Why should I be generous?
January 25, 2008 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Why should I be generous?

Tell me the benefits of becoming a generous person.

I have seen too many generous people being taken advantage of , by insecured people who don't want to help or save themselves , or by people who have a bloated sense of entitlement.

So as a rule I don't donate money .

I am more ready to donate my time if I can help someone else with a computer problems or research problems.

I like hanging around generous people.

But I also like being a much less generous person.

So tell me the benefits of becoming a really generous person.

And please skip the talk about God and going to heaven.

I want good earthly reasons.
posted by cluelessguru to Religion & Philosophy (78 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to direct your generosity to "insecured (sic) people who don't want to help or save themselves" or by "people who have a bloated sense of entitlement."

I'm on earth today because total strangers extended great generosity to me when I'd lost everything in a war and had only dim prospects for survival. I try to help people as much as I can now that I lead a "secure" and relatively prosperous life - I know how much it can mean. Plus, there are so many ways to be generous, it's easy to do it the way you want it.

I'd feel bad, later in life, if I thought about how much was given to me and realized that I hadn't been as generous. It's got nothing to do with heaven.

A lot of people will tell you that being generous makes you feel good. Ostensibly, the reason is because you can be proud that you've done good.

But I'll say something different. Be ridiculously generous and take a sort of perverse pleasure in thinking that instead of hoarding all your worldly resources under the bed or in a bank, you are countering all the impulses in society that claim that people are greedy and concerned with their ownselves by overdoing it. Giving away more than you can really afford is a great adrenalin rush, you'll still survive of course, but it's great to get that level of chemical vibes while doing nothing more than being a really good person.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:40 PM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

I feel good when I contribute to an organisation, a group or a person who I feel needs help. Donating blood, for example, makes me feel altruistic (though, I end up feeling so happy in myself, clearly, I benefit so much that I doubt the altruism). I give because I want to. That's it. It's selfish. And on top of that (as if that weren't enough), altruism brings health benefits but I don't think that would be true if it were resentful altruism.

Some people like the way other people admire them for their service or generosity. Some people feel an obligation to pass on their good fortune. Some people like to practice the art of not judging others.
posted by b33j at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2008

I believe in a general sense that there is some sort of karmic balance to everything or many things. Some of this is just oogy-boogy spaceman talk but some of it is, I think, grounded in general human nature. If you help people with something (financially or timewise) they are more inclined to look kindly on you. This, in return can often be cashed in at the Cosmic Karma Bank for something you want, whether it's a beer at the bar, a ride home from work or just someone to say "thanks, you really made my day."

You have to be the sort of person who is enriched by someone telling you that you made their day -- i know I am, but I don't think this is true for everyone -- but then this is something that you technically "get" So, in a sense, the generosity is just a sort of cultural capital. You spend it in places and it returns to you in other places. If you are good with computers, that's a really valuable skill. You might find that you could be helpful at a public library or after school program. Depending on how you work with people, you mght find that you'd work better on a project basis, doing little web pages or databases, or maybe just doing what I do and teaching email to old people. You also "get" to tell people that you volunteered helping others. This can look good on a resume, make you seem like a warm and kind hearted person, or make you look like you have a skillset necessary for a particular job.

I'm personally not generous with money except in pretty strict circumstances (taking a friend out to dinner, picking up the tab when I go places with people who don't have as much cash, buying the first round of drinks) but I still do it somewhat because I feel like I have often been in the receiving end of such generosity, I like the way it feels, so it seems like a good idea to let someone else have that "hey I got this beer for free!" feeling. Part of being generous, truly generous, is that you give freely of your time, money or efforts without being really hung up on what you get in return, so I am spelling all this out just to explain how you could see it, not as a way to show that it's all just transactional interactions with people doing calculations in their head about what they can receive later if they give something now.

You can decide to be generous of some things and not others. If you worry about people taking advantage of you, then feel free to be tight with money and giving of your time. You don't have to be generous in every circumstance just because you are sometimes generous, its not something that you have to be totally consistent about. If it makes you feel more in control you can even set up a schedule or limits "I will donate five hours a month" or "I will donate twenty dollars a month" and see how you feel about that after the fact.
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Think of the benefits within the here and now. The more money you give to fight homelessness, the less often you'll get panhandled. If you donate money to a musical society, you'll hear more music; donate to a botanical garden if you like flowers, etc etc. There are some sociologists who say there is always a selfish motive involved in giving.
posted by nomisxid at 3:44 PM on January 25, 2008

You know what? It's not for other people to talk you into you being generous or kind hearted or open of spirit. If you don't want to be generous, then don't.
posted by astruc at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2008

Generosity gives you a good reputation, and a good reputation is pure bank.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tax benefits. Not deep or philosophical, but it definitely influences at least some people to donate (or donate more).
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2008

So, please, tell us... what are you thoughts on welfare? Can I have a pamphlet?

Anyway, when it comes down it, this question is really asking others why they are generous, which definitely seems like chatfilter to me.

The benefit you find in donating your own money is to determined by you. Try it out and decide for yourself.
posted by defenestration at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2008

Warren Buffett had this bit of wisdom which I'll edit for brevity:
There are roughly 6 Billion people in the world. Imagine the worlds biggest lottery where every one of those 6 Billion people was required to draw a ticket. Printed on each ticket were the circumstances in which they would be required to live for the rest of their lives.

Printed on each ticket were the following items: Sex, Race, Place of Birth (Country, State, City, etc.), Type of Government, Parents names, income levels & occupations, IQ, Weight, height, eye color, hair color, etc., Personality traits, temperment, wit, sense of humor, Health risks

If you are reading this blog right now, I'm guessing the ticket you drew when you were born wasn't too bad. The probability of you drawing a ticket that has the favorable circumstances you are in right now is incredibly small (say, 1 in 6 billion). The probability of you being born as your prefereable sex, in the United States, with an average IQ, good health and supportive parents is miniscule.

Imagine that you were selected as the one person (out of 6 Billion) to create the systems of the world. This includes the type of government, social programs, tax systems, military systems, job markets, laws, regulations, etc.

The only catch was this: You had to come up with systems that you believed were fair and that you wanted to live with, before you were allowed to look at your ticket.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:46 PM on January 25, 2008 [38 favorites]

Because what goes around comes around.
posted by tirebouchon at 3:46 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you must ask why you should be generous, then you probably shouldn't feign generosity. Granted, we all do things for each other when maybe we don't really wanna, but few people beyond the truly desperate wish to be helped by someone who's going to hold a grudge over it.
posted by katillathehun at 3:47 PM on January 25, 2008

You should be generous in an intelligent way that does not predictably result in you being taken advantage of.

Why? Because it will make you happy, and because you will benefit from the good will of others that you generate by being generous. Karma need not even get involved.
posted by The World Famous at 3:48 PM on January 25, 2008

feels good. kind of selfish, really...
posted by white light at 3:49 PM on January 25, 2008

I personally think about it this way. Sooner or later I or someone I care about is going to be stuck in a hard spot and will be counting on the generosity of a stranger to help them out. I would like to live in a world where such help is offered when it is desperately needed. Being generous to others when I can is the best way I can see to help create that world.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:49 PM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you are generous, you might feel good, depending on what other philosophies you hold. This may or may not be considered a good earthly reason.

If you are generous, some people might be generous back to you. There's no certainty though.

In some instances, your perception of generous may be different from other peoples'. In which case, you could justify being generous by telling yourself you are conforming to the norm. For example, when it comes to tipping, I personally feel $5 is an appropriate tip, regardless of the cost of the meal (if the cost is more than $25.) That does not agree with the norm, so I force myself to be generous and tip more.

As for donating money, you could find an organization which you support, but which is not receiving enough funding from other sources (in your view), and so justify donating money to them. I don't know if this really answers your question...
posted by proj08 at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2008

I think your instincts are not bad. The point of generosity is to have a positive effect on the world. (If you see no benefit in having a positive effect on the world, you really have a deeper questions to ask.) Being incautiously generous serves no good purpose and probably does more harm than good. It's often better to reserve your generosity for people and/or situations that you have a good understanding of.

BTW, do not confuse generosity with charity.
posted by dzot at 3:51 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You want to be researching Altruism. If everyone acted purely in their own self-interest, society as we know it would cease to function. The system can tolerate a certain amount of "cheaters", but if too many people further themselves at the expense of others, the system devolves quickly.

Premise 1: People who are regular recipients of altruistic behavior are more likely to reciprocate, either directly, or by "passing it on" to others. (Many psychological studies support this position).

Premise 2: It is almost certain that at some point in your future, you will be in a position where you need the assistance of others.

Conclusion: You should act with kindness towards others, to increase the chances that you will benefit from your dealings with others.

I'm sure others will chime in with lots of anecdotal examples, but the bottom line is, it benefits society as a whole and we all reap those benefits.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:52 PM on January 25, 2008

0xFCAF, I think Buffett got that from H. L. A. Hart's The Concept of Law . Or maybe John Rawls A Theory of Justice. I read both at the same time, I forget which was which.
posted by ctmf at 3:54 PM on January 25, 2008

ctmf, let me know if you find the original source. I'd be interested
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2008

I understand that the purpose of life is to help other people. I just don't get what all those other people are for.
posted by flabdablet at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2008

You should be generous because it makes you feel good to know that you are helping someone else who might not be able to help themselves. If it doesn't make you feel good, don't do it.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2008

I think there's a difference between generosity and foolishness (with regards to being taken advantage of).

Generosity, as I see it, is when you help someone else with no expectation of reward or recompense. If you're in a situation where you can do that, there are so very few logical reasons not to. It could be stopping to offer directions to someone who's obviously lost, helping a stranger pick up something they dropped, or any number of small things. There's also the money side of generosity, where you might treat someone to a meal or drink.

Why should you do it? Because money has so little value. If you're in a position to buy a bottle of wine and share it with a friend, do you really need to ask them to pay for half of it? Unless you're in a situation where you really need those dollars, the 'loss' of that money will do very little to hurt you, and will do much to create a good relationship with your friend.

Apart from any direct personal benefit, however, I'd say that you should be generous because if you have the capacity to help another person and do not, you're effectively saying that you are fundamentally more valuable than they are.*

*Yes yes, it's a simplification, I know.
posted by twirlypen at 4:05 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

It was Rawls, exploring one possible interpretation of what 'justice' means.
posted by ctmf at 4:10 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I imagine these are the most notable differences, ignoring spirituality:

1. Being purposely stingy and misanthropic makes you, well stingy and misanthropic. Youre going to become an unlikeable miser and heaven forbid you have kids and treat them the way you treat all the 'ingrates' out there. Being attached to money on this level and developing a disdain for people with generalizations can't be good for your sanity, health, relationships, or peace of mind.

2. Youll make someone happy and less stressed out about life. There's value in that. I guess if youre 100% anti-altruistic then dont be surprised to find yourself clutching your dog-eared copy of the Fountainhead on your way to your Scientology cleansing. There's an argument to be made that the moderate life is probably the best one. Giving nothing away is probably as bad a always giving something away, in certain terms. Loosen up. If you feel that someone is taking advantage of you just say no.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:24 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Being generous yourself is a vote for generosity in general. And the more generosity in general there is, the better the community works, and the harder it is for the occasional selfish prick to screw things up.
posted by flabdablet at 4:25 PM on January 25, 2008

Also to be fair your question reads a lot like some high school girl's diary "Billy broke my heart, now I'm never going to be with another boy again! What good are relationships!!" I think being this dramatic and deciding to give up on a healthy part of humanity is really telling and not very healthy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:25 PM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have seen too many generous people being taken advantage of

Being generous doesn't always mean being stupid. You don't have to give dollars/time to the lazy and/or the addicted. You could give dollars/time to all sorts of good causes if you only looked around a bit to find them. They're out there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on January 25, 2008

I like hanging around generous people.

But I also like being a much less generous person.

There is a disconnect here. You obviously enjoy the companionship of generous people, why not become one yourself? Is it only for "other people?" Do you reap any benefits of your friends' generosity? More specifically, might you have your own sense of entitlement that allows you to be a vampire on other peoples' good traits? I don't mean to be antagonistic, but the above two sentences sound to me like you might spend some time weeding out your own hypocrisy (if there is any).
posted by rhizome at 4:34 PM on January 25, 2008

I prefer being anonymous with my generosity - whatever it may be - just because I don't want people to feel like they should act all grateful or whatever. My main reason for being generous is because I don't want people to feel unloved. I want whomever to feel like there is someone out there that cares. Cuz not feeling loved and cared about really sux.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:44 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Please don't be generous unless you feel like it. It either feels good or it doesn't. Being generous when you don't feel it just puts a kink in the world. By the same token, not being generous when you feel like being generous–because you have some rationalization for not being so, such as it feeds insecurity or entitlement–puts a kink in the world. The impulse is in your heart, or it isn't. It's OK if it isn't. You may find it comes to you later in your life (you probably will). If it never comes, at least you'll never have been a judgmental, grudging giver.
posted by bricoleur at 5:22 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, for one, places like Ask MetaFilter wouldn't be successful if people weren't generous with their time and insight.

Being generous helps people, and it makes people more willing to help you in return.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:26 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

generosity is like growing food or investing or good hygiene. You don't have to do it, but if you do, you'll end up with some nice perks. Or at the very least, you'll hedge against some unfortunate inevitabilities that apathy, neglect or ignorance feed upon in the absence of care.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:28 PM on January 25, 2008

You said that you like to hang around generous people—so do I.

Whether you're aware of it or not (maybe you are after reading some of the comments here) people around you are making judgments about you based on how you treat other people. One of those ways is your likelihood to help out someone in need.
posted by Hildago at 5:32 PM on January 25, 2008

I have seen too many generous people being taken advantage of

I'm generous because it makes me fell good (selfish motive) and it does not matter to me if I'm being taken advantage of: for every ten that take advantage there is the one I truly will help and that is good enough for me.

I agree with the quote posted by oxFCAF- it is all a question of luck. I'm just grateful enough to help whenever I can ( and lots of times I believe that what I give is pitifully inadequate anyway, seeying the misery that is present here in our rich US for people born with the wrong skin color or in the wrong part of town)
posted by francesca too at 5:43 PM on January 25, 2008

To further what rhizome said, if you are around generous people, but are not reciprocal, you yourself may be seen as taking advantage of others, or having a bloated sense of entitlement (even if you do not ask for their generousity and they freely give it). Hence, their generousity may be unconsciously retracted from you, and maybe even others. And the bitterness will spread!

If you enjoy what other people can do for you, you certainly need to do for others.
posted by artifarce at 5:52 PM on January 25, 2008

Because if you don't help others, you'll never deserve to receive other's help.

Also, no one will want to help you. One day, this situation will fuck you over. Or, could make you a lonely person. Because human relationships are about both people engaging in 'give and take'. And you're not giving.

Thats it.

I believe you might have heard the generalized variation on this. I believe it's called the 'golden rule'.
posted by Kololo at 6:30 PM on January 25, 2008

Also: You like being around generous people. You yourself would probably agree that many other people feel this way too.

So. Why would you assume that you can lead a happy life without an important attribute that makes other people enjoy your company?
posted by Kololo at 6:36 PM on January 25, 2008

I'm not sure that a "really generous person" is something you can become, unless you were born a generous person and had it stripped away somehow. You can watch toddlers share toys and it very quickly becomes clear which ones enjoy sharing and which ones don't -- it's intrinsic, not learned.

Takes all sorts of folks to make the world go 'round -- and I've never seen anyone be happy trying to be something they weren't.
posted by tkolar at 7:09 PM on January 25, 2008

Be generous because you hope that others will be generous in their dealings with you. If everyone plays this way everyone wins.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:41 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

By the way, I forgot to say THANK YOU very much.
posted by cluelessguru at 7:43 PM on January 25, 2008

Be generous because you CAN.
posted by Doohickie at 7:47 PM on January 25, 2008

So you can look yourself in the mirror and like who is staring back at you.
posted by whoaali at 8:17 PM on January 25, 2008

I like hanging around generous people.

Because generous people are a mystery to me . I like to study what makes them tick.

And I also find it very easy to be generous to generous people.

But I also like being a much less generous person.

Because I don't like to to attract losers hanging around me for handouts.
posted by cluelessguru at 8:48 PM on January 25, 2008

I think you should ask yourself why you're even worried about this.

Be generous when you want to be, and only then. End of story.

I'm so far away from sympathizing with 0xFCAF's quote above, that I had to read the last part several times before I even understood what it was clumsily trying to say.
posted by bingo at 8:59 PM on January 25, 2008

I was a selfish kid, despite my parents' best efforts. I learned about generosity from a junior high school friend who's still one of the gems in my life. So I'd say it can be learned. (I sure had to practicea a lot though.) You say you're already generous with others who are too, but not with people who don't reciprocate, they just take and take. When you say "becoming a really generous person," do you mean someone who gives to people who just take and take and take? I'd consider that feeding a dysfunctional pattern. Dysfunctional generosity, unhealthy for both parties.

More generally about some (secular) benefits of giving, from Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property:
"In an essay called 'Childhood and Poetry,' Pablo Neruda once speculated on the origins of his work. Neruda was raised in Temuco, a frontier town in southern Chile. To be born in Temuco in 1904 must have been a little like being born in Oregon a hundred years ago. . . . Playing in the lot behind the house one day when he was still a little boy, Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board. 'I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared - a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvellous white toy sheep.

'The sheep's wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.

'I never saw either the hand or the boy again. . . . The exchange of gifts - mysterious - settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit,' he once remarked in an interview. . . . 'To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses - that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

'That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together. . . . It won't surprise you then that I have attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood. . . .

'This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn't know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.'"
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:02 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work for a faith based NPO but I don't personally have the "faith" part as a motivation for doing what I do. Last week we had a conversation about motivation, and this is exactly what I said to them:
I give of my time and of myself because I don't have money to give. I give because too often we take, and too often we find excuses for the things we do, or more importantly the things we don't do. I give because too often we take, and if we're not actively working to make it better, then we're making it worse by our inaction.

Also, seriously? Why not? I mean, you don't get to take it with you when you die, right? There's no award for dying with the most money or most time spend doing things for yourself, so why not give freely? Also, you'll learn through giving that you like yourself more, you feel more productive, and more thankful. I volunteer probably 10 hours a week at least, on top of my full time job with an NPO---and most of my volunteering isn't with my agency.

One last thought. King Ramses (the Egyptian) had this idea that immortality existed only so long as your "name was on the lips of the people." If your works survived, so did your legacy. With that definition, there are some horrible immortal people, but also some really great immortal people. I don't necessarily believe in life after death, but I like the idea of making a tiny bit of difference to a tiny bit of the planet, and even if nobody remembers my name---the work will live on. Can most people say that about their MegaCorporation job? Certainly not!
posted by TomMelee at 9:10 PM on January 25, 2008

When you are generous or kind, it influences other people to also be generous and kind. The act of being generous causes other people to believe in a world where people are generous. If everyone believes in a dog eat dog world, then they act accordingly. The more people have the innate belief that people are good and that people are kind, the more they will also act on that belief. Even if you are occasionally scammed or taken advantage of, you have still influenced someone subconsciously.

You know, like if you let the guy in front of you cut in in traffic, maybe they will remember that someone was kind to them and will let someone else cut in in front of them one day. Or donate money or whatever. That is the reason to be generous - because you are acting in the manner in which you want the world to be and contributing and influencing the world to be closer to that reality. I still have to work at it, but I do believe this.
posted by gt2 at 9:14 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am asking this question , or , in your words "worried about this" because I wonder if I am missing something by not being a more generous person.

Generous people are a mystery to me.

As I impllied earlier , I don't mind giving and sharing with people who are generous or who can leverage my help to go on to better things in life.

I don't ask for anything back, but I also do not like to invest more in people than they are willing to invest in themselves.

The last thing I want is to enable a loser to continue to live off others' goodwill.
posted by cluelessguru at 10:07 PM on January 25, 2008

The last thing I want is to enable a loser to continue to live off others' goodwill.

Why not? If the people of goodwill want to support others, what's it to you?

You sound like you feel there is a moral obligation *not* to be generous with people who don't meet certain criteria. I know you want to leave religion out of this, but this is all sounding very protestant work-ethic prosperity gospel-y to me.
posted by tkolar at 10:46 PM on January 25, 2008

More to the point, you've asked a stubbed out question in the title of this post. You know exactly why you should be generous to the people around you who are generous and in general prospering on their own -- your real question appears to be: why should you be generous with people you consider to be losers?
posted by tkolar at 10:48 PM on January 25, 2008

The last thing I want is to enable a loser to continue to live off others' goodwill.

Why not? If the people of goodwill want to support others, what's it to you?
You sound like you feel there is a moral obligation *not* to be generous with people who don't meet certain criteria. I

I believe the human species evolve to a higher level when it provides more incentives for deadbeats to pull their act together.
I like to think that by giving deadbeats one less reason to expect something for nothing, I am helping them to find the anger within to finally evolve to the next level.
posted by cluelessguru at 12:33 AM on January 26, 2008

I believe the human species evolve to a higher level when it provides more incentives for deadbeats to pull their act together

posted by flabdablet at 12:40 AM on January 26, 2008

I believe the human species evolve to a higher level when it provides more incentives for deadbeats to pull their act together


The fewer the deadbeats in the species , the more evolved the species, the more enlightened the species, the more intelligent the species, the more adaptable the species.

Only then we may be ready to deal with issues other than the mere survival of the species.

Right now, majority of voting power lies with people who don't want to think for themselves. Many of these people are deadbeats.

So more deadbeats should be encouraged to grow up and carry out their share of responsibilites.
posted by cluelessguru at 3:16 AM on January 26, 2008

feels good. kind of selfish, really...

The Fall would be a good book to read on that score.
posted by ersatz at 5:32 AM on January 26, 2008

I believe the human species evolve to a higher level when it provides more incentives for deadbeats to pull their act together.

I don't particularly agree with that sentiment, but if that's the way you feel I would say that you *shouldn't* be generous with deadbeats. It goes against what you believe.
posted by tkolar at 5:43 AM on January 26, 2008

Emotionally, generosity is fulfilling; practically, it can make the world a better place. Giving someone what they need feels good, and I know that's a big part of why I do it. I'm sure there is a teeny little power kick in there somewhere, no matter how much I try to pretend there isn't. And like a lot of people here, I reckon that if I give when I can, it's that much more likely that people will be there for me if and when I need them. It's like good manners; it brings little direct tangible benefit, but makes the world a more enjoyable place in general.

If you don't want to be generous to 'deadbeats', don't. If you really want to experience joy in giving without helping those you judge as losers and deadbeats, work out the kind of people you do want to be generous to, and find them, and be generous to them. But if you truly can't find any emotional, spiritual or practical reasons to be generous, and you honestly think that displaying generosity will attract a pack of sharks trying to take advantage of you, I wouldn't bother.
posted by andraste at 5:52 AM on January 26, 2008

I don’t know if I’d call myself “generous” but I give money and time to the extent I do because I want to live in a better world. That’s it really.

As I see it there are three basic modes of pair-wise interaction: parasitic, tit-for-tat, and “generous”. Parasitic interactions, taking advantage of someone else, only works in the short term in my experience. A tit-for-tat, strictly mercantile exchange, works for limited contact, but it’s no way to live.

The “generous” relationship strategy means not keeping score with another person. If you are lucky enough to find another person who you can trust to be generous to you, you’ve got the basis for a great mutual support system. This is what good friendships and long marriages are based on. Plus it’s very emotionally satisfying.

So, my default way of approaching people always assumes that they’re generous people too, because that’s the way I’d prefer it to be. And you know, a lot of the time that’s exactly how it turns out. I know too that I’ve been able to build good relationships with people that others (who use a tit-for-tat first approach and assume the other person is initially untrustworthy) have written off.

Of course, you can always revert to a tit-for-tat relationship if the other person won’t do the generous thing, but at least you gave them the chance. Persistent parasites you simply cut off. Some "deadbeats" really aren't, they just need a hand up.

It’s a bit of the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated, a bit of wide-eyed optimism, but the "payoffs" in kindness, emotional ease and improved relationships are way better than the “cost” of being generous. It’s usually just about as much effort to do someone a favour as to do them a bad turn. Why not be nice? There’s really very little risk.
posted by bonehead at 6:36 AM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can be generous and selfish at the same time, by donating to organizations which benefit you in some small way, and also benefit a lot of other people. I support my local public television and public radio stations, in part because I like their programs and want then to continue.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:38 AM on January 26, 2008

Only then we may be ready to deal with issues other than the mere survival of the species.

We'll always have to worry about the survival of humanity. But it's a fallacy to assume that we can't also deal with other issues, such as the improvement of mankind, at the same time as we're also struggling for survival. To make that assumption would be like refusing to see a movie because you haven't yet figured out what you're going to have for dinner on August 16, 2038.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:48 AM on January 26, 2008

Based on the responses the OP is giving, this whole thread is evolving into chatfilter, or at least an excuse for the OP to complain about deadbeats, or to defend his opinions.

I like to study what makes them tick.

If this is true, are you going to mark a best answer then? Because some good answers have been given.
posted by artifarce at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2008

The idea that the only people for whom generosity or charity can be a benefit are "deadbeat losers" sickens me. Truly, truly sickens me.

If you seriously believe that everyone who does or can receive the generosity and giving hearts of others to be this previously mentioned "deadbeat loser", then I honestly feel sorry for you.

There are so very many times that terrible things happen to perfectly good people, and to people who have nothing they can do about it themselves---children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the list goes on. And, there are times when average joe's can just use a hand up, I know I've been there.

I agree with artifarce about the quality of this thread and the intentions of the OP.
posted by TomMelee at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2008

I think it's a mistake to equate generosity and kindness.

There's an undercurrent of power and dominance in generosity. When I open my home to a guest, sure, on the one hand I'm being used for dinner or a cheap overnight room or whatnot...but on the other hand, I'm the one in charge, and they're a supplicant. When I pick up the check at dinner, I'm proving my higher social status by flaunting my wealth. If I donate work or money to a charity, or fix a friend's computer for no charge, the message is that I'm so secure and powerful that I don't even need to be compensated for my time. When I give a dollar to a panhandler, it's much more about how little a buck is to me than how much it is to him.

Look, I'm not a total bastard. I feel real joy in helping my fellow man, and I've been in rough enough circumstances to know that there, but for the grace of God, go I. But I sure as heck don't do 'generous' things anonymously...nor do most people.

(True kindness, I would say, is action done without either expectation of social recognition or personal pride. It wouldn't even occur to a kind person that their effort is thankless. Mother Teresa wasn't half as kind as all those nameless, overlooked people who worked with her...)
posted by a young man in spats at 7:40 AM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was a selfish kid, despite my parents' best efforts.

Aren't most kids selfish? I know I was. But it's OK, because you're a kid. If you act like a kid when you're an adult, people won't like you. Which is why you should be generous.

And if someone's a real "deadbeat loser," just avoid them, but really, we're all deadbeats at at least one point in our lives, unless we're trust-fund kids or real Type-A personalities.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:43 AM on January 26, 2008

I wrote...
I believe the human species evolve to a higher level when it provides more incentives for deadbeats to pull their act together.
[...]if that's the way you feel I would say that you *shouldn't* be generous with deadbeats.

Actually I need to qualify that.

If you seek to help the evolution of the human race along you'll need to know a little bit more about natural selection.

The concept that changes in the behavior of an organism will result in changes to the behavior of its offspring is called Pangenesis. Darwin suggested it as one of the mechanisms of evolution.

Darwin was wrong, and in fact he backed off of the idea eventually. Which was a good thing because once we understood DNA it became clear that there is no mechanism for learned information to transfer to offspring.

So, your theory of teaching people to be self-reliant is a bit flawed. You might teach the existing people, but their genes won't carry the information on and you'll be left with another generation that has to be taught to be self-reliant.

The *only* way to steer the evolution of the human race is to breed the unwanted genes out. So rather than trying to be teach self-reliance, you need to focus on stopping the people with the bad genes from reproducing.

If you look at how humans behave, you'll find that forcing them into poverty is *not* the way to stop them from breeding. In fact, wealth and education are the major factors in predicting how many children people will have: the better the education, the more prosperous the family, the fewer kids they'll have.

From this standpoint, the best way to serve evolution is to educate the kids of the poor. Help them rise up to the level where they'll decide not to pass on the loser genes, and its a net win for human evolution.

In any case, that's how you can help evolution along by being generous.
posted by tkolar at 7:45 AM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Based on the responses the OP is giving, this whole thread is evolving into [...] an excuse for the OP [...] to defend his opinions.

Dunno. I see the OPs responses as clarifying what is important to him. There's no way to answer the question of why an individual should do *anything* without knowing what drives the person.

The question was not, after all, "Why should Joe-Random-Person be generous?"
posted by tkolar at 7:50 AM on January 26, 2008

BTW, do not confuse generosity with charity.

I think this is key. Generosity simply means giving of your time, self (and occasionally, but not necessarily, resources) to others in need of them, but that doesn't mean that they're "needy" in the traditional sense.

Three years ago I attended the funeral of an incredibly generous woman. Even though she was suffering under cancer, she still continued to give of her time (and set up and led a cancer support group for other women in her area). She had been a healer and continued to be a healer even as she was sick herself. She was always giving of her time, going to visit friends when they were feeling down, and sharing tips on health with others.

At her memorial service, everyone who came up to speak about her had a story of how she had personally helped them and made their life better. The location for her memorial service -- the local Unitarian church -- was absolutely packed. The seats were all filled, the aisles were packed with standing celebrants/mourners, and they extended out through the doors.

The energy there was amazing. There was a sense of love and togetherness. It was amazing to see how this woman, who had never been famous, never done anything "remarkable" or newsworthy, had nonetheless touched people's lives so intensely.

I'd love to be that kind of person. I don't know, in all honesty, if I have a heart that big. But I'd like to think that by the time I die I've touched some people's lives in a comprehensive way. I'd love to have hundreds and hundreds of people at my memorial service, holding hands, singing, but most importantly remembering a person who left the world a slightly better place.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:47 AM on January 26, 2008

We could throw the question back at you:

Why would someone donate her compassion or experience to help a total stranger?
posted by prophetsearcher at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2008

prophetsearcher ,

Why would someone donate her compassion or experience to help a total stranger?

Apparently, some people get kicks out of helping a stranger. Something they want to do , for their self esteem etc.

I understand. I have given help to many strangers myself. But mostly donation of my time. Nothing regular (it often depends on how I feel). And rarely money.

And definitely nowhere near as generous as some very generous people that I have come across.
posted by cluelessguru at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2008

So, could you clarify your question? You keep acknowledging various forms of generosity and saying that you understand why people do them and that you even do them yourself.

There seems to be a quality of "really generous" as opposed to just "generous" that you're wondering about, but I think some examples of what you mean by "really generous" would go a long way here.

Between your login name and the undetailed nature of your comments, I'm starting to think you might be better served at GiftHub than here.
posted by tkolar at 12:53 PM on January 26, 2008

Richard Dawkins, the ever popular evolutionist author, wrote a book called "the Selfish Gene", which discusses this very issue.

He thinks generosity (altruism), as a behaviour, is a product of evolution. I agree.

Individuals who are willing to help others are more likely to receive help in return. The benefit the individual gains from the returned help is always greater than the sacrifices the individual has to make when helping another.

For example:

You're a billionaire. You see a starving man, you give him 100k. It doesn't really matter much to you. Years later, by an unfortunate turn of ill fortune, you're starving. You meet the same man, and he is now a billionaire because the 100k you gave him helped him turn his life around. The man gives your 100k back to you. You take the 100k, and use it to turn your life around too.

Had you not helped him, you'd have starved to death; because you helped him, you were able to avert death with a net gain/loss of zero.

Over time, selfish individuals died without passing on their genes, and generous individuals did. This has resulted in a society of cooperation and generosity.
posted by BeaverTerror at 2:29 PM on January 26, 2008

This has resulted in a society of cooperation and generosity.

Uh...no it hasn't.
posted by bingo at 2:49 AM on January 27, 2008

This may not be appropriate (mods, please remove if it isn't), but I just remembered that I once blogged about this very topic. In an effort to reduce the self-linkage and preserve the illusion of anonymity, I have cut and pasted (and edited) the blog post below, which may be of interest:

I was flipping through the May issue of Fundraising Success magazine (which you may be able to get for free, here) because the cover article was entitled 8220;Big Ideas for Smaller Nonprofits.8221;

I thought I8217;d find some great insights to share with all of you, but my eye was caught by an adjacent full page ad.
The copy leads off: 8220;9 (More) REASONS why PEOPLE give to NONPROFIT organizations8221; and then proceeds to list them. I8217;ve been trying to parse what exactly they mean by each of these things, and I have some first-glance ideas. I8217;m pretty sure this is not what the advertiser meant in most cases, but they only offer the single word for each point. Please note that this is not my list 8212; it8217;s just what I8217;m working with. The commentary is mine.

1. Hope
People donate because they need to believe that things will get better. They are frustrated by a situation which they are powerless to control. Giving money to nonprofits allows them some sense of agency. It gives them hope that things will change.Example: I imagine that a good example might be cancer research. The money donated is a drop in the bucket, which will probably not directly lead to the cure for cancer. But it allows the donor to 8216;fight8217; against a ravaging disease that often seems omnipotent.

2. Association
It8217;s a messy world, and people tend to stick with people like themselves. There are trade organizations, religious groups, bars, PACs, social clubs, internet chat rooms, book clubs, support groups, so birds of a feather can flock together. It8217;s not surprising, then, that people give primarily to groups they are associated with. There8217;s also a sense of self-ness in this. It8217;s easier to give to someone who is like you - because you can imagine yourself similarly being in need.
Example: Jane, a Catholic, gives to a Catholic summer camp for low-income girls, even though she herself has no children and is quite affluent. Jane feels an affinity to the Catholic camp. Note also, that Jane is personally interested in the success of the Catholic camp.

3. Friends
This is simple. You give to an organization because a friend asks you to. Or because a friend is being honored at an event. Incidentally, this is a major strategy for fundraisers 8212; finding guests of honor with large rolodexes.

4. Sadness
Like Hope, people give because they are troubled by a situation. The difference is that when people are sad, they are more vulnerable 8212; more eager to regain power. They may feel that this donation will alleviate some of their pain, or they may just be more sensitive to the pain.
Example: 9/11 generated an outpouring of charity unparalleled in our history. A guess is that much of it was grief-generated. Again, this is tied to the Hope section. People felt powerless, and they felt sad.

5. Make A Difference
There are those (rare?) moments when a donation will make a direct impact - either on a micro- or on a macro- level. Even if the donation cannot be proven to directly 8220;make a difference8221; the sentiment is surely a prime motivator of donors everywhere.
Example: Sue grew her hair out and donated it to Locks of Love (oops, I always thought it was Locks for Love). She felt that she could immediately improve the life of a cancer patient, and thereby make a difference.

6. Love
This is a little nebulous for me, but I guess it means that people give because they 8220;love8221; the people (cause) they8217;re giving to. This seems to me some sort of exalted level that we can all hope to reach 8212; giving to someone because you love them, either because you know them, or simply because they are in need.
Example: I suppose the easiest example is giving to a family member, but this example doesn8217;t really shake the ground. Maybe someone who helps support the ASPCA because they love animals?

7. Dreams
I really don8217;t know what this is getting at. I could make up some explanations, but they8217;d be no better than the answers you can make up for yourself.

8. Faith
Many people give because they believe they are supposed to. This is an issue of faith. The world order (God, karma, holiness, goodness, morality) dictates that they are obligated - or perhaps hardwired - to give charity. There need not be a reward associated with this, but in many cases there is. In some instances, this charity money can literally buy redemption.
Example: To begin with, the 8220;Big 38243; Religions stress charity as a central virtue: Zakat in Islam, Alms in Christianity and Buddhism, and Tzedaka in Judaism.

9. [Redacted... This was an ad for some related services... ]

10. (The aforementioned 8220;1 More8221;) Guilt
It might be very cynical (if the preceding post weren8217;t cynical enough) but Guilt is a powerful reason why people give to nonprofits. Earlier today, I came across a facebook group which I thought captured this point rather succinctly: 8220;joining facebook groups assuages my faint sense of guilt over darfur8221; (you probably need a facebook account to see it).

Please note that I am not ascribing value to any of the reasons above. I8217;m simply wondering aloud 8212; sparked by this advertisement I came across 8212; why people give.
I actually think that this list isn8217;t so clear-cut. A lot of the items intersect, overlap, or reiterate. It8217;s also a lot of mix-and-match. Giving to a Catholic summer camp for low-income girls could because of association, hope, sadness, and hope. I could give to the post-Katrina efforts because of association, sadness, and guilt.
posted by prophetsearcher at 5:20 AM on January 27, 2008

I like to be generous in situations where I can see someone is being inconvenienced by something that is easily solved ie. the person in front of you at the checkout is short by a few dollars or less (I've offered to pay so they don't have to choose which item to hand back) or you're at a club and someone isn't a member but all they need is a sign in by a member (how hard is a signature?). How embarrassing for them to be just that little bit short of life being easier? How easy is it for you to remedy that? Someone needs directions? Someone wants to borrow my cigarette lighter? Someone is desperate for a cigarette and I have an entire packet? A homeless person asks for a couple of bucks and I have a shiny $2 coin in my wallet? The person next door's phone has been cut off and they need to call a taxi? Of course I'll call one for them! (Add your own personal experience here).

It doesn't have to be an enormous outlay and you don't have to invite them in to your house or give them access to your wallet or anything else that may cause trouble for you. You just have to think about how much it sucks when you're just that little bit short and no-one seems to give a fuck. There's nothing that will make someone feel like a complete loser more than if they're completely disregarded by people who could help them very easily and without really giving up anything of consequence.

Helping people makes you a good person, regardless of whether you get anything back.
posted by h00py at 6:28 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

tkolar ,

So, could you clarify your question? You keep acknowledging various forms of generosity and saying that you understand why people do them and that you even do them yourself.

My question basically is :
There are quite a few people who are so much more generous than I am , I wonder what makes them tick , in spite of all the leechers around them?
From time to time I have enjoyed giving my time to help people solve their little problems, something h00py would do.
But unlike h00py , I do my best to NOT give away any money, or share my food.
Since I enjoy the company of generous people very much, perhaps I want to be just like them.
But then , I am holding back because of all the reasons I have stated thus far.

By the way, thank you for all your inputs so far. Some food for thoughts here.
posted by cluelessguru at 7:18 AM on January 27, 2008

I wonder what makes them tick , in spite of all the leechers around them?

Well, that's really easy question to answer. Some of us simply don't habitually bother making the distinction between "worthy recipients of generosity" and "leechers", because for us, generosity is not primarily about making me feel good or helping you out; it's about raising the general level of generosity, for the benefit of us.

Putting that another way: it's not who is doing the giving, or who is receiving the gift, that's important. The important thing is the act of giving.
posted by flabdablet at 3:57 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some people seem to get an endorphin rush from, say, giving money to homeless people. I have done this a couple of times. It's not always worth it to do it, but when I do it, it's kind of cool. I'm one of those people who think the indigent should be allowed to drink if they want, though.

In less desperate situations, like with friends or something, I will buy drinks for people I know can't really pay me back, and they feel obligated. Not truly obligated to me, but obligated to do similarly if they are ever in that position.

But, as you probably noticed from this thread, most people who are truly generous are that way because other people were very generous with them. People like you and me* are less generous because we've never been that dependent.

* I am not an overly generous person, as my response may indicate, but damn, dude.
posted by herbaliser at 1:53 PM on January 29, 2008

Reading back over this I'm struck by another way of looking at it. Why do you think your friends are more generous than you are? Why aren't you as generous with - at the very minimum - your friends as they are with you? What if you're the deadbeat? Should you stop hanging out with them?
posted by rhizome at 4:43 PM on January 29, 2008

I'm fortunate enough to be a financially stable college student (as opposed to a flat broke college student). This is mostly because I'm fortunate enough have parents who have enough money to help me out while I'm in school. Conversely, a lot of my friends (maybe the bulk of my friends) are constantly strapped for cash and have a lot of trouble paying their bills on time, on an ongoing basis.

I don't have to be constantly worrying about money. Oftentimes, they do. For me, it got to the point recently where I started examining why that was the case. The impulse is to say something like "Because I'm more responsible than they are. Because I set up a budget and stick to it, and they don't. Because I'm more mature. Because I work harder."

But then I'm stuck with this question: why is it that I work harder, am better with my money, am more responsible? Basically - because that's how my parents raised and taught me. That's what was modeled for me when I was growing up. My friends with financial problems? Their parents are in huge debt too. Their parents are terrible with their money too.

The thing is, I had absolutely no choice or control over the family that I was born into. I was danged lucky to be born into a loving, stable, financially-well off family. I had no control over that. My friends were born into crappy, abusive, less-well-off families. They had no control over that. How is that fair? It's not really, but it's just the way the world works.

I'm using the example of my friends because it's a more tangeable example - because I can get my mind around my friends' situations, whereas it's harder to get my mind, around, say, the bulk of the population of Africa's situation - but it's basically the same principle around the world : there are a couple of billion people in the world who don't have enough food to eat, and drink water that's less clean than the water in our toilets. It's not their fault they were born into that life. I (and you, probably) were lucky enough to be born into a society that has, relatively, a lot. It's just like that 1-in-6-billion lottery example that 0xFCAF listed above.

I don't know. I just feel like I have a lot. No matter what your situation is, there's always someone (probably a whole bunch of someone's, like half the world's population) who are worse off than you. That doesn't seem right or just to me. So I try to give generously because since I was lucky enough to be born into the situation that I was, maybe I can help someone else out too. I don't know what else to do with the fact that I was given more than other people.
posted by Quidam at 8:54 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

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