The Virtue of Generosity

Sylvia K. - Generosity

Generosity is usually associated with the giving of money. In Step 12 it is associated with the giving of ourselves. Understood as a virtue, generosity is not simply an act, but a character trait, a settled, habitual disposition to give of our resources in order to help others. Nor is generosity the giving of just anything, but of that which has value for us. This includes, but is not limited to—nor is it primarily—the giving of material valuables.

We give generously of our time, our attention, our energy, our work, our skills and talents, our knowledge, our experience, our physical space, and our emotional involvement. We give a compliment, a kind word, a smile, a pat on the back. We give credit, we give recognition, we give validation. We give the benefit of the doubt, and are quick to acknowledge the good in those who falter. We give reassurance.

Even in the giving of the material, we give spiritually, from the heart. We give willingly, gladly, and freely, with no expectation of return or repayment. We give freely because we have been given freely. We are generous because God has been generous with us. Our sobriety, our lives, our freedom, and each and every good we have, tangible and intangible, we have by the grace of God.

Our humble recognition of this reality, and our grateful response to it, is the spiritual ground of our generosity. Thus generosity is rooted in, and proceeds from, humility and gratitude. In being generous, we give ourselves in love and service, trying to show to others the grace that has been shown to us.

[Image: Sylvia K., one of the first women to achieve long term sobriety in AA (09/13/39); helped develop AA in Chicago; author of “The Keys to the Kingdom" story in the Big Book. For audio of her story and for Q&A about it, please click on links.]  

Bill W."While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me."
– Bill W.   

Big Book
"Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle." – Big Book    

"Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards." – 12&12   

Life Recovery Bible"The generous makes generous plans, and by generous deeds he stands.” – Isaiah 32:8
“Freely you have received, freely give.” – Mathew 10:8; Big Book, p. 119; 12&12, S12, p. 110, T8, p. 166 

"The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own." – Lao Tzu   

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers." – Seneca   

St. Francis of Assisi
"For it is in giving that we receive.” – St. Francis of Assisi  

"Be generous with kindly words. Especially about those who are absent." – Goethe  

Benjamin Franklin
"He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him." – Benjamin Franklin   

John Wesley“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” — John Wesley

Ralph Waldo Emerson
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." – Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Kahlil Gibran
"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." – Khalil Gibran   

Simone de Beauvoir
"That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing." – Simone de Beauvoir   

Winston Churchill
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." – Winston Churchill   

Mahatma Gandhi
"The best way to fiund yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." 
 Mahatma Gandhi 

Albert Einstein
"The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving." – Albert Einstein   

Simone Weil
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." – Simone Weil  

Robert Louis Stevenson
"You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving." – Robert Louis Stevenson   

Robert A. Heinlein
"One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others." – Robert A. Heinlein   

"Generosity consists not in the sum given, but in the manner in which it is bestowed." – Anonymous   

Norman Vincent Peale"When you become detached mentally from yourself and concentrate on helping other people with their difficulties, you will be able to cope with your own more effectively." – Norman Vincent Peale  

Albert Camus
"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present." – Albert Camus  

Max Beerbohm
"To give and then not feel that one has given is the very best of all ways of giving." – Max Beerbohm

Benjamin Disraeli
"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own." – Benjamin Disraeli   

"Be generous with your praise, cautious with your criticism." – Anonymous

William C. Spohn
"Generosity does not calculate the relative worth of its recipients but comes out of the abundance of the giver." – William C. Spohn   

Tim Keller
"The source of generosity is not the purse. It is the heart." – Tim Keller  

Leo Buscaglia"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." – Leo Buscaglia   

Wayne Dyer
"Generosity is a function of the heart, not of the wallet." – Wayne Dyer

Intellectual Virtues"The generous is “free” with valuable things because he is free from them . . . His freedom from the valuables is partially a consequence of a concern for others that can override his concern for the valuables." – Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology   

"The more I give of myself and the more generously I open my heart and my mind to others, the more growth I will experience." – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon   

Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts
"We extend our love and share our recovery with complete generosity." – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts   

"With Tradition 8 we practice generosity and integrity as we give back what we have been given, seeking neither remuneration nor reward." – PTP123 

PTP4"Generosity adapts us to situations where we are in a position to give a benefit (money, time, a service) to another, enabling us to properly appraise the need and our ability to fill it and motivating us to act accordingly." – PTP4

Practice These: Generosity - Eleanor Roosevelt
Practice These: Generosity - Pablo Picasso

For more PTP123 passages on generosity, see pp. 24–25. For PTP4, see pp. 264, 272, 302, 313, 365, 376, 384, 386, 388, 389, 398, 401, 403; and golden mean, 383; and practical wisdom, 378. For more Big Book and 12&12 passages, click on and search  generosity and its cognates. 

Additional Resources

  1. Meditations for 02/22, 06/01, 06/08, 10/14, and 10/30 in One Day at a Time in  Al-Anon     
  2. “Generosity,” chapter in Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology, by Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood.  Challenging, but rewarding     
  3. "Hilarious Giving: The Virtue of Generosity," chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian  Virtue, by James S. Spiegel     
  4. Babette’s Feast,” 1987 Danish movie with Stéphane Audran and Bodil Kjer. Exquisite blend of beauty, simplicity, and  generosity. Makes one cry and laugh at the same time.

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