Generosity is regarded as a mindful attitude. Jon Kabat-Zinn added it to his initial list of seven attitudes that are found in his book Full Catastrophe Living, along with gratitude. This post will detail what it is and explain how can you develop the attitude through your photography.
What is Generosity?
Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind and generous, and it is a key element of many religions. In Christianity it is known as charity and we are told that ‘it is better to give than to receive.’
In Buddhism it is known as dana: it is the practice of cultivating generosity and is seen as a perfection.
In secular circles it may be described as philanthropy – ‘the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes’ – in the hope of building a better world.
Recently the scientific community have become interested in the act of generosity. The University of Notre Dame has conducted the “Science of Generosity Initiative” to explore the relationship between generosity, happiness and well-being.
I do love a paradox, and human life is full of them. Could it be that generosity provides another? Could it be that when you don’t hold on tightly to what you perceive to be yours that it makes you richer than hanging on to it?
How would it be if you cultivated an attitude of abundance that there would always be enough for you if you gave some away? Does that thought fill you with fear? Fear of not having enough. I know that it can for me. And yet I always seem to have enough. Somehow something turns up to plug the gaps. This requires an attitude of abundance, instead of scarcity. A belief that there will always be enough.
Such an attitude requires fearlessness. It requires you to rise past the fear that you will not have enough. For this fear generates greed, selfishness and stinginess and if you are to be generous, an attitude of abundance is the foundation stone.
True generosity requires a non attachment to the outcome. There is an intention to give freely without attachment to how your gift is received. This then cultivates a freedom from ego and connects us to humanity. You become less centered on me-me-me and more open to the fact that you are part of the whole. Part of humanity. Part of Earth. Part of the cosmos.
Applied to Photography
There are two ways in which you can cultivate generosity through photography.
- Give your photos away for free. Now I know that this is contentious and that it runs contrary to contemporary thinking about copyright, but most of us create good photos rather than great photos. I understand that those who regularly create great photos, and earn their living that way may not want to give their work away (perhaps they would consider option 2 below). But the rest of us mere mortals create millions of photographs a day. (In 2020 we created over a trillion photos and the trend is upwards.) Why not set yours free?
- Donate your skills, knowledge, time or money earned from photography. Why not shoot a friend’s celebration or event for free, donating your time skills and photos? Why not print and frame one of your photos and give it to a friend or relative who expressed how much they like it? If you are a professional why not offer a small part of your time and space to instruct others in an aspect of your photography? If you earn your income from photography why not donate a small, but regular amount of your income to a related charity?
Now I freely admit that I do not do any of these things regularly. I do occasionally offer my services for free or very low rates when I know the recipients cannot afford much. I do struggle with that abundance vs scarcity thought. However, I have a commitment to continue cultivating this attitude and I now donate 50% of one of my online photography courses to charity and I intend to continue the practice throughout the rest of my life.
Have I inspired you to cultivate your attitude of generosity?