Written by Geoff Maddock
It’s Saturday and the finishing touches are placed on the table: a delicate vase of flowers and delicious biscuits straight from the oven. An ease and familiarity radiate around the room. The good company and hearty Irish stew generate warmth. The relaxed banter tapers off as one of our hosts explains the purpose of our gathering. Twelve friends lean in to learn about the needs of some of our neighbors and to carefully make an account of our resources.
Can we help? If so, how?
This is the simple work of a generosity event. We contemplate the dilemma of a friend whose ability to make a living ended when his car stopped. Another elderly neighbor and her partner are sleeping on the floor after their bed, an air mattress, sprung a leak.
If you wandered in on this scene you would notice two things. First, the group is obviously made up of people who know one another. Guests are lightening fast with a quip and equally quick to laugh. Secondly you would witness the good and important work of neighborliness; when geographically connected people pay attention to the needs and resources around them.
The conversation meanders and eventually questions about poverty, injustice, personal responsibility, and public policy beg for our attention. These systematic issues can be overwhelming and paralyzing, robbing us of a sense of agency to make things better. It all seems too much. At this generosity event, however, we are saved from despair by the needs raised. They bring focus and clarity to the conversation. We are back to considering the immobilized car and the deflated mattress.
Can we help alleviate these particular struggles? If so, how?
Everyone around the table knows this is not just about money. All of us have resources in the form of friendships and contacts that can even be more valuable than cash. We discuss the cost and next-steps for getting the car back on the road. Anyone know a good mechanic? Who will make sure the mechanic does a good job? We move on to contemplate the uncomfortable fact that some of our elderly neighbors are sleeping on cold concrete. What about buying a mattress for them? We discover that someone at the table has a connection with a local bedding retailer. Can we ask the company to donate a bed?
Our convener makes notes about how to move forward and considers how to budget the money we’ve pooled to meet direct needs. One by one the guests excuse themselves and leave to get on with their weekend activities. We all go away from the table a little more conscious that we are in this world together, that we are able to make a difference for good. It’s a small step closer to living in the community we long for.
This is what neighborliness and generosity look like up close. You will be glad to know the vehicle is back on the road and our friend back to work. You will also sleep better knowing our neighbors have a new, donated bed.Learn More About Generosity Meals Join Common Change