07/07/2014 02:59 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

The Impact of Generosity

In the past, the word generous involved the concept of nobility, either by birth or by cultivation of one's character. Over the last five centuries, "generosity" developed from the description of an ascribed status pertaining to the elite nobility to being an achieved mark of admirable personal quality and action capable of being exercised by any person. Ralph Waldo Emerson said this about generosity, "Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee."

We practice generosity whenever we 'open doors for others'. A universal definition of generosity, accepted by most traditions thus becomes, "The habit of giving freely from the heart (e.g., time, skills, attention, and material goods) without expecting reciprocation, acknowledgement, or gratitude."

The ancient Law of Circulation requires that we give others whatever we wish to have for ourselves. If we want love, then we must give love; if we want peace, then we must give peace; if we want prosperity, then we must give prosperity to help others gain prosperity. Giving generously is a by-product of the profound strength of character that comes from genuine humility.

Even while at home, a knock at the door can provide an opportunity to convey personal generosity and to expand life in unexpected ways. For example, I know a family in Colombia who never locked their doors even during the worst times of the drug cartel wars in that country. One evening, the lady of the house, Mrs. Salazar, answered the rapping on the front door only to find one of her son's former friends. The young man standing there looked disheveled, dirty, and distraught; he asked Mrs. Salazar for some food. She invited him in, prepared a nutritious dinner, and sat with him at the table as he gobbled it down. Afterwards, she invited him to take a warm shower and sleep in the guest bedroom for the night. In the morning, she gave him some clean clothes that had belonged to her son. The young man thanked her and left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and genuinely cared for.

About a year past before she spoke with him again. She ran into him waiting in line for a bus to arrive. He was dressed nicely in a suit and tie, neatly groomed and cleanly shaven. He looked her straight in the eye and said: "Thank you, Mrs. Salazar, for what you did for me that night. You gave me food, warmth, a shower, a comfortable bed to sleep in for the night, and clean clothes. You also respected me and treated me with kindness without regard to my appearance and situation. In fact, for a long time, I had been addicted to drugs and was crashing at the houses of people I didn't even know, passing out, and feeling lost and alone. Mostly, those people resented me and told me never to bother them again, even though, they were still willing to take me in for just one night. More than anything, what I remember is, their frowning faces and their judgment of me as a despicable human being, but you were different.

You simply extended your gracious kindness and gave me what you had without any feeling of blame or loathing. As I left your home the following morning, I knew at that moment I would make definite changes in my life. The non-judgmental acceptance and kindness of your generosity was a catalyst for me to turn my life around. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!"
Mrs. Salazar passed away a few years later without seeing this man again.

She left the invisible touch of her simple acts of kindness shared that evening. Who knows how many lives that man went on to influence in a positive way as a result? By putting her generosity into circulation through him and many others, she left a life expanding legacy for this world. We can do the same!

Research at a university in California verified that generosity begets generosity -- in other words, generosity spreads and transfers and has a 'pay it forward effect' many times over. Your one act of generosity toward an individual could reach and touch others who you could never have imagined. Your generosity spreads and it is persistent over time with the person you first impacted. The first individual directly affected by your generosity will act more generously toward others.