Be Generous: Embracing the Humanity in Others
We recently shared all of our values at Box of Crayons. These are things we strive for as an organization. How do we embed them? By drawing on them to help us make decisions and navigate complex situations. By collectively being grounded in them so we have a shared way of being with each other at work. By using them to animate how we engage with one another and show up in the world.
This week we’re focusing on our second value:
Share authentically. Assume positive intent. Meet others where they are.
Engagement even over excellence.
In a basic, obvious sense of “being generous”, Box of Crayons seeks to put out into the world content and resources that are helpful to others. We want people to take it, use it and be transformed by it.
But this value means more to us than that. It speaks to a generosity of time and spirit. It’s an authentic way of engaging with others that’s grounded in empathy, humility and openness. We assume people are showing up with good intentions, which helps to reframe how we see other people or situations.
In the reflection below, Dr. Chantal Thorn reflects on how the value “Be Generous” has shown up in her personal life.
A Love Note to My Two-Year-Old Son
A man has been spending his days under one of the trees in the park behind our house. At night, he goes across the street and sleeps by the pharmacy door. In the morning, he makes his way to the park and sets up camp under a tree again, right beside where we play. He’s not begging. He doesn’t have a sign. He’s existing … and I can’t stop thinking about him.
Empathy and sympathy are not things that I struggle with. In fact, I find it overwhelmingly easy to take on others’ pain and emotion. One of Daddy’s friends even said once that I had a bleeding heart — you know, that I was excessively sympathetic.
All of this is to explain that what you taught me on Saturday was a new level of human connection.
And, as always, I want to thank you for it.
As you played in the park, my eyes kept darting back and forth. From you, my free-spirited and loved child, to him. From you, carelessly “driving” the play structure bus or absentmindedly kicking sand and doing somersaults, to him. From you, intensely protected and cared for, to him. The juxtaposition was striking and my heart ached. So much so that I almost couldn’t stand it.
I don’t know this man’s past and how he ended up underneath a tree in the park behind our house. But what I know for sure is that he was once a little boy. A boy who, just like you, was innocent and deserving of love. So, not only was I seeing him as another human being and connecting at a lateral level, I was connecting to and seeing him as the child that he once was.
A moment later he was rummaging through the garbage and that sent me over the edge.
When you went down for your nap, I put together a bag of food for him. Nothing much. I made some sandwiches and included some apples, raisins, granola bars, cheese, crackers and something to drink. And when you woke up, we brought him the bag. Yep, I brought you with me. Some of you parents are probably shuddering thinking about it. But it was the right thing to do.
I know you won’t remember the moment but I wanted to teach you something that day.
I held your hand as we approached the man under the tree. I said, “Excuse me, this food is for you,” and handed him the bag. “No, no,” he said kindly. I explained that we had put the bag of food together for him and again, handed it to him. “What’s in it?” he asked as he looked through the bag. When he pulled out the granola bar, you pointed to it and started to grunt, making it clear that you wanted it! “Is this your favourite?” he asked and started to hand it back to you. I protested and reminded you that we had many more at home that you could have. And he said, genuinely and humbly (and with a smile), “Sharing is caring, you know?” I took it back from his hands and put it into yours. I thanked him and said to you, “Ok, monkey, we better go,” and he looked at you with a smile and said, “Are you a little monkey?” You smiled at him and said, enthusiastically, “Yeah!” He laughed and said, “It must be good to be a little monkey,” to which you replied again with an energetic “Yeah!” And we walked away.
We didn’t change the world. We didn’t solve a problem.
We didn’t even truly do much to help the man under the tree. What we did was what we could do in that moment. We brought him some food. To be honest, if you inherit my “bleeding heart” syndrome, I will be proud. The small amount of energy that it takes to care and worry about other human beings is a small price to pay in relation to being aware, suppressing judgement, doing the best you can in the moment and recognizing the incredibly small distance between you and the “other”.
Maybe the man under the tree has someone somewhere who worries and wonders. I can barely write that sentence without crying. And if, despite all my best efforts, you end up sleeping under a tree and looking for food from a garbage can, I can only hope that someone will look at you and wonder about the baby boy and if they had someone who loved them more than anything. We can’t give any less to those we will encounter in our lives.
You reminded me that day that we are all one step away from being the “other”. As you find your place in this world, you will encounter all kinds of people. Don’t be too quick to judge. Everybody has a story that could break your heart. The man under the tree has a story I’m curious about. He was once a beautiful, innocent boy, and now he’s looking for food from a garbage can. He is you and you are him.
Look around you this week. Who needs support? Whose story do you need to hear and respect? Which “other” do you need to humanize? Do one small thing to meet a coworker, friend or stranger with empathy and openness. Let’s build some bridges, create connections, be generous and generate gratitude this week.
Dr. Chantal Thorn
Director, Program Development
Think about a situation you face that might be transformed by assuming positive intent.
Where might you strive for open and authentic engagement with another person, even if it challenges you? What do you need to work on to better meet others where they are?
Connection and engagement are things everyone wants, and research is increasingly showing that these are needed to offset the detrimental effects of the pandemic and avoid burnout. Embracing generosity as a value helps align our team at Box of Crayons to a shared way of being with each other and guides how we show up in the world.