Generosity or Charity?

Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity. ~ Albert Camus

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I have to admit that when I first read this quote it seemed odd to me. It sounds like Mr. Camus thinks less of charity than generosity.

I find it interesting that he found it necessary to distinguish between the two.

In an effort to understand the difference, I looked up the definition of both words.

Generosity: Liberality in giving or willingness to give.
Charity: Provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.

These definitions seem to suggest that generosity is an act of giving regardless of the existence of need. And charity is focused on bringing relief to the poor.

Generosity is giving because it brings joy. Charity is a compassionate response motivated by love and a desire to improve someone’s condition.

Perhaps one could even say that generosity is more spontaneous and fun – a way to surprise someone. And charity is more thoughtful and planned – a way for the ‘haves’ to ease the discomfort of the ‘have nots.’

Is generosity more freely given?
Is charity motivated by a sense of duty?
Or is the line more fuzzy than clear?

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6 comments

  1. Louise Gallagher

    You always ask such great questions Diana and spark thinking outside that place where there is no box.

    so… the thought that went through my head was — Charity makes me feel like I think I have the answers, when I don’t have answers for others, I simply have a willingness to support them in finding their answers — and sometimes, that requires me to give generously of what I have so that they can discover all that they have. It also has that element of — I need people to be in tough places so that I can give charity….

    There is something at the back of your question that is niggling at my mind — it’s around how I see people as ‘poor’ — it is a physical attribute of their living condition, not their human condition. How do I distinguish between the two? How do I honour someone’s human condition, without measuring them by their physical living situation?

    Hmm….. need to ponder this — thanks my friend for always stirring my thinking! and my heart.

  2. Wyrd Smythe

    I think the line is fuzzy, for sure, but the basic concepts seem distinct to me. I guess I think of charity as giving something material — mostly to strangers. As you noted: the giving of alms. Generosity seems very general in including friends and strangers and in including things like generosity of spirit or heart or knowledge. It also seems to imply giving freely.

    Maybe one way to put it is that charity can be given generously or not, but saying generosity can be charitable or not seems less coherent. Perhaps charity is just one form of generosity.

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