What is giving? Is it simply handing an object to someone else? Is it a commitment?
What about kindness? Is kindness just using your manners?
And what about charity? Is it a philanthropist donating large quantities of money to big name charities? Is it waking up at the crack of dawn to work in a soup kitchen?
Before I can begin my exploration of kindness in day to day life, I feel that is important to define these terms in the context I plan to use them throughout my blog. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives sixteen definitions to the word giving, ranging from giving presents to giving birth. For the word kindness, there are two definitions that are closer to the ideas I am looking for– a kind deed, or the quality of being kind– but these are still vague. Finally, for the word charity, Merriam-Webster gives four definitions and the first one is probably the best description I’ve read: “benevolent goodwill toward, or love of humanity.”
Notice this definition doesn’t talk about extravagant, attention-seeking forms of charity that we often associate with the word, but it captures the true essence behind each of these words I’ve focused so much on. This definition describes charity in its simplest and most pure form, and this is the form of charity I plan to implement in my daily life.
To better explain the other words where the dictionary definition did not satisfy me, I turn to the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark. In this book, giving is described as a form of unselfish love. The authors then break giving down into ten separate categories; Generativity, forgiveness, courage, humor, respect, compassion, loyalty, listening, creativity, and celebration. Each form of giving is then explained thoroughly and opens readers eyes to how much giving they really do in their own lives.
Rather than using the word kindness, this book more frequently uses the term generosity, which is the quality of being kind, understanding, and unselfish. This definition pushes readers to not only be nice or polite to others, but to expect nothing in return and do what they can to understand where the people around them are coming from or dealing with. I feel that this is a beneficial exchange of words because the act of generosity requires much more of a person and especially challenges one to do good for others.
Finally, I would like to bring attention to the massive decline in usage of the words kindness, generosity and charity over time. As seen in the graph below, each of these words has become mentioned less and less over time, while the word giving has, for the most part, remained constant until more recently.
What does this lack of usage mean about today’s society and its selfish behavior? Is there hope for future generations? What do each of these words mean in your life?
“Google Ngram Viewer Charity, Generosity, Giving, Kindness.” Google Ngram Viewer. Google, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.
Post, Stephen Garrard, and Jill Neimark. Why Good Things Happen To Good People. New York: Broadway, 2007. Print.