Last week I was surprised and honored to receive a letter of praise for my book Inspiring Generosity from Pope Francis who said that he "appreciated the devoted sentiments which prompted this thoughtful presentation" and offered "...a remembrance in his prayers and sends his blessings." I was truly awestruck by the generosity of this message. If this humble man has personified one quality in his early time as Pope, it is certainly generosity towards others, especially those in need and conflict.
His words also reaffirmed something that I learned in my own years of study of this remarkable quality. Generosity lies at the heart of all the world's great religions. We may see divinity differently, hold different dogmas as central to our beliefs, and worship in extraordinarily different ways. But at the core of all religions is the fundamental belief that generosity, giving to others, and caring deeply about their welfare are central to a virtuous life.
In acknowledging generosity's universality, I included quotations in Inspiring Generosity that represent a broad panorama of religions thought: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam and many others. I interviewed ministers, rabbis and monks. Close to home, as I learned about the Shaker community that made its home just down the road from where I live, it was no surprise then to see that generosity was a core value for them as well.
Why is it then that in contemporary culture we have come to think of generosity as merely giving away money? Usually LOTS of money! The media seems far more interested in the activities of our philanthropic billionaires than in the profoundly moving and usually quiet acts of generosity that surround us all every day.
One of my motivations in writing Inspiring Generosity was to expand the definition of generosity from one focused on the material to a broader one that focuses on what it means to live a generous life. I am interested in the person who, in going about her daily life, sees a pressing need, realizes that it is within her power to help, and steps forward to offer whatever help she can without any need for recognition and applause. Of the many hundreds of stories that I have read about what I have come to call "generosity heroes" I selected 14 to spotlight in my book. I believe that these are the people that Pope Francis and other religious leaders hold in their hearts as they go about their work in the world.