Choosing Not to Act

Generosity sometimes means curbing our own liberty for the sake of good relationships and unity.

In the 21st century as in the past, we cherish our freedoms and the ability to do what we want and when we want to do something.  Our “rights,” freedom and liberty are values that are important to us.   At times, we embrace our rights to do what we want regardless of the impact on others.

Yet, sometimes choosing not to act even though we have the right and ability to do so, can be as generous as taking action in helping others.  A great example is what happened to Benjamin Watson. 

In his book and recent ESPN forum, “Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race,” Benjamin Watson, tight end for the NFL Baltimore Ravens describes when he was in high school, he and his best friend (his friend had white skin and Ben has dark skin) went to his friend’s house where they went upstairs to his room to hang out.  When entering the room, Ben noticed a huge confederate flag draped on the ceiling above the bed.  The flag made Ben feel quite uncomfortable and his friend recognized Ben’s cautiousness.  They continued being best friends hanging out at each other’s homes.

To his surprise, the next time Ben went to his friend’s bedroom the confederate flag was gone.  His friend had removed the flag because he valued their friendship and did not want Ben to feel uncomfortable.  Generosity sometimes means curbing our own liberty for the sake of good relationships and unity. 

Sometimes choosing to do something different than what we have a right or ability to do can also be an act of generosity.  That is what Chicago first grader Armani Crew determined.  Instead of inviting a group of friends over for her 6th birthday party like most first graders do, Armani instead chose to recruit her family and friends and give food and care packages to the homeless.  Instead of bowling, jumping on trampolines, eating pizza, cake and ice cream, drinking soda and receiving gifts, little Armani, who is barely tall enough to see over the table, and her friends spent the lunch hour on her birthday serving food to strangers.

Although, it’s perfectly fine if we have the resources and capability to do something for ourselves, it doesn’t mean that we cannot instead choose to use them for others.     

Another selfless act of generosity was demonstrated during the end of World War II by German soldier, Dietrich Hugo Hermann von Choltitz.  He is chiefly remembered for his role as the last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 when he disobeyed Hitler’s orders to level the city.

According to WWII historical sources, on 1 August 1944, Choltitz was promoted to General der Infanterie and on 7 August was appointed military governor of Paris. At a meeting in Germany the following day, Hitler instructed him to be prepared to leave no Parisian religious building or historical monument standing. After Choltitz's arrival in Paris on 9 August, Hitler confirmed the order by cable: "The city must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete rubble."  A popular account holds that Hitler telephoned Choltitz a week later at his headquarters in the Hotel Meurice in a rage, screaming, "Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris burning?")  

Finally, on 25 August 1944, Choltitz surrendered the German garrison of 17,000 men to the Free French resistance group, leaving the city largely intact. Because Hitler's directive was not carried out, Choltitz has been described by some as the "Savior of Paris".

By choosing not to act, General Choltitz’ decision was truly a tremendous act of generosity.  Many lives and historical buildings were saved as a result of his inaction.

Like General Choltitz, is there an act of generosity that you can demonstrate by not acting?  Does someone owe you money or borrowed an item that your inaction to collect would be a generous gift to them?

Like six-year old, Armani Crew, is there something that you would like to do but instead by choosing a different path you will have a significant impact on others?

And like Benjamin Watson’s best high school friend, is there something that you have a right, liberty and freedom to do but by curbing your own liberty can serve as a tremendous act of generosity for the sake of your relationships and unity with others?

Although being generous often requires action, inaction can sometimes be just as impactful.

For more thoughts on generosity, pick up a copy of the enjoyable book, “An Unexpected Legacy: Strategies of Generosity.”    Click here to place your order.