelier or more central to helping couples develop more loving relationships. But what does generosity in a relationship mean? How do we distinguish between when a partner is extending themselves generously as opposed to over-extending themselves and possibly being taken advantage of or stoking their own feelings of resentment?

And what does that have to do with Martin Buber and the Christmas spirit?

Is there anything that can be stuffed in a Xmas stocking or beneath a Hanukah bush that will increase trust, healing and love?

genrosity is how love smiles

the smile of generosity

In order to determine whether a partner demonstrates real generosity - the above average kind - a quiz was administered to marital partners. Sample questions include these four items: How often do you express (1) Affection or love? (2) Respect or admiration? (3) How often do you perform small acts of kindness for your partner (like making him or her coffee)? (4) How often do you forgive your partner for their mistakes or failings?

Participants in the quiz were asked to respond to these questions on a continuum. Choices ranged from ‘Never' to ‘Seldom' to ‘Sometimes' to ‘Often' to ‘Always.'

The test was scored this way -- a partner who responded that they often express love or affection and respect or admiration, often perform small acts of kindness, often forgive their partner for mistakes and failings would NOT be considered an above average or genuinely generous partner.

Does that surprise you? It astounds me. It calls into question the way generosity is being defined in the study.

A consistency of kindness that shows no variance whatsoever raises concerns as to whether it is genuinely heartfelt as opposed to rote or learned behavior - role-playing.

Is it humanly possible to be generous, according to this test's standards, without qualifying for canonization?

And is that the kind of generosity, unstinting giving, that we are most wanting to underscore and study?

Let's explore the concept of generosity further.

Is generosity like some form of confetti that you have at the ready on all occasions regardless of what is going on? Isn't it connected and responsive to the atmosphere and activities in your relationship?

Is a person - someone who always and unfailingly does the loving thing - available for contact when issues require acknowledgement and/or acceptance of the grit and gristle of everyday difficulties in living?

I and Thou: the meeting of minds

Martin Buber differentiates two modes of relationship. One is intimate, a meeting of minds. In this type of connection, he termed it an ‘I-Thou' bond, participants are indeed generous with their sense of mutual acknowledgement and attention. In the second, the more common mode - termed ‘I-It' - people engage each other for utilitarian, impersonal purposes.
If the language suits you, consider the I-Thou mode sacred, loving, deeply personal and profoundly generous.

The ‘I-It', business-like mode, has little to do with generosity of spirit but may include kind gestures. The intention to grasp another's inner experience is not involved in the ‘I-It' mode. This is what I missed from the research-based exploration of the concept of generosity done at the University of Virginia.

You make coffee for your partner day and in and day out. What can make the difference between this being a comforting ritual as opposed to a mechanical routine?

Perhaps if you discuss how you and/or your partner feel about the regimen it would make a difference? What is their attitude? Do they take your kindness for granted? Does it warm their heart? Whether they actually do take you for granted or not, do you feel appreciated? Do they reciprocate? Not necessarily in a quid pro quo fashion but with a spirit of generosity in return.

Kindness rendered without feeling or even awareness does not necessarily develop intimacy or healing.

Discussion that brings back a sense of awareness can refresh a spirit of generosity if it is there. Discussion can develop this spirit if it is missing.

If you are the person who prepares the coffee - and you can substitute any act of kindness for the making of coffee to make this conversation relevant to you - do you long for reciprocity? For acknowledgement? Appreciation? Do you wish your partner would prepare the coffee for you occasionally?

Perhaps you would be performing an act of generosity to yourself if you initiated a dialogue with your partner on any regular exchange that you feel is taken for granted? That's another dimension of generosity - giving to your own self - that also figures into the overall topic.

Care to share your thoughts about generosity with me? That would make me feel gifted! I'd consider you generous for taking the time to do so. We may even have a meeting of the minds - I promise to respond - and create an I-Thou moment.

xmas cookies

Happy Holiday and Best Wishes for the New Year!

Remember, love and good feelings are plentiful yet elusive; I'll be around to help you locate and develop them in the Middle Ground.