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Generosity as a Learned Virtue

Generosity as a virtue bears some distinct characteristics; it’s a learned virtue that depends on both action and attitude, it is a basic moral and personal orientation to life, it intends to give things that promote human well-being, its practice makes one achieve long-term good. Aristotle once observed that generosity is usually commensurate to one’s resources (LaFollete, 2002). Generosity is dependent on the magnificence that ensures that the community as a whole benefits from the virtue.

A generous person gives the right thing incorrect amounts to the right persons and at the appropriate time. Generosity is regarded as a vital virtue in the religious context (Claire & Manuel, 2001). Muslims are expected to give alms to the poor. This forms one of the basic pillars of the Islam faith and even children grow up knowing that offering a helping hand to the less fortunate is important. Christian teachings put a lot of emphasis on the virtue of generosity.

According to Claire and Manuel, several acts of generosity serve as lessons for those who do not truly embrace the virtue (2001). A study of people donating blood at a public hospital raised a few questions. What motivated the blood donors? Why did others who were in their company refuse to donate their blood yet they were healthy? The blood recipients were total strangers and yet the donors did not bother to undergo this sacrificial exercise.

External factors may have contributed but internal factors played the greatest part in the execution of the act. According to Lightman (2005), generosity like other virtues is acquired by acting. However, the motivation behind exercising generosity changes with time. The moral obligation at first seems to be an external force but as time passes by the obligation becomes internal. Repeated exercise of generosity is of great importance in the inculcation of virtue (Smith, 2009).

Even though pro-social behavior can be a personality trait, studies have shown that it is possible to teach children the value of generosity (Smith, 2009). The study illustrates that children can develop pro-social behaviors through modeling. Social learning theory states that children’s moral judgments are easily modified, especially by using an adult model (Lightman, 2005). Social learning theory and motivation are essential ideas as it relates to generous behavior. Generosity is a virtue that can be cultivated through biological or psychological means.

The manifestation of the virtue of generosity is usually different in children. Most of them exercise the virtue of fear and also to please their seniors. As discussed, the more the virtue is exercised the more intrinsic it becomes and hence can be acquired. Children are usually preoccupied with play and if parents are not keen, some virtues may be unlearned by the children. According to Smith (2009), the inculcation of generosity should start at a tender age when the child is able to distinguish between what belongs to him/her and what belongs to another person. Some children freely give what they have whereas some will even fight to protect whatever is in their possession. Parents should learn from these embarrassing situations and ensure that their children change for the better.

Parents should teach their children the importance of sharing whatever they have with others alongside other virtues. A child will grow to be generous and will not require any force to exercise acts of generosity. Failure to instill this virtue at an early age may be detrimental to both the parents and the children. Instilling this virtue in teenagers is not as easy as most people would imagine. Smith observed that the manifestation of generosity gradually changes from an external force to a more internal factor (2009). Training and outreach programs serve as eye-openers to the youth in realizing their social responsibilities. They are also helped to change their attitudes towards the importance of charity in the inculcation of the virtue of generosity.

Generosity is independent of one’s wealth. Every person can be generous because he/she can offer whatever he/she has for the good of another. The inculcation of the virtue at an early age helps at ensuring that a morally responsible generation is nurtured. It can be concluded, therefore, that generosity as a virtue can be learned.


Christian Smith (2009). Science of Generosity. John Templeton Foundation.

Claire, A. & Manuel, V. (2001). Developing Generosity: donating blood (3rd ed). New York Printing Press.

LaFollete, H. (2002). Understanding ethics: theory and practice (2nd ed). Wiley-Blackwell.

Lightman, E. (2005) “Continuity in social policy behaviors: The case of voluntary blood donation.” Journal of Social Policy, 10 (1), pp. 53-79.