Can large acts of generosity be harmful? Yes, they can.
Consider the potlatch, a ceremonial event in the lives of certain Pacific Northwest indigenous tribes. According to the history of potlatch, large acts of generosity were used to signal wealth and high social status in the tribe. Taken to extremes, hosts of potlatch events sometimes ritually destroyed valuable objects as a signal of power and wealth. When generosity is used for social posturing, the resulting sense of obligation can be harmful for giver and receiver alike.
In a previous post, I discussed the radical and potentially revolutionary nature of developing a practice of mindful generosity. It comes with some pitfalls of course.
One way to stay out of trouble as a generous person is very simple: intentionally keep your acts of generosity small. By doing this, you avoid creating discomfort on the part of the receiver, signaling real consideration for the person who is receiving what amounts to a small gift. Small acts of generosity amount to an invitation, from the giver to the receiver, to be in relationship.
The practice of “gifting small” sidesteps the difficult feelings of obligation that are often associated with large gifts.
Small acts of generosity are useful for creating a new and far more interesting world than the one current one– the one dominated by contract and economic exchange.
What might be called microgenerosity — the art of engaging in small and frequent acts of interpersonal generosity– is an interesting idea to play with.
Small acts of generosity can make your world a place where interpersonal relationships– rather than impersonal transactions– are the new normal.
The potlatch (link)
“…In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished.”
Generosity Gone Bad (link)
“…Knowing the signs of the wrong kind of generosity can help you spot them, in others or even in yourself, in advance.”
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