D is for Definition
Before we get too far in examining what the MELT acronym stands for, perhaps it is a good time to ask what we mean by generosity.
The dictionary says that generosity is “liberality in giving” and “marked by abundance”. We say that a large or expensive gift is generous and that its giver is also generous. We sometimes refer to a person who has a “generous spirit”. When we are referring to the gift and the giver, I think generosity is a relative term. It must be weighed in proportion to the giver’s ability to give.
“Of all the varieties of virtue, liberality is the most beloved.”
A number of years ago Kenneth Thomson, then Canada’s richest man, donated $25 million in paintings from his personal collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The morning host on CBC radio was gushing over this very generous gift, until the traffic guy pointed out that $25 million was about 1% of Ken Thomson’s net worth. It would be the same as one of us making a $1,000 gift. Don’t get me wrong, a $1,000 gift to a charity is nothing to be sneezed at, but if you or I give $1,000 to our church we’re not going to make the morning news.
Generosity may also have something to do with the beneficiary of the gift. Some time ago I came across this analysis:
- The first level is generosity to oneself. This is usually the easiest kind of generosity to practise.
- The second level is generosity to our family members, loved ones and friends. Most of us can get to level two without difficulty.
- Level three is generosity to our neighbours, people who aren’t family but who are part of our community. You will remember that Jesus addressed one of his parables to the question “Who is my neighbour?”
- The highest level of generosity finds expression in the way we treat strangers. “Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.” When we have compassion for the suffering of people we will never meet, then and only then can we be our most generous selves.
I once heard a speaker at a conference say “Generosity is looking in the face of the other and seeing God.” Generosity is intimately connected with our faith in God, our sense of compassion and our commitment to social justice.
What does generosity mean to you?