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Generosity (also called largess or largesse) is the habit of giving without expecting anything in return. It can involve offering time, assets or talents to aid someone in need. Often equated with charity as a virtue, generosity is widely accepted in society as a desirable trait.
In times of natural disaster, relief efforts are frequently provided, voluntarily, by individuals or groups acting unilaterally in making gifts of time, resources, goods, money, etc.
Generosity can also be spending time, money, or labor for others without being rewarded in return.
Although the term generosity often goes hand-in-hand with charity, many people in the public's eye want recognition for their good deeds. Donations are needed to support organizations and committees, however, generosity should not be limited to times of great need such as natural disasters and extreme situations.
Generosity is not solely based on one's economic status, but instead, includes the individual's pure intentions of looking out for society's common good and giving from the heart. Generosity should reflect the individual's passion to help others.
The modern English word "generosity" derives from the Latin word generōsus, which means "of noble birth," which itself was passed down to English through the Old French word généreux. The Latin stem gener– is the declensional stem of genus, meaning "kin," "clan," "race," or "stock," with the root Indo–European meaning of gen being "to beget." The same root gives us the words genesis, gentry, gender, genital, gentile, genealogy, and genius, among others.
Most recorded English uses of the word "generous" up to and during the Sixteenth Century reflect an aristocratic sense of being of noble lineage or high birth. To be generous was literally a way of complying with nobility."
During the 17th Century, however, the meaning and use of the word began to change. Generosity came increasingly to identify not literal family heritage but a nobility of spirit thought to be associated with high birth— that is, with various admirable qualities that could now vary from person to person, depending not on family history but on whether a person actually possessed the qualities. In this way generosity increasingly came in the 17th Century to signify a variety of traits of character and action historically associated (whether accurately or not) with the ideals of actual nobility: gallantry, courage, strength, richness, gentleness, and fairness. In addition to describing these diverse human qualities, "generous" became a word during this period used to describe fertile land, the strength of animal breeds, abundant provisions of food, vibrancy of colors, the strength of liquor, and the potency of medicine.
Then, during the 18th Century, the meaning of "generosity" continued to evolve in directions denoting the more specific, contemporary meaning of munificence, open–handedness, and liberality in the giving of money and possessions to others. This more specific meaning came to dominate English usage by the 19th Century. Over the last five centuries in the English speaking world, "generosity" developed from being primarily the description of an ascribed status pertaining to the elite nobility to being an achieved mark of admirable personal quality and action capable of being exercised in theory by any person who had learned virtue and noble character (Smith 2009).
Generosity in religions
In Islam Quran states that whatever we give away generously, with the intention of pleasing God, He will replace it. God knows what is in the hearts of men. Say: “Truly, my Lord enlarges the provision for whom He wills of His slaves, and also restricts it) for him, and whatsoever you spend of anything (in God’s Cause), He will replace it. And He is the Best of providers.” (Quran 34:39)
In Christianity, the Book of Acts states that Jesus said that giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). Christian singer Ray Boltz' song "What if I Give All" is about showing generosity to needy people, and his song "Thank You" also mentions generosity.
Generosity in Knowledge
- Missionary Church of Kopimism says that all knowledge is for everyone and copying/sharing information is sacred.
- According to the Bible, having all the knowledge in the world is useless, without the desire for charity (sharing):
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge, and in all understanding— Douay-Rheims: Philippians 1:9
- In the Bible, obstruction of the flow of knowledge is suggested to be the destruction of mankind:
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children."
- Vidya Daan(विद्या दान) translated as Knowledge Charity, a concept in Daan, is a tenet of all Dharmic Religions that also values the sharing of Knowledge.
- Gyan yoga/Jnana yoga(ज्ञान योग) translated as Wisdom Exercise or Knowledge Path, is the sacred search for True Knowledge, in all Dharmic Religions.
- In Hinduism, Right Knowledge is a form of God, and anything Knowledge is written or recorded on is considered sacred, to be protected from obscurity:
अपूर्व: कोपि कोशोयं विद्यते तव भारति |
व्ययतो वॄद्धिम् आयाति क्षयम् आयाति संचयात् ||
- Translation: Oh Goddess Saraswati, your treasure of knowledge (Vidya) is indeed very amazing! If used(shared) it grows and if unused(obscured) it shrinks!
- In Islam, the prophet Muhammad said: "Wisdom is the lost property of the faithful; wherever he finds it he has the right to take it"
- Prophet Mohammed also said: "Whoever is asked about a knowledge that he knows about and then hides it and keeps it away, he will be bridled on the day of judgement with a bridle of fire."
Research and Scholarship
Recent research has shown that generosity is associated with empathy. In this research, by Paul J. Zak and colleagues and published in Public Library of Science ONE, the peptide oxytocin or placebo was given to about 100 men and then they made several decisions regarding money. One, the Dictator Game, was used to measure altruism by asking people to make a unilateral transfer of $10 they were given by the experimenters to a stranger in the lab; oxytocin had no effect on altruism.
Another task, the Ultimatum Game was used to measure generosity. In this game, one person was endowed with $10 and was asked to offer some split of it to another person in the lab, all done by computer. If the second person did not like the split, he could reject it (for example, if it was stingy) and both people would get zero. In a clever twist, the researchers told participants they would be randomly chosen to be either the person making the offer or the person responding to it. This required the person making the offer to take the other's perspective explicitly. Generosity was defined as an offer greater than the minimum amount needed for acceptance. Oxytocin increased generosity 80% compared to those on placebo. In addition, oxytocin was quantitatively twice as important in predicting generosity as was altruism.
Science of Generosity
The Science of Generosity initiative at the University of Notre Dame is investigating the sources, origins, and causes of generosity; manifestations and expressions of generosity; and consequences of generosity for both the givers and receivers involved. Generosity for the purposes of this project is defined as the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.
- Philippians 1:9
- Sanskrit slokas about Vidya
- Vidya Daan: about
- Sunan Tirmidhi Tradition:4159, Sunan Ibn Majah Tradition:9784, Ibid Tradition:9785, Mishkat al-Masabih Tradition:216
- Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and Al-Tirmidhi
- Science of Generosity
- Smith, Christian. 2009. http://generosityresearch.nd.edu.
- Zak, P.J. Stanton, A.A., Ahmadi, A. 2007. Oxytocin increases generosity in humans. PloS ONE 2(11): e1128.
- Center for Neuroeconomics Studies
- Media coverage of generosity and oxytocin
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