The generosity of care support: a summer reflection.

Summertime is often the time of year that I manage to do some reading separated from the normal rhythm of work issues. Over the last couple of weeks in amongst the usual whodunnits and attempts to see merit in ‘bestseller’ lists, I have also been re-visiting some thoughts and texts which I had put aside for that elusive ‘quieter time.’ In that vein I have been exploring some writings around the concept of ‘generosity’ especially as it relates to social care.

Generosity is often dismissed as an old-fashioned concept but I’m very much of the opposite view believing that generosity as a concept needs to be more embedded in our individual and societal discourse. In fact, the last week busy as it has been with political intrigue and debate has struck me as one that would have benefited greatly from a bit more generosity of spirit and action. But more significantly having had the privilege of witnessing so many acts of compassion and care over the years at the hands of both paid and unpaid carers I am convinced that generosity is wired into humanity but also that it needs to be cultivated, nurtured, and promoted.

The dictionary defines ‘generosity’ as ‘the quality of being kind and a willingness to share.’ Many psychologists have argued that by inherent and instinctive nature people are generous, that they act in ways which seek to better another and to benefit those around them. They have stated that the innate predisposition of children at an early age is not to be selfish and narcissistic but to help others. What is more there is an abundance of research evidence which shows that being generous to others is of psychological and emotional benefit to ourselves:

“A growing body of research has revealed numerous psychological and physiological benefits of giving, challenging common conceptions about the relationship between money and happiness. In 2008, for example, Norton and his colleagues conducted a study where they gave $5 or $20 to people and then instructed them to spend it either on themselves or someone else.

Later that evening, the researchers checked in with the participants to see how they felt emotionally. The group that gave money to others reported feeling happier over the course of the day. What’s more, the results showed no emotional difference between people who received $5 and those who got $20. “  (from How generosity changes your brain – Big Think )

The act of giving is something which might indeed come easier to some than others but it is clearly at the core of social care and support. Being generous with one’s time and skills, with knowledge and ability are a tremendous expression of mutuality with another, especially perhaps someone to whom one is not linked to in any other way than through work and professional role. But the real dynamic of generosity which is at the heart of care support and indeed all of social care is the generosity of individual humanity. When you support or care for another you give of your self – there is a dynamic exchange which alters you. You are and become a different person when you support and care for another. I am not denying that there is a cost to care and an element sometimes of sacrifice, hurt and pain in the compassion and support given, but in most instances the person caring is changed in a  way that helps to fulfil their humanity.

I personally think this generous essence of care is what makes care support a unique profession and role. Over the years when I have met and talked to people about the jobs which they do in social care they have often used phrases such as “It makes me feel better,” or “I get such a buzz out of giving to others.” This is generosity in action, an act and way of being with others which changes the recipient but equally which changes the care giver.

Our society would benefit a great deal from such a spirit of generosity in all our interactions and exchanges, and it would be changed were we to recognise that we need to do more to value and reward those whose essential roles are to be generous to others.

All this is wonderfully captured in ‘When Giving Is All We Have’ by the contemporary American poet Alberto Ríos.

When Giving Is All We Have.

One river gives

Its journey to the next.


We give because someone gave to us.

We give because nobody gave to us.


We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.


We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it—


Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.


Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:


Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.


You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me


What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made


Something greater from the difference.

Donald Macaskill