True generosity extends far beyond the money
When you hear the word "generosity," what comes to mind?
Celebrities, maybe? Like Taylor Swift, who was recently named the most charitable celebrity for giving $4 million (of the $57 million she earned in 2012) to the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with other donations.
I can't say if Taylor's giving requires any sacrifice on her part - doing without a new outfit, a new hairstyle or a vacation. But I would say that true generosity is not just about giving money.
Let me tell you about another musician whose life exemplifies what I consider the truest form of generosity: Giving up something that would make our life more comfortable in order to bless the lives of others. He lived in Detroit, raising his young daughters as a single dad and blue-collar worker. At night, he played in clubs where a recording company invited him to make an album. In the '70s he sold about six copies in the USA. By all accounts, his music career was a failure.
But wait. Cross the ocean to South Africa, where someone made a bootleg copy of his music. During the years of Apartheid, it sold millions. Everyone knew him as "Sugar Man," everyone sang his lyrics, but rumors circulated that he had killed himself.
One fan decided to find out. After years of searching, he discovered Regan Rodriguez still working construction in Detroit and brought him to South Africa. Rodriguez played sold-out crowds of 20,000 or more in several cities. He came home with fans, fame and funds. But he returned to his inner-city home, back to his job tearing out wet carpet and rotting drywall, and he gave what he had to help others. You can watch the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" for more about this remarkably generous man.
We are fortunate to live in a place where generous people walk the streets around us and live in the house next door. What makes a person choose to be generous? I believe all of humankind is selfish by nature, instinctively looking first to our own needs. But forces and examples in the world can help us overcome our selfish nature.
For my family, going to church provides constant reminders of the value of living generously. We learn about Jesus Christ, who lived humbly without comforts or worldly praise and spent his days to love, teach and heal. He ultimately gave his life so ours could be washed clean from our mistakes. We hear that a Christ-like life of generosity brings greater fulfillment in our own lives, but we have to test the theory for ourselves.
My daughter is a great example to our family, giving of her free time to tutor a classmate this school year. Last month, I saw her school counselor at a track meet. He said to me, "Because of your daughter, that student will graduate from high school."
Another example is a 19-year-old family friend who shares freely the musical talent he has spent countless hours to develop. Last month, I mentioned wanting to combine two songs into a vocal arrangement for a church performance. He came over a few days later, having written the entire accompaniment complete with key changes and transitions.
"As I drive through Liberty Lake, I count five flag poles installed by scouts who could have been playing Frisbee or watching a movie with friends instead. ... They have been taught, and have tested, the theory of generosity. They've made it a part of who they are."
Think of the Boy Scouts of America with its slogan, "Do a good turn daily." On a grand and granular scale, millions of boys are taught to show generosity by sacrificing their own time to help others. Knocking at doors every November, they gather thousands of canned goods to feed local families. As I drive through Liberty Lake, I count five flag poles installed by scouts who could have been playing Frisbee or watching a movie with friends instead. At neighborhood schools, I see them digging dirt, hauling sand and pouring concrete to improve athletic facilities. These are boys we know will open the door for us or help load our car without being asked, because they have been taught, and have tested, the theory of generosity. They've made it a part of who they are.
Shaun Lorraine Brown is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a mother of five children. Her three sons are members of the Boy Scouts of America, and her two daughters have often become honorary scouts on Scouting for Food Saturday and many Eagle service projects. Her husband, Nathan, and son, Kyle, served two years as missionaries in France, and her son, Drew, is serving a two-year stint as a missionary to the people of Taiwan. Brown wrote this column as part of a monthly series highlighting the Partners Advancing Character Education (PACE) character trait of the month that appears in The Splash and other PACE partner publications. The trait for July is generosity.