Generosity consists not of the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed.
Some things never cease to amaze me about Lebanon. Yesterday morning a man knocked on our door with a small Tupperware of ma’moul, as I stood there wondering who he was, especially that his face was familiar, he tells me “hayda ma’moul shighil Yvonne, wassitne ib3atlik yehon” (these ma’moul are made by Yvonne and she asked me to send them to you). Yvonne, is the owner of the dekeneh in our neighborhood, and the one I share with her my desserts whenever I am trying a new recipe. In the afternoon my youngest was invited to his friend’s birthday party Kayan, as we are leaving his father Nabil tells me that there is something for us to take home by the door. Indeed another lovely gift was bestowed upon us, one of the best olive oil I have tasted this season straight from Enfeh. As luck would have it, when I got back home, Cyriline tells me that Abed the natour (porter) of the building just next to us has left me a bag from Mrs. Siham Khoury, a neighbor that I love and look forward to bumping into. The last time I saw Siham was at Monop, and we were discussing our love of food and sharing recipes. I called Siham to thank her for the truffle cream and the balsamic caviar she sent me as she explained to me that she was in Paris a week ago and she remembered our conversation and thought of bringing these to me and they were “ma shi, shifton wo tzakartik” (they are nothing, I just saw them and remembered you).
Gestures of love, kindness, and generosity are the true fabric of this society we live in and one of its most peculiar and enchanting attributes. Generosity is a practical expression of love, and we do have it in abundance. Lebanese are always eager to share what they have with one another. It’s what makes our society unique. Good friends are good friends wherever you are in the world, but building ties of love, friendship, and generosity in a society built on kindliness is truly special.
Living in Lebanon, we repeatedly hear bad and horrific news, garbage being unpicked for months, corruption, and theft of national wealth, and it becomes harder and harder to believe that kindness and goodwill still serve as guideposts for humanity. Where are the heroes? Where are love and compassion? And really, where is there any good news? The answer lies beneath the surface, under the noise and drama that capture major headlines. Unobtrusive and resilient, the human spirit of kindness, caring, and generosity still thrives here.
However, the circle of generosity doesn’t end there, in fact it’s exponentially bigger. Recipients of kindness generally want to keep paying it forward, says James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego. In fact, in one of Fowler’s studies, he found that a single act of kindness typically inspired several more acts of generosity. The scientific name for this chain of altruism is “upstream reciprocity,” but you can think of it as a domino effect of warm and fuzzy feelings. What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” writes Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”
Barbara Fredrickson, a pioneering happiness researcher, suggests that cultivating gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness. “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well,” she writes in her book Positivity. “And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”
Human generosity is likely to rest on more than social pressure, and is instead built in to human nature. In Lebanon, despite it all, we love each other and care about sharing what we have with the people around us. We build strings that bind us together, strings made of sharing this simple life.
Beat the steady drum that determines the time and rhythm of our life. Beat this heart, a token of our life that we all possess. This persistent beat, beat, beat, determines whether we live truly or merely by passing. As a society we are all moved by this immensely powerful concept of love, hope, generosity, and what could be. It’s our humanity built on sympathy, empathy, unity, generosity, sincerity, and amity that make us who we are, that make us Lebanese.
To my Lebanon and its wonderful people…