My maternal grandma turned 80 on Monday. After I wished her on the phone, my mind harked back to my school and college days when I would have a bunch of friends over. Looking back, I feel like I used to take her generosity for granted. The generosity with which she cooked a sumptuous meal or served steaming hot filter coffee (Idhu Bru ille ma!) or bournvita for my friends. The warmth with which she would chat with them, inquiring about their family members and most importantly, being lavish in her praise for what they achieved as students. These are things that just came so naturally- and continue to come spontaneously- to her. As I grew up, as I stepped out of that comfort zone that my family had afforded me, I have had the fortune of getting to know some wonderful, salt of the earth people. Invariably, I have also gotten exposed to folks in my personal and professional lives that aren’t going to win any awards for generosity! It is when I introspect enough do I realize and appreciate what was in plain sight – in people like my grandma- that I was blind to, in my formative years. This is in no way meant to suggest that I am as generous as say my grandma is. I am fully aware of my shortcomings as a person. But I’d like to think that I learn from not only my mistakes but also the failings of those in my social circles. And, two things that I have realized over the years are (1) Being sincerely generous in praise requires one to feel fully secure of oneself and (2) You will never, ever lose a thing by praising a well-deserving peer in any setting. These may not necessarily be truisms. But as I reflect about what I like to see in others, over the past few years, these are values that I believe in unquestioningly.
One of my past acquaintances – planting my tongue firmly in cheek, let’s call this person Mr. G (for generosity!) – had this habit of never acknowledging a single piece of good news. I once shared with him the news of my getting promoted at work. In response, G helpfully pointed out the clunky office furniture in my past job and how he felt a little relieved for me now! If this were an isolated instance, I would not have been hasty in judging him for what might have been intended as a small joke. But this was one of several instances where I could see this person having the heart to speak in praise of his close family members but not so for others. On certain occasions where I might have shared a piece of good news, there would be puzzling silence and an absence of any response at all. (FYI, I think I’d take silence over a bad joke!) Over time, this repeated behavior made me question not only this person’s generosity but also whether G was truly secure and contented. On the other end of the spectrum, one of my uncles is quite a reticent person. But as a man of few words, he is extremely sincere in praise even if the words are limited, sans frills. He is honest when talking about a person’s faults and unfailingly courteous when providing any constructive feedback. I would attribute it to how comfortable he is with himself. That quiet self-confidence, I have seen, goes a long way in making one feel genuinely happy for others. It’s not about the words as long as your genuineness is realized by the recipient of your gestures.
If I were to be brutally honest about myself, I’d say that it was my years as a business school student (from 2007 to 2009) when my thoughts on generosity became better fleshed out and I could evolve as a person, not just as a student. Prior to going to b-school, when I was much younger, there were periods when I was not as generous in my feelings towards others. But as I worked extremely hard as an undergraduate student and as a professional (for five years, until I quit my job to do an MBA, in ’07), I was able to develop more confidence in myself. And, as a b-school student, I began to read a lot about maximizing your own potential. And, professors like Dr. Robert Kelley (author of the fantastic book, “How to be a star at work”; I have written about him in my Inspirations series as well) spoke about how you become a star not because of what you are born with but because of how you use what you have. These kinds of positive thoughts helped me erase a lot of self-doubts that had plagued me a bit even when I was successful in my undergrad years or as a professional, prior to my MBA. And, it’s not as though I have not had to face adversities in any aspect of my life. I have, like anyone else. But regardless of my own personal or professional highs or lows, I continue to make sincere attempts to be generous towards others while I work towards two things - contentment with what I am blessed with (i.e, the ‘uncontrollable’ elements) and a commitment towards achieving what I want to achieve (with my ‘controllable’ traits). And, back to the second point that I had raised earlier, when I am secure with myself, I have never felt that I have lost anything or disadvantaged myself when I am generous towards someone, being happy for what they may have done or what may have been handed to them.
In essence, as soon as you free yourself from the shackles of self-imposed mental barriers or self-doubt, one can truly feel happy for and more generous towards others with their emotions. That way, we don’t have to say that they don’t make them like my grandma anymore! Maybe one day, G will stand for generosity even when I take my tongue off my cheek!
A related post on this topic, one that’s very well-written (by Rahini David):