Journal

January
13
2019

Reflections on generosity and kindness

I have been deeply moved by the way so many people have used the words "generosity" and "kindness" to describe me and my impact. Generosity and kindness are obviously virtues; the world would be a better place with more of both of these. But sometimes when people write so graciously and lovingly about my personal generosity and kindness they make it seem that these are not just admirable traits, but that they somehow involve sacrifices on my part, that being kind and generous is somehow heroic. It may be a bit unusual to find in an academic of my stature with these traits, but there is nothing heroic about this, no sacrifices. I feel that I live a more joyful life because I live this way.

I put a lot of effort into end of semester retreats with grad students. Yes, this is effort to be sure, but it helps foster a sense of community in which the dead serious work of sociology exists alongside of love and fun, where the competitiveness of academic life is a bit dampened. That is a better life for me as well as everyone else. 

I live in a big house with spare rooms. Often we have people staying in one of those rooms. This does "count" as generous since under the rules of private property I "own" this space which gives me the right (and the power because the right is so heavily enforced by the state) to exclude anyone from access. But having people use the space to facilitate their lives contributes to a reality of living in a caring community which is, for me anyway, just a happier, more meaningful and fulfilling way to live, not a sacrifice. 

Of course there are times when kindness and generosity take time, and given time scarcity that can be experienced internally as pressure and sometimes burden. But this is kind of the pressures and tradeoffs with parenting. This doesn't make generosity and kindness to one's children an heroic act of self-sacrifice. It makes parenting an act of love, in a context where there are too many things to do.

I know philosophers talk about character and personal virtues, and about cultivating one's character, and of course sociologists talk about socialization and norms which bear heavily on these issues. So does my thinking about real utopias, since one of the tasks of transformation and social emancipation is making a world in which it is easier for people to be kind and generous.

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