Opinion: Generous to a fault

Commentary by Terry Anker

We can call it generosity, hospitality, or maybe simple kindness. Yet, we all give, and we all take. Can we ever give too much? Maybe, but should we first ask if we can ever take too much? Most of us try to provide for a bit more than we consume. It is the Hoosier way. We open our homes, hearts and wallets to all. Friend, family and foe can expect shelter if absolutely needed. It is good to give. And, it feels correspondingly good.

But there are times, oh, so painful times, when circumstance requires the intervention of another to provide for our requirements or those of our families. One’s strident hope to provide for our own needs falls short – and are even forced to depend, as Blanche DuBois, the tragic Tennessee Williams character reported, on the kindness of strangers. If it is right and good to give, then is it right and good to accept?

If we afford too much, so much that the lives of our own family members are to suffer, it might be said that we have been generous to a fault. Conversely, can we likewise drink from the boundless support of others, so much that we come to expect if not demand the largesse,  to the point of being counted as needy to a fault?

Our good works rarely achieve perfect balance with those times when we might demand a return favor. Routinely, we do as we can while accepting favors not from those indebted to ourselves but instead from others. Knowing that we can never hope to realize ideal reciprocation, we poise our generosity in the notion of an imagined cosmic equilibrium between what we’ve done and what we receive. Is it possible to maintain an accurate balance sheet? And if so, how does one go about keeping account?

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