I woke up this morning, and the same old band was playing (the really loud obnoxious one that has songs about all of my failures). My husband’s off from work because it’s Memorial Day, but I hadn’t quite decided if I would work or take the day off, and this indecision was grating on me. I stood in the bathroom brushing my teeth, and some awkward painful memories from college flashed into my head—me being someone I didn’t want to be. It’s been more than 9 years since these things happened, and they still have the power to make me cringe. I was on the verge of cringing when it occured to me: I will never see any of those people again, and that’s not who I am right now. Quite by surprise I was able to let the thoughts go and move on.
This little win reminded me of something I had thought about days earlier; the idea of radical generosity. You see, we’re kind of like mules—we walk around loaded down with all of our baggage: memories of how we’ve been, things people have said to us, how we’ve perceived ourselves, the things we think we can and cannot do. We carry baggage for other people too: we carry along our memories of how other people have wronged us, irritated us, and generally acted how we wish they wouldn’t. Everyday we walk around carrying all of this, using this baggage as the starting point for how we interact with and react to everything that happens. This baggage comes to us through our thoughts. Sometimes we’re aware of them, a lot of the time they’re bobbing around just at or under the surface of our awareness. And then something happens and the whole weight of all that baggage becomes almost too much to bear and we react, often becoming the person we don’t want to be.
This is where the idea of radical generosity comes in. Imagine a moment when normally you would have let some thought of how things had turned out previously (badly) rule you, so much so that you would have started out anticipating problems and feeling angry and irritated. Now imagine approaching the same situation and assuming nothing; about how you will act, about how things will go, about how other people will act. You wipe the slate clean and allow the situation to be completely new. This is radical generosity.
It is radical because when do we ever do this? It is generous because the most generous thing you can do is give yourself and other people the benefit of the doubt. By not anticipating that things will go badly, you are opening up to the possibility that they could be marvelous. And really you’re so open that even if they did turn out in a way you don’t love, it still wouldn’t be the same because you’re in a different place.
This concept sounds like it would most obviously benefit interactions with other people, but I think it is truly revolutionary when you apply it to yourself. What if you didn’t have to beat yourself up about the times when you acted badly? What if you didn’t expect yourself to act a certain way? What if you could be whoever you want in this moment and the next? It is incredibly radical to allow yourself this freedom, and incredibly generous. in the moments when I really give myself this wide open possibility; my life is changed, I am new, and everything is beautiful. Could it be the key to peace? I think so. That is a beautiful thing.