• The Paradox of Generosity

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THE PARADOX OF GENEROSITY

By Barry Cameron
September 22, 2017

This summer I read a number of books. Among them a book called, The Paradox of Generosity, written by two sociologists from the University of Notre Dame. The subtitle is: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose.

The Bible is clear about the blessings and benefits of giving and generosity. But to hear it from two sociologists and see the statistical data that backs up what the Bible has been saying all along was not only affirming but, to be honest, shocking.

For example, Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” The authors of The Paradox of Generosity said:

“GENEROSITY IS PARADOXICAL. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching: it is a sociological fact.

The generosity paradox can also be stated in the negative. By grasping onto what we currently have, we lose out on better goods that we might have gained. In holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. By always protecting ourselves against future uncertainties and mis-fortunes, we are affected in ways that make us more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care for others, we do not properly take care of ourselves. It is no coincidence that the word ‘miser’ is etymologically related to the word ‘miserable.’ 1

JESUS said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And that should be enough for all of us. If Jesus said it, that settles it! The authors of The Paradox of Generosity added:

“IT MIGHT SEEM OBVIOUS that generously giving money away involves a loss – of the money itself, of course, and of the goods, experiences, or savings the money might have provided the giver had it not been given away … The giver loses not only the forfeited resources directly transferred, but also the ‘opportunity costs’ of other goods to which the money, time, energy, attention, and emotions might have been devoted for themselves.

Not so. Not at all. The reality of generosity is instead actually paradoxical. Generosity does not usually work in simple, zero-sum, win-lose ways. The results of generosity are often instead an unexpected, counterintuitive, win-win. Rather than generosity producing net losses, in general the more generously people give of themselves, the more of many goods they receive in turn. Sometimes they receive more of the same kind of thing that they gave – money, time, attention and so forth. But, more often and importantly, generous people tend to receive back goods that are even more valuable than those they gave: happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life, and personal growth.”2

From their research, they discovered …

“In general, the more generous Americans are, the more likely they are to be happy and the less generous, the less happy.” 3

“Americans who give away 10 percent of their income are healthier than those who do not.” 4

“Relationally generous people are clearly healthier than the ungenerous.” 5

“Giving money, volunteering, being relationally generous, being a generous neighbor and friend, and personally valuing the importance of being a generous person are all significantly positively correlated with greater personal happiness, physical health, a stronger sense of purpose in life, avoidance of symptoms of depression, and a greater interest in personal growth.” 6

Even with all that the authors found, “According to data collected by the Science of Generosity Survey, about 3 percent (2.7 percent) of adult Americans give away 10 percent or more of their income.” 7

“Some readers might assume that the percent of income that Americans give rises gradually with increases in their actual income. It stands to reason that the more money people make, the greater the percentage of it they should be able to give away without cutting too much into their own basic needs and wants. But this is not the case. Making more money in America is not associated with giving money more generously.” 8

Then, there’s this … “In short, a quite small group of Americans gives away the vast majority of the money that is donated in voluntary financial giving in the US. Stated differently, while some Americans seem to be quite generous with their financial resources, the vast majority contribute very, very little to the overall giving that takes place in the US. If the top 10 percent of most generous Americans were to stop giving money, the entire sector of society and the economy based on voluntary financial giving would simply collapse. In other words, there is a huge amount of room for growth in financial generosity for many Americans.” 9

To hear it from two sociologists and see statistical data that backs up what the Bible has been saying was shocking!

A final statement from the book: “Only a minority of Americans are living clearly generous lives, however you measure it.” 10

HERE’S THE REAL PARADOX … sadly, only a minority of Christians are living clearly generous lives, no matter how you measure it. Yet JESUS said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

So the bottom line is … where is your heart?

© 2017. Barry L. Cameron

 

1 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 1

2 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 11

3 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 25

4 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 29

5 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 31

6 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 44

7 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 100

8 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 103

9 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 105

10 Smith, Christian, and Hilary A. Davidson. The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pg. 113

BARRY CAMERON

Senior Pastor

Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.

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