On Generosity of Spirit

As those who know me well already know, I can be as cranky and insecure and afraid and needy as anyone. It’s just that I try not to let that make me an unkind and ungracious person, not even with that one safe lightening-rod individual that so many look for, and find, and then routinely treat with disrespect.

It’s come to me again, both through an experience I had last week, and through the character of Olive in Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful and darkly true-to-life Olive Kitteridge, that some of us, no matter how much grace we’ve been extended, are apparently unable to say the words “thank-you” or “I’m really sorry”.

To my friends: if you’re reading this and wondering if I’m talking about you, you can relax, I’m not. If you were chronically unable to say thank-you or I’m sorry where it’s appropriate, you’d no longer be my friend.

I don’t believe this inability to express gratitude or remorse is as much a sign of malice as it is of deficiency—it requires a reasonable sense of self not to be threatened by giving credit where credit is due. It requires a feeling of adequacy rather than inadequacy to be generous in this way, an internal fortitude that comes with knowing you won’t be diminished by it. And some people apparently just don’t have enough of a self to risk it.

So, I understand feelings of deficiency (I experience plenty of my own), but I also think it’s possible to rise above them. Either way, when significant people in your life can’t rise above them, when a little gratitude or humility or apology is perpetually elusive, it can be hurtful, and feeling hurt is, for me at least, always a temptation to stoop to behaviour I know isn’t truly me. Thankfully, I’ve resisted, this time at least (which hasn’t always been the case). Because even cranky and ungenerous people—and maybe especially cranky ungenerous people?—need grace extended their way.

It can’t hurt to extend grace; I’m a huge, huge believer in this. But along with being understanding and gracious in the face of disrespect or ungracious attitudes, it’s always a good idea to keep plenty of distance between ourselves and those who would focus exclusively on how wonderfully reliable and generous they’ve been, rather than acknowledge your contributions even once.

So thanks to Elizabeth Strout for reminding me of what drives ungracious people, and to my friends for extending endless grace my way, and to the universe for the miracle of fresh sources of abundance that restore in a million ways the holes left by those unable to offer the simplest words of affirmation. 




4 thoughts on “On Generosity of Spirit

  1. Olive Kitterage is a brilliant book. I’d never read anything quite like it. I loaned it to a friend, who ended up lending it to her parents, who both read it! Thanks for the reminder. It might be time for a re-read.

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