Recently, the parent of one of my kiddo’s friends greeted me in the school playground with a gigantic chocolate cake. I’d shared that I was rubbish at baking, and she’d shared how it was one of her favourite things to do. The gift was such a delicious expression of friendship, and I’ve been smiling whenever I think of it, how these little acts of connection grow when we nurture them.
I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to receive something with no expectation of reciprocity. And how we can build cultures of trust and generosity that usurp those cynical voices that accuse us of being “too nice”, that warn us that we’ll be “walked all over”, that teach us to be mistrustful of people we don’t yet know well.
When I think of the early days of the pandemic and lockdown here in Scotland it’s not the fraughtness, fear, and uncertainty that come first to mind… but the small acts of care that I witnessed everywhere. Notices of offers to help neighbours, pinned to tenement stairwells. The green thumbs-up signs that appeared in windows of certain streets.
As we entered the first lockdown, I felt really connected to the knowledge that this pandemic - whatever happened next - would not affect everyone equally. I thought of the people whose stories filled the pages of the recent book I’d edited; of the multitudes of people for whom home was not a sanctuary; of the people who were already vulnerable and isolated. And I know there were plenty of others who felt that, too: that it wasn’t, “We’re all in this together” so much as, “Who is the person at risk of being forgotten here.”
Amidst the loud birdsong in my suddenly-empty neighbourhood, it felt like a quiet network of solidarity was being woven in the ether, through tiny acts and generous offerings.
Even as I write, the specifics of the acts of generosity are fading in my memory, but I know that they happened, and I know that they gave me hope and comfort and purpose during that time.
I know that each act felt bigger than the sum of its parts, that it tapped into something fundamental to my sense of place in the world. Something that felt closer to the relationships I truly needed than the relationships I’d come to expect. Something I wanted more of.
Something that traversed the lines we’d been taught to etch between ourself and a stranger, ourself and a neighbour, ourself and a friend, ourself and an acquaintance.
I’ve been working hard in my own life to preserve, sustain and create more of those moments of connection.
And - because I’ve been doing so much reflecting on the people and places who help me to feel valued, nourished and part of something bigger – I thought it might be fun to share some of those moments of generosity I’ve experienced over the past few years. Some might surprise you, others might seem obvious or even unremarkable. But each act had a pretty profound ripple effect.
In real time, as they’re happening, these moments can feel ephemeral, random, or small… but when we gather them all up and hold them to the light, we start to see how they can change the texture of our days, our relationships, our conversations, our lives.
Here are just some of the acts of generosity I can call to mind, that I’ve received, given, or witnessed:
- leaving plant cuttings on the doorstep, after someone’s expressed an interest in growing
- traveling 30 miles with a bike that their kiddo had outgrown, to a kid who could use it now
- giving access to an online gaming account
- ordering a doorstep delivery of groceries, including both essentials and the kind of treats the recipient would never have bought for themselves
- sitting with someone to complete a challenging form that would change their life
- creating a scrapbook for someone going through a tough time – full of all the reasons why that person is great, gathering together notes from people in their lives, and presenting it to the recipient
- putting money in someone’s bank account, for a takeaway after a tough week
- correcting someone’s misuse of a singer’s pronouns
- creating a drawing on a postcard and giving it to the barista in a café, just to make their day
- offering a lift
- donating unused library notecards to a book-lending project
- arranging a singing session on the street corner in the neighbourhood, to loudly express solidarity during June and July 2020
- sending the link to a playlist
- buying someone’s favourite chocolate bar from the shops and leaving it as a surprise, because they were crying earlier and you wanted to show you cared
I could go on and on.
What did these acts of generosity have in common?
- They traversed the norms of existing relationships and opened up a new level of vulnerability that hadn’t previously been present. They leap-frogged over the fear of rejection or weirdness.
- They were a specific sharing of knowledge, skills and resources, an expression of the most useful things to share in that particular moment.
- They were authentic and given without an expectation of reciprocity
- They showed something with a gesture that couldn’t yet be articulated in words
- They showed the value of intentional presence, even when we don’t know what to say
- They met the recipient exactly where they were, and valued their needs and their lived experience, without judgement.
Did this post make you curious about all those moments in your own life?
I invite you to grab a piece of paper or start a new voice note… can you recall all the moments over the past week that have felt like moments of generosity that you want more of? How about over the past month? The past year? Are there any common threads amongst the moments? Does the same person occur time and again? Are there certain places where these moments often happen?
What can you do to intentionally create more acts of generosity in your own life?
And if you’re ready to dive deeper, book your Connection Call. Let's talk.