Generosity: Does it Equal Gullibility?

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice

Medium Generosity. Giving things away for free. Giving of yourself without the expectation of a return. Is generosity a powerful way to live and work? Or does generosity equal gullibility, creating the risk that we will be taken advantage of? Taking a look at some of the examples of generosity creates the opportunity to see for ourselves.
Example 1. Ted Talks. Ted talks offer amazing wisdom and perspective presented by inspiring people. The Ted community is designed to spread knowledge. And that it does, generously. When you go to the Ted web page, you can not only watch a talk for free; you can even download it to share with others. Powerful or gullible? All I can say is that the Ted talk I watched this morning, Simon Sinek's How Great Leaders Inspire Action has been viewed by over 20 million people. It has an impact for me when I listen to his message; it's powerful. But does it detract from Sinek that I am getting his wisdom for free? My educated guess is that it also has a positive impact for him--more people know him, read and recommend his books, ask him to speak, spark his continued thinking, etc. Giving his talk away for free isn't putting others ahead of himself; it is a Both/And. It's good for him, and it's good for us.
Example 2:  Paying It Forward. Catherine Ryan Hyde's book and the 2001 movie Pay it Forward as well as Belinda Munoz, and others have championed the concept of paying it forward---doing small things that make a difference to others and have a positive ripple in the world. These acts of kindness range from paying a toll for the car behind you at a toll booth to complimenting a stranger or picking up a pen for someone who has dropped it. As Munoz describes, the act of giving is joyful, and broadens our perspective by turning the focus away from ourselves and towards the other. "No biggie", you could say, yet when you engage in those small positive actions you'll discover that paying it forward energizes you, creates optimism and positivity in your day, and just possibly makes it a better, safer, kinder world for all of us. Not a bad return on a small investment of time and effort.
"Okay", you might say, those are two examples but what about the times that people DO take advantage of your generosity? Isn't it gullibility when you pay for a friend's meal every single time you have lunch together, or when a colleague takes the PowerPoint deck for your presentation, tweaks it slightly, and uses it as his own? Yes, those are situations to notice and recognize that you no longer feel good giving freely to this person because your generosity is being taken advantage of. Their response to your giving is detracting from your well being. Yet notice that these situations too offer something to you----an opportunity to learn to set healthy boundaries, or say "No" effectively. Those skills can make you a better leader and a better parent, partner, and friend. It may hurt a little more than the feel good examples noted earlier, yet still offer significant value in return for your investment.
For me, another key factor that makes me bet on generosity is the cost of not putting my bets there. When I view the world with skepticism, cynicism, and through the lens of needing to protect myself, it has a tremendous cost for me. I have less joy, less energy, and less creativity. When I trust instead that basically people are good, and will respond to our generosity with their own positive intentions, I am freer to bring the best of who I am each day. By not holding anything back, I leave nothing on the table. I choose generosity.
Coaching questions:
What are the small decisions you can make today that create a positive difference for others, and for you?
What are the places in your life where generosity seems to be backfiring for you? What skills do you want to develop and what actions do you want to take to change those situations? (Recommendation: Two books that can help are William Ury's Power of a Positive No and David Emerald's The Power of TED*. Fascinating that they both have the word "power" in their titles!)

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?

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