A Free But Costly Generosity

“Attention is the rarest and purist form of generosity.” ~ Simone Weil

The other day, I was having a conversation with my daughter. We were chatting amicably when I interrupted both my daughter and our conversation to clarify something trivial with my husband as he walked through the kitchen. I was aware of my rudeness almost instantly, but I had already deflated, not only the conversation, but also my daughter. It is the small things that say the most about us…

How often have I myself felt the sting of dismissal when I’ve been interrupted or known the sense of feeling devalued as the person I’m talking to listens somewhat absently while scanning the room behind me? How often have I done those very same things myself?

“Attention is the rarest and purist form of generosity.” ~ Simone Weil

Paying attention to someone as they speak and not interrupting them are acts of basic politeness that are taught to us as youngsters. However, Simone Weil, French philosopher and mystic, suggests that attention is a form of generosity. That takes paying attention and not interrupting to a much deeper level. There is much that vies and clamours for our attention, so there is ample opportunity to practise generosity of this kind. And it doesn’t cost us a single red cent. It does ask of us an undivided attention and a fully present posture which can be harder to dish up than that red cent.

It seems the hardest place to practise this generous kind of attention is with those to whom we’re in closest proximity. We are busy. Those ducks are forever scuttling out of the row. We hold it together all the day long, keeping our “company manners” in working order, then get home and are boorish with those who are nearest and dearest. My love and I can be in a stretch of busyness and both be looking forward to a quiet evening of reconnecting. When we finally sit down with our cup of tea we can end up feeling irritated and short with each other. We have been at this rather close relationship thing for a long time and are still caught and baffled by how easily we can grate on each other. I think it is in this very place of rub that Simone Weil’s words, if practised, can inject life-giving breath. Sometimes we’ve managed it, other times not.

I think too that both the very old and the very young are easily brushed aside. Can I not pause and listen with attention and interest to my aged Dad as he tells a story I’ve heard before or lays out the genealogy of some remote relative who lived at such and such a farm and surely I can make the connections! and my eyes start to glaze over. Can I not stay fully engaged in my granddaughter’s world of imagination and let the tasks of the day that are pressing in on me wait? How can I bring pure and rare generosity to the unseen corners of my everyday life? Is it as simple and as hard as being fully captivated by the person in front of me?

C. S. Lewis writes about “company or party manners” in contrast with “familiar manners” in his book “The Four Loves”. “You must really give no kind of preference to yourself; at a party it is enough to conceal the preference. Hence the old proverb ‘come live with me and you’ll know me’. Hence a man’s familiar manners first reveal the true value of his .. ‘Company’ or ‘Party’ manners. Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there. They were merely aping those who had.” I think we are invited to something more true and real and kind.

“Attention is the rarest and purist form of generosity.” ~ Simone Weil

As we enter the Advent season, might we be generous beyond measure and pay this kind of attention? Might we really see the person who is ringing through our groceries? Might we pay, not only our $1.65 but our undivided attention, to that soul passing our coffee through the window? Might we ignore the ping of a notification? Might we refrain from mentally formulating a reply but rather truly listen to the old, the young, the fragile, and the near and mostly dear?

My daughter graciously accepted my apology, and we resumed our conversation. But the moment has stayed with me. I have felt an invitation to slow the scurry and hurry of my mind, to let the ducks stray, to be where I am right now, and to give with a rare and pure generosity.

Published by Judy

On the edge of Waterloo county resting sedately on knoll, is an old stone house looking out towards the Grand River. This stone house and farm has been in my husband’s family for years. We have been graced to call this place home for the last thirty years. Our best crop has been our four children.

After years of immersing myself in raising and educating our family, the proverbial nest has slowing been emptying, opening up space for me to fill with other pursuits. Both writing and photography have been knit into my everyday living since I was very young. Sharing them is both a bit of a dream and a bit of a nightmare. But living small and in fear shrivels up a life.

My thoughts are musings on God, aging, family, and simply living. My shelves are lined with books, my baskets are brimming with skeins of yarn, my closet shelves are stacked with apparel, my cellar shelves are chock full of home canning – all testaments to my inclinations.
Our journeys are not solitary affairs. As I share bits of my journey with you, I hope you will be enticed to look more closely, listen more attentively, and live with abandon.

May God’s peace rest on your journey.


6 thoughts on “A Free But Costly Generosity”

  1. Rose Martin says:

    Truer words have never been spoken! I have recently become aware of how often I do this to my own dearest love. You have pricked my soul and made me resolve to “give with a rare and pure generosity”. Thank you.

    1. Judy says:

      You’re welcome, I think – not sure how I feel about “pricking your soul”! 🙂 For me, it’s not only about not interrupting, it’s about not letting my mind wander as someone is talking too. Is that a passive aggressive way of interrupting?!

  2. Janice Shantz says:

    It is sad to say but I know what you are saying here. I try to catch myself before interrupting but am unsuccessful too many times. Conversation is a challenge to balance listening well, enthusiasm, and caring with graceful timing. Thanks for the beautiful reminder that everyone deserves to be listened to.

    1. Judy says:

      I like what you say about balance in a conversation, Jan. “Graceful timing”. That’s good.

  3. Wil says:

    I’m amazed at your ability to put wisdom into words! I enjoy reading your blog.

    1. Judy says:

      Thanks Wil, and I’m glad you enjoy reading it. It can be nerve-wracking to put my thoughts out there for the world to read! 🙂

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