Generosity is not something that comes easily to many. We become trapped in our own circle and as we age, some of us begin to focus inward. We do not focus on the greater good, but on the greater good for us or those close to us. We think we are generous because we help close family and those who are part of our tribe. We also ignore or complain about the ungrateful people we have met. We may believe that the ungrateful person you met is the norm for the group they are associated with, and we begin to exercise caution and that can make you ungenerous. In your desire to avoid ungenerous people, you become less generous yourself and so lose out on the benefits of being generous yourself.
I suggest it is better, however, to get no return than to confer no benefits. Even after a poor crop, a farmer will sow again; for often losses due to continued barrenness of an unproductive soil have been made good by one year’s fertility. To discover one grateful person, it is worthwhile to be generous to many ungrateful ones.
True generosity, Seneca argues, is measured not by the ends of the act but by the spirit from which it springs. He writes:
Benefits, as well as injuries, depend on the spirit… Our feeling about every obligation depends in each case upon the spirit in which the benefit is conferred; we weigh not the bulk of the gift, but the quality of the good-will which prompted it. So now let us do away with guesswork; the former deed was a benefit, and the latter, which transcended the earlier benefit, is an injury. The good man so arranges the two sides of his ledger that he voluntarily cheats himself by adding to the benefit and subtracting from the injury.
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