How can we re-imagine generosity as a tool for transformation?

Podcast now available here

Join us to explore new ways of engaging in generous acts that can both "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." How do our current structures channel giving in non-threatening directions?  How might generosity be unleashed as a potent means of shaking up the system and empowering radical change?

Cafe Calls this Monday, Tuesday and Thursday: Click here for times and registration.

As The Rolling Jubilee demonstrates, Occupiers are exploring alternative models of generositythat challenge the status quo and operate outside the "non-profit industrial complex."  This action transforms giving to those in need into a form of protest that builds awareness of the dysfunction of our economic system.

Our conversation this week is sparked by Occupy Cafe regular Dyck Dewid of Raleigh, NCwho is working on a new initiative--The Generosity Project-- that also invites people to experience giving in a different way.  The document attached below has details, but here is the essence:

You may receive a money bill of any denomination marked with a red encircled 99%.  If you do, it means that this money has history of having been ‘given’ without condition, obligation or implication.  Please take a moment to contemplate or notice your own reaction.  Will you continue the momentum?

On this Monday's Cafe Call, we will hear more from Dyck about his inspiration and plans.  This will seed a wider conversation about ways in which we might continue re-imagining generosity.  On Tuesday's Connect2012 call, we invite the Occupy Cafe community to work in depth with Dyck on some key questions around the launch of The Generosity Project.  And on Thursday's Occupy Heart call, we will explore ways in which our inner perspectives on generosity can either keep us in stasis or move us towards transformation. 

Meanwhile, we will use this forum thread for the online conversations connected to all three Cafe Calls(rather than having three separate threads, as we have done in the past).  We can begin with the following question in advance of Monday's call:

Where do you see transformational opportunities for giving that are going unmet by the "non-profit industrial complex?"


On this Thursday's Occupy Heart call, we'll pick up the thread from Monday's Vital Conversation.  Dyck opened with a powerful story about generosity expressed via, what appeared on the surface to be , different impulses.  Might those two expressions of generosity actually be closer than they appeared? 

Ben posted the following excerpt in the thread below...

Some thoughts on Generosity and Greed from the website of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.  An excerpt:

"Generosity is revolutionary, counter-instinctual. Our survival instinct is to care only for ourselves and our loved ones. But we can transform our relationship to that survival instinct by constantly asking ourselves, 'How can I use my life’s energy to benefit all living beings?'”
—Noah Levine

I (Jitendra writing here) fully agree with Noah that our instinctual survival mechanism can drive us, via fear, to protect the organisms closest to us, often at the expense of others.  The closest being ourselves.  However, that instinct, when arising from within someone in the role of parent, might choose to protect their offspring or spouse before themselves.  Some might argue, this too, is a form of self preservation via family or even tribe.  

However, I would like to offer the possibility that there is an equally compelling force that I call the instinct of the soul, or higher nature, that drives us to behave in a way that protects the whole of us.  And generosity is one way of describing that impetus. 

So, while we may need to transform our relationship with our instinctual survival coding, as I like to call it, the very driver that urges us to do so is already built in.  Our inquiry of self leads us to question then, "What might support or suppress this higher instinct in ourselves?  How also, might we support one another in our behaviors, policies and societal structures to fertilize a generosity/sufficiency-based world?"

Our Occupy Heart inquiry begins here:

Might generosity be a force of our true nature?

Tell stories of your personal experience: what supports and what suppresses your urge to be generous? 

Image at top from Becoming Minimalist

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This is fabulous!

I will ponder a specific way to engage in and promote The Generosity Project, but wanted to invite anyone reading to consider how a project I've been working on for the last five years may be of service:  Wishadoo!

I know there is a way to work more closely with Occupy, as the tools at Wishadoo! were designed to be of service precisely for this movement...even though the site came before the movement. ;)  Interoccupy has shared a few things about Wishadoo in the last month but there is so much that could be done by collaborating more closely, in my humble opinion. 

About Wishadoo:  Wishadoo! is a comprehensive portal providing tools, resources and inspiration to connect, help/be helped, and cultivate compassion, cooperation and authentic community in myriad ways, online and in our own "backyards." Wishadoo!'s tools have been designed to integrate and be of service to all sectors of community: individuals, neighborhoods, schools, organizations and businesses.

The Wishlist, known as "a craigslist of compassion," offers tools for the transformational giving and receiving opportunities you speak of here.  There are also Groups, a Business Directory, and Marketplace (like ebay for good)...a comprehensive social network with tools to connect and be the missing piece of our communities.


I will sign up for a call now!  Thanks for all the great work being done for The Common Good.


Thanks, Dena!  Look forward to connecting on a Cafe Call as well!  Wishadoo looks very interesting.  I see that there is a groups feature, so conceivably we could have an Occupy Cafe Community group there.  It looks like there is a mix of traditional charitable giving options and more unconventional ones.  Can you give us an example of something you found there that is an exciting example of the latter?

Here's a piece from The Utne Reader entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (based on the book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, edited by the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collective, South End, 2007).  An excerpt:

The nonprofit system has tamed a generation of activists. They’ve traded in grand visions of social change for salaries and stationery; given up recruiting people to the cause in favor of writing grant proposals and wooing foundations; and ceded control of their movements to business executives in boardrooms...

What has happened to the great civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s? Where are the mass movements of today within this country? The short answer: They got funded. Social justice groups and organizations have become limited as they’ve been incorporated into the nonprofit model. We as activists are no longer accountable to our constituents or members because we don’t depend on them for our existence. Instead, we’ve become primarily accountable to public and private foundations as we try to prove to them that we are still relevant and efficient and thus worthy of continued funding.

Read more:

Hi, Ben! (not sure if this will reply to your comment; it seems to be replying to the original post, but we'll see...)

Yes, definitely. One of my original visions is to make use of groups for regional grassroots purposes: discussion, planning, brainstorming. Each group has its own event module, discussion forum, media sharing tool and more. Plus, it all integrates seamlessly with the other tools at Wishadoo, for the community at large. Many puzzle pieces which can be connected in one place.

In case this does post in reply to the original post, I also want to say that I strongly agree with the take on the non-profit industry and how, in many cases, it has become part of our capitalism-run-amok system. The good news is there are many new models for social enterprise endeavors (Wishadoo is an L3C, for example). I'm an advocate for creating new ways, supporting more worker-owned cooperatives, etc.

Looking forward to exploring many ideas and issues with this group. :)

(Not sure how this will post... But, this is a reply to D. Patrick (it seems the site Reply function changed, I think last week, Ben)

Thanks for your enthusiasm around the topic. It sounds like you bring a lot of prior contemplation to the topic which will help broaden our collective creativity.

I especially appreciate your point about our sense of charity having been co-opted by the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

The Wishadoo idea is stimulating some of my own wishes along the lines of bringing abundance and scarcity together. I've wanted to have such a 'fair' in downtown Raleigh but technically it takes such a lot of work and support. So maybe next year if there's more people to develop and work on it. Of course, there's a lot more to it I see in the grand Wishadoo idea.

Here's an excerpt from another Utne Reader piece from 2009--Giving When It Hurts: Rethinking Charity-- examining what the Great Recession is revealing about our approach to charity:

As the recession rolls on, the people who run the nation’s social service nonprofits expect people’s needs for food, shelter, and other types of assistance to rise dramatically, just as donations from businesses and individuals are falling: In December, a survey of nonprofit professionals reported the gloomiest fund-raising outlook in a decade. At the same time, cash-strapped government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are further cutting back on social spending and allocating less money to nonprofits that citizens have come to depend on for a wide variety of services. Making matters worse, a number of these same nonprofits—as well as an array of municipalities, school boards, and public works agencies—got caught off guard by poorly structured investment portfolios and scandals, like the Bernard Madoff affair, and have seen their risky Wall Street investments all but vanish.

To consider how we might remedy this state of affairs, it’s worth asking how we got here. In a way, it’s quite simple: We’ve outsourced compassion. Over the past few decades, the United States has deliberately and steadily shifted the burden of meeting social needs from the government onto a loosely organized, haphazardly regulated patchwork of nonprofits. Many groups have overlapping or competing missions, many are closely aligned with business interests through their funding or their boards, and many rely heavily on foundation funding, which ties them even more closely to Wall Street’s fortunes.

Read more:

I love the point about how "we've outsourced compassion."  Seems to go to the heart of the larger question here, and to reflect the impulse that is leading Dyck to The Generosity Project.  Handing someone a bill is the opposite of "outsourcing."

The piece goes on to identify three possible approaches:

  • Reforming restrictive rules governing non-profits
  • Tapping wealthy patrons who share a radical vision
  • Giving the task of meeting basic needs, such as hunger, "back" to the government

Some thoughts on Generosity and Greed from the website of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.  An excerpt:

"Generosity is revolutionary, counter-instinctual. Our survival instinct is to care only for ourselves and our loved ones. But we can transform our relationship to that survival instinct by constantly asking ourselves, 'How can I use my life’s energy to benefit all living beings?'”
—Noah Levine

Thanks, Jerry.  Reminds me of another quote from the Tricycle piece mentioned above:

"Generosity is not limited to the giving of material things. We can be generous with our kindness and our receptivity. Generosity can mean the simple giving of a smile or extending ourselves to really listen to a friend. Paradoxically, even being willing to receive the generosity of others can be a form of generosity." 
—Gil Fronsdal

On our Monday call the views of generosity began its parade before us.  I'm sure it's just the beginning.  Connected to Gratitude, as a flotilla was, Abundance, Having Enough, Affirmation, Forgiveness, Receiving, Creating a new life, Access (to things), Protecting or Buying an Image, Judgement, Listening, Honesty...

This sounds serious, but it starts up again my urge is to 'play around' with all of this.  I want to pull and poke and let it run through my fingers, and jump on it to see what happens and how it, and I behave. 

This dialogue helps awaken me and direct my noticing around behaviors.  I'm particularly interested in the experiential aspects of generosity because I have experienced important or life-changing moments that I could not have predicted in rational dialogue.  My example of the Beggar Woman teaching me my highest example of honesty is a case in point.  5 years later, I'm still trying to live up to her high standard.  And it came about from what might be considered a generous act, but which I have learned is not the standard I was satisfied with for "what constitutes a generous act." 

So, I'm still playing around with the question (what does it mean to be generous?)... always scanning, trying stuff, and learning.  This is something that's in me without choice.  One could say it's pulling me through my life and I'm 100% confident to surrender to the energy of that question.

Here are some ideas that stood out for me in yesterday's Cafe Call (podcast now available here):

  • We "outsource generosity" showed up again, with the suggestion that we are reluctant both to give and to request time, expertise and real connection (feelings/an open heart), substituting money as an easier approach.
  • Generosity thrives on a perception of abundance--of being and having (more than?) enough.  If we are too worried about meeting our own basic needs now and in the future, the impulse to give can struggle to come through.
    • Two interesting questions also emerge from this notion: to what degree are we naturally inclined to generosity?   And how does this compare with our more selfish instincts? I would argue that giving is as deeply rooted in our social animal psyches as self-preservation, and this is not limited to our immediate families, but extends at the very least to whatever "tribal identities" we can develop.  And given our increasing sense of global inter-connectedness,   is it possible we can truly come to see all of humanity as one tribe, as Jeremy Rifkin's posits in the Empathic Civilization (see below)?
  • Opportunities for generosity abound--our communities are hungry for them if only we would look with open eyes and hearts
  • Sometimes "gifts" can do harm--beware of enabling or of giving for the "wrong reasons" (a subject for further discussion, no doubt--perhaps on this Thursday's Occupy Heart call).
  • True generosity springs from a non-judgmental place in our hearts and minds.  How often do we choose to shame others rather than open ourselves to their experience?  This was the lesson of the story Dyck told about his grandmother, which you can hear at the 53:30 mark on our podcast.

Real interesting video, Ben. I'll need to run it do it a few times to digest it... no time to critique or assess or ponder. But, I'm picking up some fertile stuff at least about the overall construct of empathy. And also, thanks for your summary of the call.

I sensed there is some distance yet to traverse in finding actual correlations between generosity and behaviors (more than just in thought). Like, what is the behavior connection to judgement or to abundance? Here's a slightly different tack to try.

Describe a time when you witnessed a generous act of another and how it affected you.

Here's an Occupy Seattle action from this past July that had a flavor similar to The Generosity Project, as it also involves marked bills.

Activists tossed $5,000 off a downtown Seattle building Wednesday to protest money in politics. Dollar bills came swirling down just after 5 p.m. at Seventh Avenue and Pike Street, to the delight of tourists. The money was printed with the words "money as speech silences us all," a statement of protest against court rulings that consider political donations from businesses a form of free speech. According to the activists' website, the money will go back into general circulation and get their message out.


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Regular Calls are no longer being held.  Below is the schedule that was maintained from the Fall of 2011 through Jan 10, 2013.

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