I had coffee with my friend Katja today. I haven't seen her in quite a while, which is a shame because I always find our conversations very enjoyable. I am an uposatha Buddhist and she is a Baptist, and it is very interesting to talk with her about all manner of things. I love learning other's perspectives, as I often find even if I disagree with them they can teach me alot about my own views.
Today I complimented Katja's sweater. It had an illustration from Where The Wild Things Are on it, which I thought was particularly cute. She told me that it wasn't originally her sweater, that it had belonged to a friend of hers at a Christian camp. She complimented the friend on it, and unhesitatingly the friend had given to her as a gift.
It turns out that the friend had received it in a similar manner, and Katja had in turn given it away to someone who had complimented her on it earlier in the day. She was still wearing it because it was cold, but had asked the new owner first and promised to wash it and 'return' it promptly.
The reason for this cycle of sweater-gifting was a conversation that Katja had had on camp, about the nature of generosity. The point had been raised that people matter (or should matter) far more than things, and so if someone compliments you on a possession you should give that possession to them; it will make them happy, as they clearly like it, and it remind you of what you truly value.
Earlier in the week Katja had been challenged on this, however. She has a bracelet of which she is very fond, not just because of the appearance but because of the sentimental value. It was given to her by her father, and has a clasp shaped like the Jesus fish. She wears it constantly because of what it means to her, and was asked that, if someone were to compliment her on the bracelet, would she give it to them?
At first she had thought not. After all, she didn't value the bracelet for any material reason, but for the sentimental value it had for her that it would not have for anyone else. But then she remembered a quote from an American Pastor, Bill Johnson. Talking about charity, and our fear of those we donate to misusing our generous gift, he said "to not give money to the poor out of fear that they might misuse it is itself a misuse of money." Even if an object has sentimental value for us, we should trust that whoever we gift it to will value it as much as we do, and if we do not then it calls into question how much we truly value it.
Talking with Katja always leaves me with interesting thoughts to ponder, and even if I don't start giving my possessions away to those who compliment them (I don't think I get quite as many compliments as that sweater anyway), then at least I have had a good reminder on the value of generosity.