We are most generous in tragedy. I have been watching the Hurricane Katrina news and hearing about amazing acts of generosity. One evening while listening to a call in music show, a trucker was on talking about how they simply loaded up their truck and headed towards the disaster - who knows how many hours/days they drove. We have heard about benefit concerts, heroic actions, and millions of dollars raised.
So where does the Generous Mind fit into this sort of tragedy. From a high level view, you would think that more than ideas - food, medicine and money are needed. But if we take a closer look, I think we would find something very different. We relied on two key government agencies before and after the storm. The first was the National Hurricane Center in Miami and the second was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
As I watched both of these entities interact with the world one was clearly a powerful example of idea generosity and the other was not. The hurricane watchers have made it their main job to share information. They have designed processes, systems and communications vehicles to provide up-to-the minute information. People relied on that information heavily as they considered evacuation plans etc.
However, FEMA was very stingy with information. People at all levels have not stopped talking about the lack of information and the struggle to understand what the government's response would be and when it would come. Some news agencies have even written up articles that show the FEMA announcements compared to what was going on in New Orleans specifically.
Now, in fairness to FEMA, it is a whole lot easier to share information about a coming storm than it is to manage a disaster area. But let us study for a minute why one would have such a high value for being generous with their information and why the other would not.
I think one of the main reasons for the difference is the issue of control. In our human nature, we only like to share what we can control. We like to understand something, study it, test it and then share that knowledge. On the other hand, when all is uncertain and we do not have control - we are more likely to duck into our shell and wait till we have regained the upper hand.
In the case of the National Hurricane Center, they have their predictions, radar, air planes and historic trends so that the situation is more predictable. They have much information so they are more willing to share their prediction. That said, hurricanes tend to defy predictions and do the unexpected.
In the case of FEMA, everything was an unknown - the number of dead, the number of stranded, the depth of the water, the status of the levies, and on and on. Why should they be generous when they know nothing and are struggling to get their hands around the situation?
But let me just have you consider something. If we are generous with the little we have when we are out of control - that generosity is a force that will begin to solidify the unknown. What happens when we admit we are out of control or when we share the little we know - others step up and fill in the blanks. People respond with the generosity we have shown.
Think about the Amber Alert (the system to get information out about abducted children). As we share about an abduction, people look for ways to respond to that generosity and provide the information needed.
If generosity of ideas is hampered by a need for control of the situation, how will others respond? The power of generosity is mainly in its impact on those who recieve it.