The Generosity Effect

About Shannon

Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else's life forever. - Margaret Cho

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I'm high on the generosity of strangers.

NO. Not high high. That's not what I mean. ANYWAY.

I've had the opportunity to interact with strangers (often in person) a lot lately, and I'm finding myself weirdly... heartened?

This is not my normal reaction to humans. With all the OTPBS and racism and fit-throwing over Starbucks holiday cups and other such bullshittery, I usually don't feel that great about the human race.

But then. Then things happen that renew my faith in humanity. And I'm surprised and delighted every time it happens.

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For about a year now, I've been a part of my local Buy Nothing Group. Buy Nothing seeks to "offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude ... within hyper-local gift economies [to form connections] between people who are real-life neighbors." Now, when I first heard about Buy Nothing, I thought it would be a great way to find stuff and give stuff without much hassle. Plus, reduce, reuse, recycle! So environmentally friendly! But, Smarties, it goes far beyond that. The things I've witnessed in this group are incredible. I've been gifted a beautiful winter coat, the exact boots I was planning to buy with holiday money for $100+, games and game accessories for my family, and an ENTIRE bed for my oldest son. All for free. These are not small things. These are things that otherwise would have cost us hundreds of dollars. And for me and my family especially, they are a big deal. We don't have a lot of money, and things have been incredibly tight for us for... well, for the majority of my oldest son's life.

Even better, these things have been given to us with such authentic love and graciousness by people we have never met. We live in the same neighborhood, probably shop at the same grocery stores and their kids probably go to the same school as my kid, but I don't actually know a single one of the people on the group.

And beyond the gifts I've received, I have seen true kindness and generosity of spirit over and over and over again. I've seen people rescued - literally, people who were actually stuck - from other countries with members' airline miles. I've seen displaced families provided with apartments full of necessities and kindnesses. I've seen teachers struggling through the Seattle Public Schools strike provided with food, childcare, and other things. Neighbors provide each other with rides. Deliver gifts from one person to the next just because they'll be nearby. Pick things up for each other at Costco and Ikea. Make food for each other and offer it to us - to strangers- just because. Neighbors help neighbors here, and it creates a community. It creates grace.

And we could all use a little more grace.

Beyond Buy Nothing, I've recently watched a friend, who is going through painful health difficulties, receive kindness after kindness and love upon love. It's been a rough go for her and her family, and it's been scary and exhausting and expensive. But in the midst of all of it came this incredible outpouring of love and humor and generosity. The kind that stops those of us on the outside in our tracks, and the kind that - hopefully - makes the unbearable just bearable enough for those who are suffering.

Many of us tried to step up to help in whatever small ways we could - ways that seemed so insignificant to us in the middle of our busy lives. But as we each looked across the breadth of offers and help, it was suddenly clear. TOGETHER, we were doing it. Together, we were able to weave together the kind of support net that my friends needed. And together, we supported and loved and hopefully helped, in whatever small ways we could. * * *

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This is what strikes me. Generosity seems so surprising to so many of us because we expect to have to do everything on our own. We expect to weather the difficulties of parenthood or illness or terrible situations on our own. We're afraid to ask for help. But if we do - if we allow ourselves to trust the people around us with our struggles - we receive so much more than we could have ever imagined. I realize that's cliché. I realize it sounds twee and maudlin and a little bit vomit-inducing.

But if there's one thing I've learned from Smart Mommies, it's that this is real. We don't have to be alone here, Smarties. We don't have to weather everything by ourselves. We have people out there. Sometimes the people we need are our family and friends. Sometimes the people we need are complete strangers. But people will help. They will. I've seen it time and time again. I've seen it over the three years that our original Smarty Mommies group has existed. I've seen it in Buy Nothing. I've seen it on the news when the very worst has happened and still - still - there are helpers.

We're not alone here. We don't have to be alone.

Reach out when you need it. Ask for help. Ask for support. Connect. You'll be surprised at the help you'll find among friends, among strangers, among Smarties. Among all of us.

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