Teaching Generosity to Adults

///Teaching Generosity to Adults

Teaching Generosity to Adults

Teaching generosity to adults can be a challenge. Maybe you head up an adult character club and are trying to convey a good, solid definition of generosity to other adults. Maybe you work with young adults, preparing them for realistic life. Maybe you yourself are looking in the mirror and trying to learn this trait. Whatever the situation, many find that teaching generosity is not as easy as they thought it would be.

Generosity Synonyms

Generosity synonyms might be part of the problem. You may be confusing yourself or others with words that seem to mean the same as the character trait, but are not really the same. Some generosity synonyms come very close to the character trait’s meaning, and then veer suddenly away. That doesn’t help when you’re teaching generosity.

Generosity synonyms are available in any good thesaurus, of course. Some lists try to remain close to the main definition, while others are very far-reaching. One list of generosity synonyms that I found offered more than one hundred words! The one here, taken from Roget’s Thesaurus is limited to twenty-five words, but still includes some that don’t stay entirely on the track. (Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition, Copyright © 2010 by the Philip Lief Group.)

all heart, alms-giving, altruism, beneficence, benevolence, bounteousness, bounty, charitableness, charity, free giving, goodness, heart, high-mindedness, hospitality, kindness, largesse, liberality, magnanimity, munificence, nobleness, openhandedness, philanthropy, profusion, readiness, unselfishness

I think the best use of generosity synonyms when teaching generosity to adults is to have them learn a good, solid definition of the character trait first. Then have individuals, or the group as a whole, look up each synonym and compare it to your definition.

Let’s try that.

Define Generosity

Generosity …begins by reaching an understanding of what it means to do good, helpful things for others, and then acts to consciously and consistently do for others things that are both good and helpful, even at personal sacrifice.

Two Generosity Synonyms?

Remember what you learned in elementary school? A synonym is a word of the identical language that means the same, or nearly the same as another word.

Let’s look at two words from the above list of generosity synonyms, so-called, and compare them to our definition. One comparison is positive and the other negative.

1. Benevolence: This term is defined as a “disposition to do good; an act of kindness” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). The character trait generosity is a quality built within. As such, it can be called a disposition. It is the way a man or woman of character acts on a regular basis. Generosity seeks to do good, and to be kind as it helps others. The two words mean nearly the same. True, benevolence does not speak of personal sacrifice, but if the disposition is deep, it is bound to involve that when necessary.

2. Largesse: This word refers to “liberal giving (as of money) to or as if to an inferior” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). If that is a synonym of the character trait we call generosity, it must mean the same or nearly the same as our definition. Does it? No. Largesse assumes liberal giving, but generosity does not. Largesse is merely a gift, but generosity is a gift with the purpose of meeting a need – being helpful. Whereas generosity is a matter of doing good, largesse can be used for evil. The two are not really synonymous.

Example from Current Events

Teaching generosity with a story that is currently in the news helps adults grasp its meaning more quickly and completely. Stories may present either generosity or its opposite, greediness.

As I write this, a headline on an Internet news site reads: “GOP Senators Question $1M Salary for Boys and Girls Club CEO.” The report reveals that this charity is closing the doors on many local clubs for lack of money. Yet the head of the charity, rather than exercising generosity toward the boys and girls who are in need, greedily banked a salary of one million dollars of government funding for himself. That would be bad enough, but there was more. During the same year, he and other officials spent $4.3 million on travel, $1.6 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, and $544,000 in lobbying fees.

These charity officials were generous, but not to boys and girls who had needs. They engaged in liberal giving, but not to do good to the children. They gave with open hands, but not help the children whom they were hired to help. This popular charity that supports 4,300 local Boys & Girls Clubs serving about 4.8 million children in the U.S. could close its doors because of a lack of generosity – a lack of character.


If you are teaching generosity to adults, challenge them to inject generosity into the story, and make changes to it accordingly. Bring it down to where you live. How would generosity change your life, your community, if you exercised it conscientiously and consistently?


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