By Unpa Nunpa
Days surrounding the winter solstice are often associated with many of the values that make life not only bearable, but joyful. One of these values, what Lakota call wówačhaŋtognake, or generosity, is often on display both publically and privately through numerous channels from extravagant gift-giving among family and friends to a simple act of charity and kindness toward a stranger in need on the street.
As is seemingly repeated many times in many places by very many different faces, generosity during a particular time of year is one thing, but sustaining a truly generous spirit throughout the remainder of the seasons is indeed another. A Lakota had no special reason for being extremely generous toward the entire community in the middle of a hot July; they were probably just having an otú a pi, a traditional giveaway.
Giveaways are one of the best examples of Lakota generosity lived as a way of life occurring as they do at any time of the year for a wide variety of reasons ranging from grief to gratitude to no exact purpose at all other than the desire of someone to want to share what they have with others including offering up the very last item of their material possessions. This perhaps unusual type of thinking is respected around the world.
“What you keep to yourself you lose,” said the Swedish psychiatrist, Axel Munthe, “what you give away, you keep forever.”
Traditional Lakota thinking teaches being generous is not a question of personal sacrifice, but rather something as completely natural as breathing or walking. This thinking is shared by almost every other Native American culture.
Robin Goode, an activist and occasional blogger, explains that, “the act of giving brings us closer together and is a loving commitment to our community. But in European American culture, which is built on property ownership and saving for oneself, giving is seen as a sacrifice sometimes resulting in feelings of loss or of giving up something. This type of system feels isolating, distrusting, unbalanced, and lonely.”
Generosity is rooted in the need for a stable community based heavily upon communal security; if you can rely on me, I hope I can trust that I can rely on you, always with our eyes set firmly on the success and thriving of future generations.
After returning from a trip to Washington D.C. in 1870, the Oglala leader, Red Cloud, famously said, “We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.”
By Jody Rust
“As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.
The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.e
You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God.
Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you” (2 Corintheans 9-15).
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!g “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt. 10:8).
Genorosity in mainstream America is often demonstrated through random acts of kindness, church collections, thrift stores and shelters were people donate items and time to help those in need, and charity donations.
Gift-giving reaches its peak during the Christmas holiday season, and even during Hanukkah, some families give a gift a day with the lighting of each candle on the menorah.
Mixed with much of this giving is an individual benefit. Charitable donations from bags of clothes to Goodwill to million dollar gifts during Jimmy V drives are tax deductable.
The consumer nature of Christmas has also tainted the holiday.
Christmas is a season Christians celebrate because of it is marked by the birth of Christ, believed by Christians to be the son of God who brought a new testament to humanity,
Christ’s short life, according to the New Testiment, was one of giving. He gave his time, his love, his kindness, his mind, and his possessions throughout his life to ease the suffering of others.
His generoisty was marked by compassion for others, and there are many parts of the bible to speak to the reciprical benefit of generosity, as quoted above. Generosity begets gratitude, and gratitude begest genorosity.
America is a diverse nation with many different perspectives. Individualism was promosted by wrtier and philosopher Ayan Rand in her works, such as “The Virtue of Selfishness.”
According to the website The Atlas Society, Rand argued against altruism, or “the view that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. Since selfishness (as she understands it) is serious, rational, principled concern with one’s own well-being, it turns out to be a prerequisite for the attainment of the ultimate moral value. For this reason, Rand believes that selfishness is a virtue.”
This idea is prevelant in teachings that say we must first take care of ourselves before we can care for others, and many Christians will use Jesus’s need to rest before helping more people as a similar practice in the Bible, such as Mark 4:35 – 40.
However, growing up with a heavy Catholic influence, and parents who had a hard time saying no when people asked for help, I learned that giving is in itself a gift to self, because it fills a person with joy to see the needs or desires of another person met.
Gratitude always follows a meaningful gift, whether that gift is materialistic or not, people more often than not are left feeling as if a thank you is not enough, and so they want to give back, or give forward.
However we give, we should remember teachings of generosity in most spriitual traditions are not corrupt with expectations of materialism or intertwined with the virtue of selfishness, which may be born out of a sense of isolation. Rather, they teach communal care and connectedness.