I was speaking to a guy who moved to town recently, and he was commenting on the extreme generosity he has encountered in his new community.

No doubt about it. I have lived a lot of places in my life, but I have never lived anywhere else where people give as open-heartedly or are as willing to support causes, events and programs as they are and do here. Some will say that’s because it’s an affluent community, but I think there’s more to it than that. Generosity is not exclusive to the rich.

We’ve all known people with limited resources who give whatever they can, if not their money then their time and their effort. By the same token, we know others who are well-off but stingy and who only think of themselves and what will benefit them personally and directly. There also are stingy poor people and unselfish people of means.

I was never witness to this kind of generosity growing up. Granted, we were from a middle-class neighborhood and my dad worked in a factory seven days a week, plus overtime, to provide for his family, but other than car-washes and bake sales, and the March of Dimes and little kids in uniforms going door to door selling candy bars, and passing the basket at church, I don’t remember fund-raisers like we have now for the arts, environment, disadvantaged, ravaged, research and prevention, athletics, schools and hospitals and community centers, for young people and old people, and animals too.

Some of it is by necessity. We didn’t have to pay to be on the school football team back then, or to sing in the choir, or to take driver’s training. That, to me, is a mind-boggler; that these things were funded then but they aren’t now. Another reason, I’m sure, is due to the ever-increasing awareness, thanks in part to mass communications, of the plight of others, such as storm victims, farm workers, refugees, etc.

Whatever the reasons, the level of generosity is remarkable.

New research published in the biomedical journal suggests it is not a matter of a bunch of inherently generous people who all happened to end up in the same place at the same time, but rather that the degree to which people are willing to give or share changes over time to match the level of generosity of the community.

In other words, a group norm or an expectation is established and then the behavior of the individual members within the community shifts to fall in line with that norm.

Nothing surprising there. We see this in friendships and marriages and business relationships all the time. How a person’s willingness to give of themselves is affected and determined by the standard or the pattern that has been established in the relationship, and that standard changes over time. going through ebbs and flows.

This is a reminder that change within a community, even if that community consists of only two people, is a two-way street. People change communities and communities change people. Generosity is contagious, and so is the opposite.

We affect the average level of generosity — kindness, courageousness, tolerance, etc. — within the community and in turn the average level of the community nudges us up or drags us down, depending. It’s called interdependence.

Things happen to and around us that affect us, and change us, but the key to conscious change, that is, change in the direction that we want it and will it, is as the Mahatma said, to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Ron Colone can be reached at ron.colone@gmail.com


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