Character Building - Generosity
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE little child comes into the world with a generous and loving heart. He will divide with any one his toys or his candy; it is only when life opens more before him that he becomes selfish and wants everything for himself. The pity of it is, that parents are to blame for this state of things, and for the stunting of the lovely natural impulses of generosity. Sometimes it is merely that they are careless and thoughtless about it, and do not definitely try to keep the child in his best mood; sometimes it is force of example; and sometimes both.
It is a help to generosity when a child has to share his play-things and belongings of all sorts with his own brothers and sisters; then he learns that he cannot have everything in the whole world for himself alone; the only child is the one who usually grows up selfish. But even when the nursery is a training-school, still a parent must daily watch the child and try and have him want to give up his own wishes, his own things, to those about him.
Thanks and praise are both valuable in this training. When the child comes home from school and gives the mother a flower, she must be grateful for it, put it in water carefully, and show appreciation of the kind thought. This little warming of the child's heart is a lesson in itself; it seems worth while to be generous and give pleasure when such a reward comes. Of course this is but the rudimentary part of generosity, and one must give and divide with no hope of reward when the higher stages of character are reached; but at first it is best to show the child how lovely and how pleasant it is to give generous thought for others.
The higher praise of the mother, however, should be reserved for those things that have the element of self-sacrifice in them. When it costs to be generous, then indeed it is worth while! The child that denies itself to give to some one who is in need should be told quietly, and by itself, that this is the real generosity, and of the sort that makes father and mother proud and happy. The child must not, of course, be praised before others in such a way as to make him vain, for one may be generous for vanity's sake, even in adult years; the praise should be given perhaps at bedtime, or in some quiet hour, when the lesson will sink deep.
It is also necessary to teach a child to be generous graciously. It is possible to bestow favors in such a way as to make them utterly valueless; the words of Lowell, "the gift without the giver is bare," should be impressed in spirit as well as in letter on the growing mind. Better not to give at all, one might say, that to give in such a way as to spoil the gift.
Sometimes the idea of generosity is mixed with the idea that money value counts in a gift. This is a fatal mistake. The service of love, the trifling gift, is worth as much as the giving of money or of what has cost money. The mercenary side of life should always be kept away from the child as far as is possible in this mercenary world. True generosity consists in giving with a loving heart, in the spirit of service, whatever form the gift takes.
"The Blackberry Girl" in Volume I of the Library illustrates this noble quality and, further on, the funny Chinese story, "The Most Frugal of Men," emphasizes an opposite trait. Volume II offers many big-souled characters, but we call special attention to "Robin Hood" and "The Two Brothers." Then "The Three Cakes," in Volume III, presents even a stronger example, contrasting generosity with selfishness. Open Volume IV and you will find "Hefty's Half-Crown" and "The King of the Golden River" and "The Monkey's Revenge." Read all of them. In Volume IX the biographies of George Peabody and Peter Cooper are worthy of close study. "Making Presents," in Volume X, should be consulted in this connection. Poems to know word for word are "The Happy Warrior," and "My Creed " in Volume XI.