Generosity of spirit is the generosity of taking

I used to experiment with giving. In one instance I walked around my daily life with a bag of cherries, offering them to acquaintances and even random people on the street. It’s obnoxious, I know, but I would get all pushy and at other times try to guess who would take me up. It didn’t happen often with strangers, and not even much with people I knew, but it happened. I’ve thought about it a lot, and in some way “generous” is the best word for the ones that took the most.

[years pass]

So how gratifying to find the same case made much more clearly and strongly, by the literary wanderer John Steinbeck in a beautiful eulogistic memoir of marine biologist Ed Ricketts?

Perhaps the most overrated virtue in our list of shoddy virtues is that of giving. Giving builds up the ego of the giver, makes him superior and higher and larger than the receiver…It is so easy to give, so exquisitely rewarding. Receiving, on the other hand, if it is well-done, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness. It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships. In receiving, you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.

It requires self-esteem to receive–not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself.

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Appendix, “About Ed Ricketts”, Penguin Books, 1951, pp. 272-3


This entry was posted on Thursday, November 26th, 2015 and is filed under life and words.