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April 30th, 2020
We associate the word ‘generous’ with giving, but this overlooks a wealth of meaning. Generous derives from the same root as generate. To be generous is to have the ability to generate. The association with ‘giving’ becomes entirely natural because if you can generate far more than you need or want, then it only makes sense to give it to other people who might benefit from the excess.
Keeping this nuance of the word generous in mind, what would it mean to have a generous perspective? It’s certainly awkward to think that you can ‘give away’ your perspective. That sounds more self-serving than it does generous. No, a generous perspective means a person has a mind that can generate perspectives. This has nothing to do with producing something that is given to another person as it does giving someone else’s perspective some space in your mind. The gift isn’t so much something novel you produce, but someone else’s gift that you reproduce in your own mind.
Is there any greater gift than to take the time to truly understand someone? Isn’t this what we all want? Is this not at the heart and core of the connection we all crave?
This generosity is an imaginative exercise. It’s akin to solving a riddle. We hear or read someone else’s words, and we have a choice: We can merely react to the words we encounter, or we can use these words as clues to construct a working model in our own mind of how someone else’s mind works.
Reading, writing, listening and speaking are all forms of this imaginative exercise. Often we are using the active forms of these mediums to push our own perspective on others, but the active forms of this exercise, that is writing and speaking are asymmetrical in the possible ways they can be used. Reading and listening are one-way activities. We simply receive the words, and hopefully our imagination can make some sense of them. But speaking and writing, while most often used to push our own agenda can be used to further the effect of both reading and listening. Instead of describing our own thoughts and ideas, we can form questions that further probe the ideas and thoughts of others.
Did you mean this?
Can you clarify what you mean by that?
How does your idea work in this or that context?
What about this variable?
How does it fit into a larger picture?
Do you have an example?
How has this been practical?
Wait, are you joking?
These are all active forms that evoke an opportunity for more listening or reading. Such questions are evidence of someone seeking to investigate another perspective more fully. In order to generate anything, we need some raw material, and in order to generate a new perspective in our own mind that is in accord with the way someone else sees the world, the raw material we need is detail, and this is one way the question is useful.
The more generous a perspective the more it can consume and understand as it finds connections across perspectives. Creativity is often the ability to put two things together than no one else has thought to put together before. And a generous perspective gathers the raw material for accomplishing just that aim. This is why great writers are also great readers. They have consumed many perspectives, not just on how to go about the craft, but also how to look at the world. Such a library of perspective is then rearranged in the writer’s mind, elucidating connections that other writers perhaps haven’t yet seen or perhaps weren’t worded as well as the way that occurs to our new writer.
But reading and writing aside the generous perspective applies, or can apply, to any and every facet of life. The faster you can understand what someone is trying to say, the stronger the connection, the more useful both parties can be. Like a neuron that is connected to the entire brain, an individual who has made a study of other perspectives can even begin to anticipate the thinking of other people as their perspective emerges in their own mind.
A generous perspective is a mental chameleon, but not for the purposes of camouflage. A generous perspective subsumes other perspectives in order to grow a toolbox of thinking, the way a chameleon has subsumed all the colors in order to have them on hand when they are useful.
When a novel situation comes around that someone else has already dealt with, we can turn on our version of their thinking and then navigate life with a greater chance of success. Is this not why we write, buy and read most non-fiction? To understand how someone else was thinking in order to accomplish what they have?
A generous perspective becomes ‘generous’ in two ways. First it generates another person’s perspective, and second, it gives that person the gift of feeling understood.
This episode references Episode 93: The Generator
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