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Generosity of Spirit and Stinginess of Self

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Three things twelve-year-old Becca loved more than anything:

  • Family
  • Chocolate
  • Classical ballet

Last week, I was transported back to a moment in my childhood where these passions were at an all-time high. My friends and I were huddled in a circle with our pink leather ballet flats and colorful leotards. Some of them were chit-chatting and giggling while others were adjusting their bobby pins and daydreaming. 

But not preteen Rebecca Lindsey. No, there at the downtown Buford studio I was enthralled by my dance teacher’s tri-fold poster filled with picture clippings and history of classical ballet icon George Balanchine. 

Bringing Balanchine to Elementary School

Born in the twenties, Balanchine grew up in Russia and trained at the Kirov Ballet (now Mariinksy Ballet). He later founded the world renowned School of American Ballet (SAB) and the New York City Ballet. You know, just one of the most highly acclaimed ballet companies in the world, featuring dancers such as Maria Tallchief, the first Native American to break into ballet. And if none of that rings a bell, just know Balanchine choreographed many ballets, including one of the arguably most famous versions of The Nutcracker.

Many years after first learning about Balanchine on the studio floor, our ballet company replicated one of his famous pieces called Symphony in C.

This ballet tortured me. The music was intense and powerful. The choreography was dramatic and challenging. 

One Saturday, in the middle of rehearsing this dance for what felt like the fiftieth time, our guest teacher turned off the music. He raised his hands in the air, motioning for us to stop dancing. The air was quiet and damp. No one dared ask any questions. This was the kind of quiet that gave you chills for what was to come. 

After a few moments of an intense stare-down, our teacher said in a serious voice, “Why are you so stingy with yourselves?” 

The room was quiet. No one answered. Had he snapped?

He continued, “Those were George Balanchine’s words to his dancers. ‘Why are you stingy with what you have?’ So I’ll say the same thing to you: Stop cheating yourselves. Do it fully or don’t do it at all.” He shuffled towards the stereo and motioned his hand in a circle. “Again!”

And with that, we all took our places and started again. Full-out, mind you.

Generosity of Spirit and Stinginess of Self
Anna Crouse Photography

That Symphony in C memory came back to me last week during a summer school dance class that I was teaching.

Out of all the elementary grades, I noticed that fifth graders seemed to be the most timid dancers. Terrified of being seen as weird and desperate to be viewed as cool, many of them refused to do the movements to the best of their ability. In fact, their resistance is what trademarked this awkward “half-dance,” which sadly looks just as uncomfortable as it sounds.

As I watched this non-committal version of the dance, a certain memory washed over me. I reached for my phone, stopped the music, and stared at those students. Their faces looked puzzled and concerned. Had I snapped?

Quickly, I did a Google search to find the exact words I was looking for. 

Why are you so stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for–for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”

George Balanchine

Stinginess of Self

I love how Balanchine so appropriately uses the words “stingy” to describe dancers who are not giving their all to the performance. Because in reality, when we are stingy with ourselves, our natural talents are not used to the best of our abilities. Sometimes, we hide our gifts under the guise of humility in fear that we will be seen as “too much.”

Too cocky. Too passionate. Too loud. Too disciplined. Too organized. Too spontaneous. Too obsessed.

Just . . . too much.

As a result, we reflect the stinginess in ourselves onto others. In this state, when we view someone who is generous with their gifts, we often see their passion and success as a threat. And do you know what happens when we feel threatened?

We destroy.

In this case, destruction comes in the form of criticism and condescending jokes that shame the one who really deserves an award for their generosity of spirit.

Generosity of Spirit

The best way I can describe the antithesis of being stingy with ourselves is through Christopher L. Heuertz’s phrase in his book, The Sacred Enneagram. He uses the term “generosity of spirit” to describe people with a willingness to share their gifts with the world.

Whether you’re familiar with the Enneagram or not, this phrase is also a helpful antonym in understanding stinginess of self. Gayle Hardie describes each Enneagram type’s generosity of spirit in this blog post. Mainly, it’s important to note that when we are generous with ourselves, we have immense power to transform the world for the better.

With generosity, we don’t hold back tears when that certain song comes on the radio in fear of being seen as “too emotional.” Instead, we give the gift of sensitivity, allowing others to take note of the beauty in a song.

We don’t refrain from speaking kindness in a sea full of gossip and slander. Rather, we boldly pour out a generous amount of love and understanding for the target. We allow our character to shine as brightly as it can in a room that’s gone dim.

Be Generous with Yourself

Friend, you have way too much to offer the world to be stingy with yourself. The world needs your passion and knowledge and fierceness and loyalty . . . and a little secret?

You’re not too much, you are just the right amount. And those who tell you otherwise are probably really tired of being stingy themselves and need to be reminded of their unique gifts. Use your generous spirit to pour life into their buckets.

Put to rest that “half-dance” you cling to when fear takes you over. Accept the overflowing goodness that comes when your embrace your generosity, and give it your all.

After all . . . there are no other times. There is only now.

Right now.

Sincerely seeking generosity,

Becca

6 comments

  1. This is one of my most favorites yet. Such a good word and wonderfully written as always. Your generosity of spirit in sharing your gifts is so magical to me!

  2. Becca, love this! Thank you for reminding us to embrace our dreams now and encourage others along life’s journey.

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