I just read a book co-authored by John McKnight called Abundant Community. Community developers will probably be familiar with his work. I loved his description of generosity and I share the excerpt with you here.

Generosity goes beyond kindness. It is the alternative to the world of barter. Generosity is to make an offer for its own sake, not is exchange value. Generosity comes from the Latin generosus, which means “of noble birth.” It conveys a sense of the bountiful, lavish, copious, and abundant. Generosity clearly has its roots outside the market, not explained by barter or one to one exchange.

As we have stated too many times, systems and the marketplace are based on a context of scarcity. Generosity emerges from the ground of abundance. Systems treat generosity as naïve. The system or consumer world counterfeits generosity by offering something as a bargain, a sale, a good deal, a loss leader. It is like the cartoon of a father standing outside his store that has a large “going out of business” sign, saying to his child, “Someday, my child, this business will be yours.”

In the system world of philanthropy, generosity is sometimes called “charity,” which is really an unstable and false generosity because it is oriented around the needs and deficiencies of just one party in the transaction. Charity is demeaning in this way. As if you need me, and you have nothing but gratitude to offer in return. Charity says, “You have not earned this; I am giving it to you because you have so few gifts.”

A context of scarcity makes generosity and artificial act. It can be called currying favor. You go to an elder in a culture of generosity, and it is considered respectful. You go to a supervisor in business, and they think you must want something. Generosity is viewed in a context of scarcity as self-serving. Here we consider it community -serving. Community competence depends on generosity. It creates a context for generosity. – John McKnight & Peter Block

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