“Generosity during life is a very different thing from generosity in the hour of death; one proceeds from genuine liberality and benevolence, the other from pride or fear.”–Horace Mann
Benevolence is an often misunderstood concept in popular culture. At its core, benevolence is a positive disposition to be kind and helpful that springs from the desire to do good deeds. It is often manifested by volunteering for charitable purposes or contributing money to vital causes. Many people believe benevolence becomes muddied when the benefactors seek publicity and acclaim when performing benevolent acts as virtue bragging and/or as a basis for income tax deductions. Oftentimes, charitable organizations must motivate donations by offering incentive gifts such as tee-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and so forth emblazoned with the name and logo of the particular charity or non-profit group. This is so common that it has become engrained in popular culture.
In my opinion, to live the good life includes the regular practices of virtue and benevolence. The lack of either or both of these leads to a less than satisfying living experience. If a person has virtue but is not benevolent, others will find that person to be unapproachable and priggish. If a person has benevolence but is unvirtuous, others will be disrespectful towards that person. Without both qualities, others will hold that person in disdain. If a person is virtuous and has a benevolent nature, the people will respect and feel comfortable and trusting in that person’s presence. These reactions are common and reflexive throughout all human cultures on Earth.
It seems that general benevolence has gone out of style. While beneficial organizations exist, it seems like there are more appreciation dinners with awards ceremonies in order to publicly congratulate donors who contribute vast sums of money. In as much as generosity is a wonderful thing, the expectations of some benefactors to receive public acclaim for their charity seems a bit off. One would think that donated funds would be best used for the charitable purposes of said organizations.
While pondering my long ago departed, distant relatives, I remembered a great aunt and uncle. The couple used to bring home needy people for Thanksgiving dinners. These kind gestures were lovely on the surface, but the couple expected the rest of the family to gush with praise and admiration over the generous deeds. There was something cringe-worthy about the showy, bourgeois behavior that marred the reputation of the great aunt and uncle. It seemed as if the couple was “holding court” whenever they hosted a needy family for Thanksgiving dinner and expected praise. The couple didn’t really do anything wrong, but their manner of generosity seemed a bit funny at the time. I’m sure their generosity was appreciated by the recipients.
Meantime, rare, good leaders are guided by virtues and subtle benevolence–not making a spectacle of either. They nourish and spread the culture of benevolence by their quiet example. Their leadership skills show that benevolence does not cramp their style nor leadership abilities. When non-priggish virtues are teamed with benevolence The leaders will be respected and approachable. They will be held in high esteem by their constituents without having to rely upon public relations firms and propaganda. For the common, everyday people, the practice of quiet virtue and subtle benevolence yields a clear conscience along with an effective, satisfying life. That’s just my opinion.
The Blue Jay of Happiness repeats a quote attributed to Lao Tzu. “When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.”