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Posts Tagged ‘generosity’

Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, wrote an interesting article about “over giving”that has got me rethinking generosity.  You can read it–it’s a fast and easy read–but the main point is that she has caused rifts in her relationships with her generosity.  In paying off her friends’ credit card bills, she neglected their dignity.

She puts it this way:

Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.

I’m thinking about how when Jesus tells us to be generous, it’s in the context of a relationship with another person.  Somebody asks to borrow your coat, you give them your coat.  Somebody asks you to borrow money, you say, here, no need to pay me back.

I think the key here is that a person is asking for these things.  They are already humbled, in a way, and so you don’t have to worry about their dignity, or interrupting the pace of their own work/goal achieving. Someone asks you for help, then you really help them.

The main point Jesus makes (again and again, and its a point Paul likes to reiterate in his letters) is that we “put others before ourselves.”   That means we treat them the way we want to be treated.  I am not sure it’s Christ-like to make people feel like they owe us something, or to empower ourselves through our giving.  It seems like true generosity takes something much more involved–it takes a relationship with that person, trust.  Someone trusts us so much, trusts our generosity, that they ask us for something, for our help in meeting some need.

I know this is tricky, and I’m still thinking it through.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

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Today I dealt with a tough teaching situation.  I have a student performing poorly, as in, neglecting to do his work. Even so, I can tell he’s smart and from the little writing of his I’ve seen this semester, he already has a command over language on the page. He wasn’t turning anything in but he still came to class. This surprised me.  He was also quite active in class. This surprised me, too.

About six weeks ago, I confronted him about the work he hadn’t turned in and he told me that he’s going to try to catch up, but he’s been hit with some major family problems.  This is a common excuse, I know, but something in his tone made me trust him.  Just try and believe me when I say I could tell something serious was going on.  I told him he can start working now and catch up and he said he would.

He kept coming to class but his performance didn’t change, so today I conferenced with him and showed him the rubric and what he’d need to do in three short weeks in order to pass (that is, get a C, since our department sees D as standing for Do-over in this particular course).  Again, he said he was going to pull it together before the end of the semester.  I don’t know if he will.

My thoughts were angry as I prepared to meet with him but when he sat across from me at the table in the coffee shop where I held conferences (and office hours, since my office is in a scary basement that I don’t want my students to know exists), I realized that I was really rooting for him.  I really wanted him to succeed.

What I realized was that in my personal pedagogy, it’s important that I stay on the side of the student, especially when that student seems to have the world against him.  Everybody else might dismiss him, but I won’t.  It’s perhaps too generous of an approach, and I do have my hesitancies, but it feels like the right perspective.

We have that saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  I see that statement as also a call to responsibility.  Whatever the case may be, my job as a teacher is to be leading my students to water.  I think this is my job as a human being, too.  It’s about trying to live life with a generous spirit (some people call it “benefit of the doubt”).  It’s really tempting to pit myself against people and lead them to the desert because they’ve pissed me off, but especially in the case of teaching, I can’t take behavior too personally. I want to just assume that everyone, in one way or another, is thirsty.

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