I love the phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We can strategize to make amazing businesses, neighbourhoods and thriving community, but it will only take us so far. At our core we create a culture that divides or gathers, that isolates or connects. Our dream is to do more than create a strategy for a better city, we want to create a deep culture where neighbours work together to transforms our city for the better, and for the long-term.
One of the most powerful ways to create a meaningful culture in your community is through the simple act of generosity. Giving something to someone else is a powerful way to connect others, and it is a powerful posture towards everything in life. Generosity is not a strategy, it is a culture. It is not something we can legislate or demand, it is something we value and practice, it is a posture of the heart that comes out of the love we’ve received, and now look to pass along.
When I was a boy I remember a neighbour gave me his cowboy hat. It was too big for my head, but I didn’t care. I felt like a million bucks and wore that hat around the house. One weekend I even wore it out to a farm where it got some real cow manure on it. I was thrilled. For a moment in time this city boy was a cowboy and all thanks to this man’s gesture of generosity. It may have been simple to him, but it was profound for me. I felt like someone cared about me enough to give me something special. We do not easily forget moments of generosity. They stick with us and change us.
Creating a culture of generosity in our neighbourhood is also both simple and profound. Gift culture is one way to do this. Gift culture is simply the act of trying to share what we have, without expectation of some return. You can share food, art, a service, or a fun hobby. In fact, you do not need to fret too much about what you share, it is the act of giving that matters the most. Between me and my neighbours I have enjoyed being the recipient of so many gifts.
A couple years ago we gave out cookies to our neighbours at Christmas time. Those who knew me welcomed the gift, those who were new to our neighbourhood were at first mystified. Was this a trick? Generosity is so counter cultural in a time when nothing is given without expectation. But when our neighbourhoods are places where we can set a new tone and a new culture. Instead of wondering if moments of generosity are a trick, we can stand with gratitude that there is one place in the world where we are known, loved, welcomed, and invited to share our lives in turn; this place is our neighbourhood and it has the possibility to become the starting place of a culture of generosity in your community. Give a gift or two, you’ll be delighted and surprised as you do.