“They’re just naturally generous” is something we’d say about people who seem to give more than we do. From what I’ve been learning about generosity though, all of us have the ability to be generous.
With much respect to Mr. Charles Darwin, I don’t agree that human beings are still in a selfish, self-protection mode. We have definitely evolved much.
Recent studies tell us that generosity and kindness are actually hardwired in our brains.
If this is so, then we no longer have to doubt our capacity to give.
“She’s a millennial Mother Teresa! I can’t do what she does.”
Well, you’re probably judging yourself based on someone’s frequent social media posts of her posing with children from third world nations. I have sentiments about publicising our “do-good” actions unless we are equipping others to actually do the same. But that’s another story. My point is, if you look around, you’ll meet plenty of Mother Teresa-like people around who just don’t get to the headlines. And many of these people started from the opposite spectrum of Mother Teresa…
...some of the most generous people I’ve met used to be the most selfish people to the core.
And this is not my own judgement. This is what people now say about themselves.
Let me tell you a story.
His name is Andrew. He was a jokester and a big bully during his school days. He dreamed of a high life. He wanted nothing but money and fame. And he got a little bit of them. Then more of them. Then he did a very bad thing.
He trafficked drugs.
Then he was caught.
He was put in prison for over a decade. In the prison, he prayed to God for a sign about what His life would be next. The next day, a pastor came to visit him and he learned about Jesus. And he accepted Jesus in His life and vowed to try to live His commandments.
Then he started playing tennis in the prison. He later on invited people to join him play tennis so they’d stay healthy while in prison. He talked to people against drugs. Inmates and jail guards can attest that he had stopped using drugs while in jail, which is an uncommon thing, because drugs are prevalent in the prison.
During those years he was reading the Bible, he invited people to learn about it. He led the church services in prison. He encouraged and inspired people to have a changed life.
I met Andrew Chan in Kerobokan Prison in 2012 and later in 2013 while on a mission trip with Youth with a Mission in Bali. While it was a quick meeting, stories from friends about him got me interested in his life story. How can someone so messed up learn how to share what he has with others? He shared even the McDonalds meals visitors brought to him. I heard that in prison it’s tough to be sharing good food because they don’t come often. I read more about him through the years of his life.
He received the death penalty and was executed in 2016, to the shock of many of us who know about his changed life.
Many have commented “He’s a criminal, he deserved it.” Or “The law is the law and he broke it.” Or “His story is like many others in prison, but why is he getting so much attention?” (referring to the many news about him and his buddy Myuran who was also a ringleader of the infamous Bali Nina who was executed the same time). I don’t intend to elevate his story above others. It’s just that, his story is what I’ve come to know personally.
And I believe that his story is a powerful testimony of how a very selfish person can be generous.
Because generosity is in our making as human beings. Scientists have said that our brains have a “generosity mode” that can be switched on through practice.
And what’s more stunning is that there is a timeless book called the Bible that talks about generosity as a character that’s in us.
"So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27
Because we are copies of God, we have his characteristics as well. It’s mind blowing, I know, especially when we think of the selfish and unkind things we’ve done in our lives. I ask myself, “How can I be a copy of God when I didn’t even stop to help an old lady struggling to get her big luggage onto the bus?”
There’s a story in the beginning of the Bible about the first man and woman disobeying God who were the precedent of our being less like God. And this disfigurement of our God-like images can get so bad when we keep nurturing it. And that’s when we get really nasty.
But God gives us a way through Jesus to be like him again, slowly but surely. It’s called redemption. And I’ve heard of stories after stories of redeemed lives. Mine included. I used to be very unkind myself. I’m now less nasty than I was several years ago! Take note: Not perfect, but less nasty.
And I believe that Andrew is one story of that redemption. He chose to be selfish in his earlier life, made small bad decisions, and he nurtured this disfigurement with more bad decisions. When he came to know Jesus and what He did for him and for the rest of us, he chose to be kinder, to be more loving, to be more generous.
- Joanna Blanding
Do you believe that you have it in you to be generous? Share your thoughts in the comment box! And don’t forget to follow us on IG at @givingissocial.
What we learn, we share.
Anything that promotes social giving is worth talking about here.