Reflecting on the “9th Commandment”
The 9th Commandment of character development exhorts us to treat others with civility and generosity. And to be of generous spirit, we have to appreciate the value of life. I’ve been talking about the importance of being civil. But now it’s time to give some attention to how important it is to be generous in our dealings with others.
Life Is a Precious Gift Needing Nurturing
Even before the last threat of frost faded last last winter, I noticed the neighborhood turning that beautiful spring green color. But the cold weather left one unwanted souvenir: a new crack in my driveway. As I want to inspect it more closely, I saw a single blade of grass poking its head through. In many ways, life is tenacious, irrepressible. But it’s also fragile, needing just the right nurturing conditions.
A growing blade of grass is very different from a growing, developing person. We can plant grass seed and walk away. You can’t do that with a human baby. Humans require much more than an occasionally watchful eye just to survive. And more than all the other creatures, we need other caring humans to nurture, teach, guide, and defend us.
Babies will die without tender loving care. And children will not develop proper character without the guidance, discipline, and nurturing only civil and generous caregivers and other mentors can provide. Without caring guides to civilize us and help us develop a healthy sense of self, we remain brute animals who only could have been so much more.
Civility and Generosity Go Together
To be fully and authentically human, we must behave with not only civility but also generosity. Civility and generosity go hand-in-hand. Life is a gift – a precious, unmerited miracle. And only when we recognize what a profound gift we’ve been given can we respond with humility. Humility is what prompts us to treat others as we want to be treated. It’s also what compels us to generously pass along the gifts we have received.
True generosity is going beyond what is merely required by humble appreciation. It’s the unselfish act of giving our time, treasure, and most importantly, presence. Some think the more you have, the more generous you can afford to be. But generosity is not merely the philanthropy rich people bestow on the less fortunate. And it involves more than just giving money or material things. True generosity is generosity of spirit. It’s unselfishness that can border on self-sacrifice. It can be as simple as a kind word to an overburdened store clerk. Or it can be as humble as offering cold water to a thirsty stranger or a visit to an aged parent. Yes, it can mean giving money to those in need. But it’s really more about the spirit (and character) of the giver than the need of the recipient.
Next week I’ll be talking about why civility and generosity are so lacking in the disturbed characters of our times.
I’ll be concluding the discussion on the “9th Commandment” over the next couple of weeks. Then, we’ll move on to a discussion of commandment number 10.
Read more about the 10 Commandments of Character in my book Character Disturbance. And look for The 10 Commandments of Character: How to Build a Significant Life this spring.