Does generosity have limits?

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black backgroundGenerosity is an important and valuable trait. It’s how we show our love and gratitude, offer kindness to those who need it, and share our gifts to help others. Most major religions extol the virtues of giving and make it a core tenet. We know it is better to give than receive.

With all the good things about generosity, can a person be too generous? Are there times when giving can be inappropriate or even toxic? There are. We need to know when we shouldn’t give, just as we need to know when we should give openly when we can and should.

Here are situations when you shouldn’t give.

  • Don’t give expecting anything in return. The only strings attached to your present should be the ones that bundle it up.
  • Don’t give more than you are able to give. Don’t give until you’re bankrupt, when it jeopardizes your health or livelihood, or when you’re asked to do something immoral or illegal.
  • Don’t give to buy someone’s friendship. When you don’t have anything to give them, they’ll abandon you because you didn’t offer them anything besides gifts.
  • Don’t give because someone demands it from you. A gift that is not freely given is not a gift.
  • Don’t give to people who don’t respect you. A gift is unlikely to earn their respect, and they’ll probably use it as another reason to ridicule you.
  • Don’t give to people who take advantage of you. They prey on your kindness, manipulate you to give more than you should, and will suck you dry if you let them.
  • Don’t give to make someone dependent on you. This is not generosity, but a method to manipulate and control.
  • Don’t give excessively and unnecessarily lavish gifts. Others will suspect you have an ulterior motive. Usually, they’re right.
  • Don’t give as a form of business transaction. Don’t spend $100 per person for a party and expect each guest to give you at least a $100 gift. Throw the party because you want to celebrate with your family and friends, not as a crowdfunding event.
  • Don’t give as a way to give to yourself. Marge Simpson can demonstrate the consequences of giving a gift you intend to use yourself.
  • Don’t give to make someone feel insecure or inferior. Henry V can demonstrate the consequences of giving a gift intended to ridicule. (Today, a gift of tennis balls can be insulting when it says, “Why don’t get your fat butt in shape?”)
  • Don’t give to show up others. When others give $20 gifts in the office gift exchange, don’t give a $200 gift to show everyone you make more money than them.
  • Don’t give to aggrandize yourself. (However, many university and hospital buildings are funded this way.)
  • Don’t give something that someone can’t use. Don’t give a diabetic a box of chocolates (especially if you expect they will give it back to you).
  • Don’t give offensive and inappropriate gifts, even if you know the person won’t object. There may be people around who would take offense, and it would still reflect poorly on you.
  • Don’t give something that is cheap and hastily picked out at the last minute and say, “It’s the thought that counts.” If you didn’t make the effort to give, you really didn’t put any thought into it.

When you give, give freely and thoughtfully with an open and loving heart and expect nothing in return. This is true generosity.