I thought I had this action covered first thing this morning: after an exhausting but very worthwhile school RE day in church yesterday, I bought a big box of choccies for the school staffroom to say thank you for all the teachers’ and teaching assistants’ willingness to engage with the day and go the extra mile.
But here we have a problem: the action today is to be more generous, but there can be many other motivations for giving other than generosity. Did I buy the chocolates to be generous? Or perhaps as a retrospective bribe to keep people’s goodwill, implying that I didn’t trust them to be motivated by anything ‘higher’? Or as a reward for making everyone work harder than they should have to, or making them do things that were out of their comfort zone? Or to assuage my own guilt for the things during the day that didn’t go quite right? Or out of a sense that it is my institutional duty to thank them?
It can be good to question our motivations, which may often be very mixed and complex. In the end, though, our actions really do count for a lot. For one thing, they are real and quantifiable, even if our motivations may be hard to define.
But our actions are also important because they affect who we are. I think it was C S Lewis who was asked once by someone, ‘How can I become more generous?’ To which he replied, ‘Give.’ He didn’t just mean that because we give things away we are de facto generous (I’ve already said that I’m not sure that giving is the same as generosity). Rather, giving things away, whatever our motivation, gets us into a habit of giving which, over time, can make us into generous people for whom giving, out of our generosity, is second nature.
So many of the actions in Love Life Live Lent work on this basis: by taking some simple actions and ‘practising virtue’ we not only change the world around us, we also change ourselves.