Civility and Generosity
Civility and generosity go hand-in-hand. That’s because they both grow out of the same thing: gratitude. The “9th Commandment” of sound character requires we treat others with civility and generosity. But it’s hard to heed this command if we haven’t already embraced the others. Only the humble heart that recognizes its inherent indebtedness can be truly grateful. And only the grateful heart that recognizes the abundance it enjoys can be generous.
Gratitude begins when we move outside of ourselves and take in the bigger picture. (See: Outgrowing Natural Egocentricity.) And it grows as we more deeply realize our inherent indebtedness. (See: Humble Gratitude Inspires Indebtedness.) It all starts with appreciating the unearned gift of life. And it culminates in the awe we necessarily experience when we finally perceive the magnificence of it all.
A grateful heart can’t help but be a generous one. That’s why civility and generosity are truly inseparable. It’s easy to be stingy when you believe you don’t have enough already. And its easier to be uncivil when you feel threatened or insecure. A trusting, confident heart finds it easier to be generous. So, the more faith you have, the easier it is to give. (See: The Judas Syndrome.)
The Golden Rule
We’ve long heard it said that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. But most of us regard this “golden rule” as a noble ideal but totally impractical guideline. So, we instead live by the principle of doing to others as we have judged that they deserve. And that, in a nutshell, is why our world is so full of conflict.
Treating others with civility and generosity doesn’t mean tolerating mistreatment. In fact, this “commandment” applies just as much to ourselves as it does to others. We must do well by ourselves, and generously so. And sometimes that means enforcing some strict limits and boundaries. But we don’t have to behave in the manner we feel we may have been mistreated. That’s not good for us, individually. And it only deepens the divides between us, collectively.
Being the Change
All the great prophets and humanitarian leaders have said essentially the same thing. We must be the change we want to see in others. We must do the very things we want to see done by others. And we must act in the manner we would like others to act. Civility and generosity will dominate our relations when it is modeled by enough people. But as has been true for most of history, this takes much courage. And it takes real faith.
The humble, indebted, and grateful heart relates to others lovingly and freely. It expects nothing because it feels owed nothing. And it gives generously because it’s not expecting anything in return. In the end, loving (if it’s true and healthy love) is its own reward. It is life and it brings life. That’s why so many sages have commanded us to do it. It’s simple, really. But in this broken, faith-damping world of ours, it’s sadly so hard to do.