Generosity, as a Form of Self-Care

Over the past year, my husband and I got involved with a local organization focused on food justice in our neighborhood. The two leaders were friends who wanted to do something to make certain the local BIPOC community were set up with food to sustain themselves when the lock down was keeping some people from work and other “essential employees” working overtime. They worked with a larger, metro area-wide mutual aid group to get pallets of donated food boxes delivered to a location once a week and then organized volunteers who would each deliver ten boxes to a list of neighbors locally.

We started volunteering together about a year ago now and rarely missed our schedule Wednesday afternoon gig. However, a few months ago, the entire delivery service stopped. As I understand it, the larger org was having trouble procuring enough food donations for the whole area and our little neighborhood group had such demand and were so good at getting the food out, it was making them all question the equity for the whole metro area. I’m not gonna lie; I’m actually a little proud of this. Our little neighborhood, REPRESENT!

But now my husband and I were left with a hole in our weekly schedule. Of course this was quickly filled back in with day job stuff, but this is so much less satisfying. I really miss being able to drive around my area, learning all the streets and pockets of community that I have historically been conditioned to avoid. This act of service I was taking part in every week was more than just an exercise; it led me down a path toward my calling.

I feel like I have always had the capacity for generosity, but generosity is not always rewarded by society. Before my autism diagnosis, I spent most of my time and energy trying not to be too odd so I wouldn’t be thrown out of whatever group I was in (school, work, friend groups, etc.). Given that many groups don’t promote or expect acts of generosity or any other sort of selflessness, I went with the flow and just tried to fit in. I was not a very strong person and my self-esteem was always a little broken.

Receiving my diagnosis was a revelation in so many ways; this is another. I don’t have to reign in my natural tendency toward generosity because I know I’m doing things for others for the right reasons. I’m not behaving cynically or virtue signaling, which I honestly believe is a political term invented by the right-wing to disparage any left-wing anti-capitalist action the right believes is done in bad faith or just for marketing/publicity.

The truth is I feel so much better when I seek out and act on opportunities to help others, especially when it is an efficient use of my time. Here is another example: I knew I was going to go to Costco last weekend and had planned to see both my mother and my sister the same weekend. So I organized my schedule and got their lists so I could deliver them groceries while they are both laying low for pandemic-related reasons. This is just low-hanging fruit. I also made a large lasagna late last week and ended up sharing portions with them as well. As I mentioned, cooking is another one of my self-soothing activities, so this is doubly satisfying when I can cook once for myself and others.

So not to say that you would experience the same positive feelings or simple peace of mind from doing these precise activities, but you can try to find the things you can do for others that you may already be doing for yourself and turn it into a generous activity. Do it regularly! Make choices to be a more generous person for a few months and see how you feel afterward. There is so much going on in the world that is stressful and negative, just placing yourself in the position to be even the smallest counterweight to that negativity will feel revelatory.

Just don’t go boasting about it all over social media to get attention for how awesome you are. Hold that in your heart and let it make your steps a little bit lighter.

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