The Ultimate Act of Generosity

comments 30
Course Ideas / Reflections

What I value most in the present time is the willingness to understand one another, in the absence of value judgments, efficacy assessments and deconstructions of validity, and I find this is an increasingly precious commodity. I see a lot of derision with respect to those who are different, a lot of over-simplistic explanations for another person’s views that allow for ready dismissal, and a lot of opinion masquerading as obvious fact or truth.

The human interaction that pains me is when I witness one human being scoff at the mention of another, as if to say, “He’s one of those types.”

In suggesting not only that there are reasons worth understanding at work in the hearts and minds of people who voted for President Trump, but that without understanding and honoring them we are stating a willingness to lose another human being—to accept and perhaps even embrace a drawn battle line—the tables are quite frequently turned and I’m made into a supporter of President Trump. The retort is that if you don’t draw the line somewhere, you’re sort of a fool. There is always something so valuable, so sacred, so necessary on the line that a concession cannot be made. Not for that. Or the assertion is made that a particular viewpoint is so ignorant, so hateful, so ridiculous, the people who share it don’t matter. They’re actually the problem.

It works the other way, too. I use President Trump as an example because it is currently applicable. But the precise same statements could be made about some who harbor a contemptuous dislike of supporters of the Progressive movement, or of the libertarians, or the greens. Or of those who believe in a particular religion, or of those who do not. Or of those who think a particular policy at the office is a good one, or of those who do not. Or of those who lobby for a particular subsidy, law, tariff, right-of-way, public good, or what have you.

What is lost in the shuffle here is whether or not the loss of a person matters—because I make no mistake about this, the closure of one heart to another human is an attempt to notch a person out of the world. It is a profound rift, a scar that cuts through all of us. This statement doesn’t compute in every worldview, and is not necessarily defensible, but it exists at the heart of who I am. I wouldn’t be the same person without this understanding.

The root of the difficulty I see is that most people are afraid of experiencing what it would be like to be different than they are. Most of us have a core belief or two from which we cannot depart without strenuous effort and the overcoming of considerable inner difficulties. Everything about it feels wrong. We feel that if we let go of this particular view and take on another’s, we might not come back. We’d expose ourselves to extreme vulnerability. We’d have to brain wash ourselves, and we don’t want to do that.

And this gets us to what I think is the crux of the matter: we are all profoundly conscious of our ability to be deceived, or of having been deceived, or of seeing another’s self-deception in plain view. The innermost, core stance from which we are unwilling to waiver is our selected defense against deceit. Without it, we would truly be lost. And what value could possibly come from opening ourselves to such recklessness as becoming deceivable once again? In fact, seeing that it is the others who are deceived, we can feel pity for them, or anger at their inability to think and assess courageously, or we can distrust those whose trustworthiness has been broken by the fact they are so obviously deceived to begin with.

What I wish to suggest is that so long as our personal protections against the idea of deception prevent the ultimate act of generosity, we will continue to labor within a broken world. The belief in the efficacy of deception ties into a system of ideas that is difficult to capture in a single blog post—to misplaced notions of what power is, of what value is, of what is at stake in any moment, and of who we ourselves are—but I believe it all stems from the fundamental conceit that we are truly separate. This idea is the plague that has touched us all. In separateness I can win at your expense. In separateness it is reasonable to conclude the world would be better without certain elements in it. In separateness, what is valuable is temporary and unstable. I can’t prove these beliefs are arbitrary, because the world as we know it is based upon them, and reinforces their validity.

But the world is fluid.

What I can offer is the notion that in unity, deception simply does not exist. Not only does it have no efficacy or power to secure a desired outcome, it simply is not possible. Examples to the contrary may arise in each of us, in our thoughts and feelings, in our past experience, in the inventory of suppositions and interpretations that collectively give rise to the idea of who we are. We may resist this idea, but if I was to ask one thing of anyone in these times, it would be this: would you give the ultimate gift of generosity to the person next to you? Would you give yourself for even an instant, with the whole of your being—in a wholehearted way—to the possibility that our safety lies only in our defenselessness?

It will be difficult, I know. I know. Shit. I am scared, too.

These are the X Games of the Heart. We all fall down. What can we do? Pick the person next to you up. Tell them you need them there beside you when you point the tip of your board over the edge. Tell them you can’t do this without them.


  1. a very sweet call
    for humanity
    one voice
    to another
    at a time,
    makes a more
    civil and compassionate
    society, Michael!
    every one needs help,
    and without it,
    expresses pain
    in unique, yet
    not so unique ways.
    hurrah for your courage 🙂

    Liked by 10 people

    • Thank you, David. Much appreciated. I do think the decision to turn to unity first is a difficult one to make at times. It can seem tangential or misguided even. In a world where everything and everyone is measured by their perceived effectiveness, wisdom languishes.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Drew says

    I agree, but I fail at this from time to time. What we need more of is deprogramming and mindfullness training, or experience. I think a lot of what causes the inability to see other’s viewpoints come from unconscious beliefs, fear, and heuristics. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks, Drew. I agree with your thoughts here 100% and fail continuously myself. Although failure can be a harsh verdict. We would do well to give one another the space to fail, too, so that we have the space to react and respond as we feel we must, and then if our actions invite a fresh perspective, or unearth a new discovery, we are free to move with that thread, knowing we are supported in our individual paths…


      Liked by 3 people

  3. Dear brother Mark. Thank you for the call to be more open and vulnerable. I too feel the pain of harsh judgment and divisiveness in our country/ world. I don’t know if I can drop my judgments, but I know the divisiveness in our communication isn’t working. to more peace and inclusion.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Brad,

      I like your conclusion: the divisiveness isn’t working. It’s kind of like, can you be right and still be wrong? Can you be wrong and still be right? Maybe in some cases, when there are different levels at which the moment can be perceived, then in a way, all of these things can be true. I find the time fascinating really. What is it!?

      With Love

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes yes yes. Every time I find myself wound up in judgement, in making the other wrong, in creating separateness I come back to one of Byron Katie’s teaching: “how do you know she is meant to be the way she is? Because that’s the way she is”. And I instantly see the perfection of the other – being perfectly themselves, and incapable of being different. And then the love arises by itself. Every time.
    The other thought I had in reading this wonderful post is something I heard Eckhart Tolle say once – along the lines of: people generally have difficulty entertaining an alternative narrative (to the one that defines them and how the world “should” be). I have to keep reminding myself, but the more I do the more my own internal narrative becomes fluid, and I remember it’s all one grand drama/comedy and damn we’re good actors!
    With much love

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Alison,

      I loved that line from Byron Katie. Wow! What a zinger! And so, so, so, so tough to accept sometimes. I also love your description of love arising by itself, because this is my experience, too. Judgments form barriers to love’s arising, and we end up reacting to things which, at least partially, may not truly be there. And yes, we are such good actors!

      Peace and Love

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    Hey Michael,
    I read this the first day you posted it, and have thought long and hard about how to comment. First of all, I love the line, “a lot of opinion masquerading as obvious fact or truth.” It pains me too, how divided and and divisive we all seem to be with regard to the present political situation. I would love to have the generosity of which you speak. I would love it if all separation disappeared, and we could all be loving all the time. When I stay in the big picture and see the whole scene as from a soap opera, and as Alison says, we are all such good actors, I feel better. I find that I can do that, until I see one more way in which the Planet is being hurt, how disabled children are being hurt, how disenfranchised groups are being disrespected and disregarded, then I get mad. I go to that place of us and them. I can’t seem to help it. I don’t want to, but I do. Sometimes the line in the sand is spacious, and sometimes very narrow. My judgements rise up, and I act. I think in the big picture, I love every human, every animal and all the energy that makes us all, and all the experiences available here. Other times, I have such anger, I could hurt or judge someone in the exact way that I don’t want them to treat me or my loved ones! So much for the Golden Rule, haha.
    I love what everyone has said here. I totally relate to each comment. I guess the long and short of it is that I am as flawed as the rest, and that your generosity is a good place to begin the change we want to see.

    Love and Peace,

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Mary,

      Thank you for such an honest and heartfelt response. It is difficult. As I mentioned in the article, it does feel as though we’re giving license to some of the destructiveness you have described. I should probably think for a few days before responding, too, as this is an area on which we must tread carefully. I truly treasure your thoughts and responses. The most difficult pieces I’ve written on this blog relate to the possibility of ending suffering, and have been explorations of the ideas contained in A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love that are related to this. I’m no expert and feel that the words in those courses are only crude signifiers of the reality being described, perhaps, but the suggestion is made that we “see” suffering in ways that may not be so, and that seeing this way precludes us from moving into the creation of a gentler world. My sense is that these ideas touch closely held places that are profoundly sensitive within each one of us. Places where we feel acutely the tender flesh of pain and love which are closest to our own hearts. So I appreciate your feelings and can place myself in them with you. I can understand the love and desire for goodness from which they flow. So my feelings in this piece are simply how I feel but are not an injunction, Mary! It is not the right way, the only way, the best way. Just the way alive inside of me at this moment.

      With Love

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    I like that, “the suggestion is made that we “see” suffering in ways that may not be so, and that seeing this way precludes us from moving into the creation of a gentler world.”

    I love what you said in this article, Michael. I aspire to being more like that….I just don’t seem to be able to yet. I wish on a daily basis, I could see things differently, as I really do want to move into the creation of a gentler world. And, at the same time, I want to help where I can….if that means loving what is here and/or acting on injustices as I feel led.

    Thanks for feeling my heart.

    Love, peace and gentleness to you, my dear friend.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Pingback: Fleeting Freedom | writing to freedom

  8. Thank you Michael for such an interesting perspective and share. 💛
    Letting go of the idea about the “other” is something I am still working on after all these years. It’s seems a giant leap for those with little insight into their own fear and mistrust. Drawing lines and creating rules of right and wrong, brings a sense of control and empowerment, yet it’s doesn’t bring people to understanding.
    Experiencing being with the other (like living in a foreign culture) and starting to get to know ourselves and the beliefs that we have taken on in life, is a place to start.
    May experience ,education and spiritual guidance support our shift towards understanding and harmony.
    Namaste 🙏

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well said, Val. I particularly liked your observation that while we strive for control and empowerment, it doesn’t always lead to understanding. There’s a tendency sometimes, as we enter this process for the first time, to think the loss of these protections presupposes a false equality amongst all actions and viewpoints. It is hard to fathom that seeing without judgment isn’t the same thing as endorsing actions taken from the false stance of separateness. It really means that without suspension of judgment, we cannot see beyond the separateness to the unity which, once attained, enables unerring action rooted in the good…


      Liked by 1 person

      • “Without suspension of judgement, we cannot see beyond the separateness to the unity” …. really resonates with me and opens up a new light of understanding. Thank you Michael. 💛

        Liked by 1 person

  9. How in thrall we are to those imagined sounds that appear to echo within our heads as familiar, comforting patterns of conditioning. We call them our ‘thoughts’, and instantiate ourselves within them, identify with them possessively — a risky venture for then they become immutable, certainties, intractable beliefs, what makes me what I am, which is brittle, vulnerable, suffering. All because I fell in thrall to some imagined sounds, some words, came under their spell, their spelling. Many thanks Michael, for this beautifully wrought piece. H ❤

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, Hariod… brittle, vulnerable, suffering… are truly the outcomes of our solidified perspectives. I was discussing actors with a friend the other day, and this interesting paradox came out–that a great actor must have a confidence in himself or herself, in order to truly let it go and take on deeply this other identity. There is a real vulnerability to that, an exposure, an act of willingness that requires a great summons of energy. And then I wondered if part of the love for the task doesn’t come from realizing ways in which every character is oneself somehow–as I think it is likely quite difficult, if not impossible, for a writer to invent a character who isn’t expressing at least some facet of herself.

      Glad you enjoyed it!
      With Love

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Michael, your writing here and the responses to your thoughts, really makes me hopeful; mostly it is your expressing of your beautiful heart. There’s this sense of “opening of a cage” – as the lines we draw between us like a self-composed net-like structure, and there’s this earnest plea for something more to reveal itself in our relationships to one another, some sort of freedom in connection.That we can see one another with understanding, and as you write about being unwilling to lose another human being. <—- That was 'so' my favorite part! There is so much compassion in your offering of generosity here. We are willing to keep our hearts open to one another. I join the others in my confessions of not reaching this ideal nature of openness, of vulnerability, of non-judgment, and of often being engaged in human misunderstanding. Recently I've been reading research studies drawing distinction between the term efficacy and effectiveness, and it's interesting to shift back and forth between the mundane nature of exploring processes and mechanisms to the openness of the heart and connecting beyond this main, mundane dimension. I'm reflecting on your words from another response, "it's all coming together," and I feel that maybe I do cling to that idea – that despite the appearance of this or that missile, there is hope; there is a truth –that we are coming together, in some way of looking at it – from some dimension. Also, I had been listening to Jude Currivan and her discussion of entropy and the leanings towards a finite universe from Buddha at the Gas Pump. I'm looking forward to learning and reading more! Thank you my friend, for sharing this Peace from your heart!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Ka,

      What a rich and varied comment, with many avenues to explore! I loved your description of our opening a cage… so good. We don’t realize how our crystallized perspectives actually bind us. It is a very interesting thing, I think, that as we become hardened in our views, we also become shrunken and less able to express and offer the full spectrum of feeling that is associated with our real creative power.

      I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a finite universe. It seems to me that what is measurable is finite, and yet it is imbued at every point with what is in-finite, as if they live at ninety degrees apart or something, and intersect somehow in the hearts and minds of beings…

      I do have hope as well, Ka.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Yes to let our guards down is what we need to be more cohesive, tolerant and unified. But even knowing that I feel pessimistic. I feel everyone (or at least most of us) has to do that or it doesn’t work. That seems impossible in today’s world. The bare truth is we are who we are, not being politically correct, some of us are intolerant. That’s just the way it is. If most us can’t do it then, I can’t sustain doing it for long either, aspire I might, I’m no saint.
    I don’t say this from a superficial perspective, or for an outside group, I am saying this for my inside group. For people in my own family and my own culture and own neighborhood, for people I love. Sometimes our convictions are too strong, so that we become the bearers of ultimate truth and wisdom. No matter what you do or say, you can’t change these convictions. These are permanent, deeply ingrained, pervasive and these lead to immense intolerance for anything else. What do you do then?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Fizan,

      Thank you for this note. I think you have a couple of interesting questions to address here. The first is about the difficulty of making a choice in our world, where not everyone may choose to agree. Being social beings, and being quite sensitive to the ways in which we are able to inflict harm upon one another in all sorts of ways, it can be difficult of course to make a choice for tolerance when the prevailing culture is intolerant concerning a specific issue. But first I would say this isn’t something to choose because of an outcome–meaning it is not chosen as a means to an end, but as an end itself. The choice to seek to understand does not require a particular outcome. It is a choice to seek to understand. It doesn’t come packaged with an ideal behavior, an ideal perspective, an ideal demeanor or way of being. And it doesn’t mind how others respond or don’t respond. It isn’t a choice made to solicit approval. It isn’t a strategy to calm the outer conditions of life. So in a sense, it doesn’t matter if the person next to you is seeking to understand or not.

      Second I wouldn’t call this tolerance per se. Understanding how a mind may find itself strongly convinced of a particular condition or view is insightful. But it does not mean that one must be tolerant of every behavior or act such a mind chooses to make. I think it opens up one’s own mind to a broader range of viable responses, and as I said in the post, a part of this involves a willingness to be inclusive of other people, as opposed to being willing to cut them out of things. By inclusive, I mean included in our heart, in the sphere of all that we love and value. I don’t mean necessarily included in specific external groups or clubs or what have you.

      And lastly, related to what I’ve said already, this isn’t about changing others. Others have their convictions. I’m suggesting it is worthwhile to understand how they could hold those convictions, particularly when those convictions are not our own. I’m suggesting adopting, at least temporarily, a viewpoint in which those convictions are considered our own, and are viewed as acceptable. This may or may not influence others immediately, but that is not really the point. I think convictions are ingrained and permanent only to the extent that a particular person leaves the contents of their mind and heart unexamined. So mindfulness can lead to a more fluid mosaic of convictions, and allow what is truly permanent within us to be expressed. Of course not everyone will choose to be mindful, or to examine their own thoughts and feelings. And that is okay, too.

      There is a way in which compassion is its own reward, I think.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Michael, I love your reply. I do aspire and feel I do succeed to some extent. But some convictions are too difficult for me to find acceptable, although I realise how they have formed very clearly (having had those same convictions myself in the past). I do still love the people and they have a place in my heart. But when such people due to their convictions harm or think of harming others, I hate their convictions.

        You said:
        “I think convictions are ingrained and permanent only to the extent that a particular person leaves the contents of their mind and heart unexamined”

        And I love it, it appeals to me. But similarly the otherside thinks the same about your (our) ideas. A lot of them have a very deep, spiritual and poetic understanding of ultimate reality. And they find it is only through the deepest of self-relfection one can know the (their) truth.

        It’s a dillema. By making a choice to seek to understand. And by being generous and letting go of our paranoias (and unwilligness for decpetion by others). When other’s aren’t doing the same. Are we closing our eyes to real danger? That’s why I feel this only works if everyone does it (not suggesting that is a target). If it is an end on it’s own what happens when we get hurt or are deceived because of the paranoias other’s still harbour.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hello Fizan,

          I would say you’ve hit on some of the very issues I attempted to highlight in this piece–namely the fear and difficulty that arises in each of us when we contemplate this practice. It certainly can be frightening.

          It seems to me that you’ve set up a particular case in your mind in which you would be hurt or deceived. While such cases are easy to conjure, I was initially motivated to write this piece with the idea of how important it is to give each other room to express ourselves when discussing differences of opinion. I think you’ve moved beyond that to a certain extent, which is perfectly reasonable to do. You’ve gone to the core of it: what if I am hurt?

          You’ve also used the words “the other side” and “others” and “them” and for me this practice is intended to allow us to move into a viewpoint less rooted in otherness. Your particular difficulty, as I read your expression, is a concern over being hurt or deceived (and presumably being hurt as a result). And I cannot offer you a full reply to this concern in a single note, or even a single post.

          But what I can say is that this too is simply a perspective, and one worthy of examination. There is a line from the book A Course in Miracles that speaks directly to this, which I often return to, and it is this, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Therein lies the peace of God.” Such a statement can only be meaningful if we, as beings, are other than we’ve thought–other than we perceive ourselves to be in our apparent separateness. This is an extreme answer to your question perhaps, but your question speaks to the heart of the matter, and the way that a particular mode of perception solidifies our willingness to invest deeply in one another.

          I could offer an extreme example: would you give your life if you knew you could give it without suffering and that by doing so you would ensure true and lasting peace for those you love? If you would, then the rest boils down to our natural (and rightful) aversion to pain. Please don’t mistake me: I’m not suggesting we are to be martyrs, or to suffer, or anything like that. I’m saying that to a great extent what we call suffering is rooted in perception.


          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you Michael for the thoughtful reply.
            Your question provokes some reflecting. My reflection is that it would be very difficult for anyone to convince me of the second part. It may be easier for me to be convinced that I can give my life without suffering and even with minimal pain. But the second part of whether this would bring lasting peace for those I love seems almost impossible for me to be convinced upon.

            I feel my fears stem from my deep agnosticism.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hello Fizan,

              I think you’ve simply hit upon the particular point in your thinking you’re uncomfortable crossing, even experimentally, which we all have. I tried to point this out in the initial post. It is terribly difficult to truly consider another’s position–to place oneself in their perspectives and worldviews even temporarily.

              In your first response your reluctance was based upon the reality that unless other people embody this practice also, it could be problematic. A very pragmatic view. Certainly a reasonable one. Here, after our dancing around a bit, your reluctance again is on a premise you find unrealistic–(just as the idea that everyone would do this together struck you as unrealistic). But the premise you find unrealistic here, the idea that you could so something difficult personally to give another person a great gift (only my example was more particular, I understand) has been rejected because my particular example isn’t one you can see occurring.

              So to me it is clear that your choice, for yourself–a perfectly good and reasonable one–is to avoid entertaining ideas that you presently perceive as unrealistic or impractical or which because of their impracticality open you up to a perceived vulnerability. This is quite natural and I would say it is basically where we all stand on this issue, in one way or another. This is why giving the gift of truly seeking to understand another person is the ultimate act of generosity.

              What I will say is that all of us, myself included, in our inability to offer this gift, remain caught in the worlds that our skepticism and judgments of practicality construct. Because those lines we draw cordon us off, not only from others, but from possibility. From types of experience. This is, I fear, a great obstacle for humanity. Each one of our individual worlds are shrunken and we protect the boundaries, and so if another’s world does not overlap with our own, they are effectively outside us. They are lost. Beyond the psychological light cone of feasible information transfer.

              And then what?


              Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks Michael for putting it so eloquently, I totally agree with that analysis. Even so (as you say) we are still who we are. Although I do want to elaborate on this point:

              “…to avoid entertaining ideas that you presently perceive as unrealistic or impractical or which because of their impracticality open you up to a perceived vulnerability.”

              In your previous reply with the scenario of giving up my life for eternal peace for my loved ones. My answer reasonable answer would be – No. This ‘no’ wouldn’t be because I fear pain and loosing life (although that is also very valid).
              This ‘no’ would ultimately be because in entertaining this idea I see a leap of faith is necessary (i.e. to believe it). I feel I would be struggle to wholeheartedly make that leap (rightfully so) because of my deep agnosticism towards any premise.

              In my view there is Nothing until we make a leap of faith first. Take a-priori assumptions for example. Or even to say ‘I exist’ is a leap of faith. By leap of faith I mean there is no rational or any other background to this jump.

              This state of being leads me to doubt everything.
              So in your example, the first step of me dying: I question: Will I die or still exist? Ans: I don’t know. The second part, will it bring eternal peace to my loved ones? Ans: I don’t know. When I weigh that up against my other leaps of faith (which I may be risking by dying), I feel it unnecessary to make this leap into uncertain outcomes.
              That is where my rationality gets me.

              On the other hand my answer in reality may even be -‘Yes’. Because my emotional reasoning is much more decisive.

              So in away I agree with you and I feel it is our (or mine at least) rationality which cordons us off. Whereas our/my emotionality can open up possibilities.
              And they both have their pulls with in me.

              Thanks again.

              Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a great post Michael, timely and timeless. To me it was about “values” and how we have allowed that word to be corrupted. I think it’s important to have our personal values. The things we believe in, that we strive for, that guide us and that ground us. They are a very individual thing, but when we use our values as a yardstick (or metre-stick as we say in Canada), then we’ve stepped outside the meaning of values and moved towards judgment and oftentimes fear, resentment. I encourage myself to not allow my values to be about how I value someone else, because as you say, that allows for a disconnect, and then the edge of the world becomes closer and there is one less hand to hold. Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautifully said, Harlon. Thanks for echoing this back to me with such clarity and light! I felt I sank even deeper into this feeling, this idea, this presence–in the sublime witnessing of a friend.

      Peace, brother.

      Liked by 1 person

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