There’s the story of a guy who started giving money to a religious organisation that promised him his life would be ‘blessed with wealth and riches’ if he just kept giving. So he did. Until he ran out of money. No wealth and riches came his way. Just hunger and poverty.
What do we do when our desire to help puts us in harm’s way?
What happens if acting generously is causing others harm?
How do we live a generous life without slipping into unhealthy generous acts, saying yes to everything and damaging our lives in the process? Simply put, when is it okay to not be generous?
In the Buddhist practice, there is the concept of Idiot Generosity. Here some examples of Idiot Generosity
- When people do things with the sole purpose of creating pleasure for themselves by helping others
- Giving someone something they want because you can’t bear to see them suffer (another name for this is enabling)
- Showing compassion to someone whilst they are causing significant hurt to others (think perpetrators of sexual abuse being overlooked)
- Giving of items or services which create more heartache (think donated clothes for developing countries that are not suitable, ruin the local market economy and become landfill)
- An inability to say no (saying yes to everything removing your ability to live up to the commitments you have already made)
The opposite of this is Wise Generosity which takes into account the context of the situation, other people and long term effects, in order to give wisely. It puts up generous boundaries which helps keep you safe but also empowers others, providing a platform for them to help themselves. This takes longer to figure out and is innately more thoughtful, but worth the extra effort.
Don’t practice Idiot Generosity. Don’t be generous in a way which causes damage to you and those around you.
Practice Wise Generosity. Be generous on purpose. It will be harder to do but it will cause less damage.