Should You Practicing Generosity in Relationships After a Tough Year?

In Brenè Brown’s most recent book, she discusses the importance of practicing generosity. Identifying ways to give people the benefit of the doubt in our relationships and friendships. However, she also discusses the importance of boundaries. One of the most sacred of boundaries is identifying the line between the need for generosity, and the need for self-protection and preservation.

Over the past year, we have been through a lot. Our country has gone through one of the most divisive elections ever. This has created a division that is so deep, it’s come into many therapy sessions. It’s hard to remain generous, when others have such a different perspective on the world. This has become so powerful for some, that they’ve ended relationships with loved ones. Others have seriously re-contemplated their own relationships.

For many, understanding is the key to moving forward. However, there are going to be people in your life who will not understand. There will also be people who will understand in time, but time is what they’ll need. You have the difficult task of deciding which ones you can work with, and which you can’t.

For some women, gay and lesbian individuals, transgender or gender non-conforming people, and people of color, there will be some tough decisions for you in these relationships. The rhetoric of the election reminded many people of the hurt that they experience or have experienced in their lives. They know that some people judge or look down upon them for who they are. They also know that they are misidentified and labeled in ways that can be inaccurate.

On the other hand, this doesn’t erase people who hold different perspectives. Many of them are parents, friends, and partners. So this creates a difficult to balance. On one side of it is being authentic with your emotions, and on the other is maintaining these relationships.

This leads to important questions about your own boundaries. If you’ve lived experiences where you’ve been on the other side of judgment and criticism, or even worse, violence and assault, you know that you need boundaries. There are things that you can compromise, and there are things that you can’t. It’s important that you know the difference. For example, I’m fine if you tell me how you feel, but I’m not fine with you telling me how I should feel. Some people might be generous with that, and trust that they can express their issues, while others will feel like that means that the conversation has to end.

In times of great division, this is something that you have to reflect on. This can help to recreate a path forward, whether you’re going to work on these relationships or not.

Situations and times like these are tough. There are many difficult things to decide. Will you be generous with the time that you’ll give? Will you be generous with the amount of hope that you’ll hold onto? Where do you need to walk away to keep yourself safe? Along with these tough questions, you also have to decide whether you can open up a dialogue about other perspectives as well.

There are no easy answers, because all of these decisions are tough. There is something that you can remember though. Much of what you’re feeling has to do with real, authentic feelings. Many of them are reflecting your past. Some people won’t understand this, but there are always others who will. Bottom line, you’re not alone, even if the feeling can be lonely.

It’s also important to know how you feel, and why you feel the way that you do. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, you’re actually more likely to practice generosity when you’re aware of this. You’ll be less reactive, because you’ll have a mindful understanding of your experiences.

It’s also fine to let the dust settle a bit. You can step back and give yourself some breathing room. Let people know that you need a little time. Then, both sides might be better able to sort through what is buried under the dust that has settled.