“My son was volunteering at a homeless shelter. In walked one of his high school classmates. I’m proud that he ran into the kitchen and helped there so his classmate would not see him.”
Procrastination is Stingy? How does procrastination lead us to a Generosity Mussar Practice?
Yes, procrastination is stingy. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first a story.
Yesterday I sent an email to over 100 people who donated to a crowdfunding campaign I ran two years ago to raise money to create a Mussar app. After almost a year of delays and excuses, the company I hired went out of business, taking with it everyone’s money and leaving behind only some design documents. Shame and sorrow kept me from telling everyone for months. I felt like I screwed up by hiring the wrong company, so I procrastinated about sending an update to the funders. Now that I have, it feels like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. How does this relate to a generosity Mussar practice?
I am in month three of a year working on my shadow soul traits as part of a Chaborah class from The Mussar Insititute. In our first meeting on Stinginess, we discussed the expectation on a person who receives a request for help.
My mind flashed back to the evening before. I has asked someone for help, and we were scheduled to meet to discuss the issue. Then for the second time, they sent me an email postponing the meeting for two weeks. I was furious. Having already spent a month working on Anger, I had a few tools to work with. I realized that I was mad because I was feeling devalued. But I knew this person is a good friend who highly values me – it was just a matter of it not being a priority for them, and being a priority for me.
When I get mad, I’ve learned to ask for help before responding, and then to focus on asking for what I need. Therefore, I sent them an email back, explaining that I had a project waiting on the answer, and I needed a yes or no. I asked to meet sooner than two weeks, and low and behold they went ahead and met with me. Now we are getting to the Generosity Mussar Practice.
With this incident fresh in my mind, our Mussar group started to wrestle with the question of what is expected from someone who receives a request for help. I then thought of all the times when someone asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to say no and I certainly didn’t want to say yes. So more often than not, I procrastinated, and didn’t give a response. Or I would give a tepid response, and in effect stringing the other person along. I started to wonder if the people I was not responding to felt the way I had the night before, when my request was not being answered.
Now one might say, “But the reason I am not giving an answer is that I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Or because I am afraid that they won’t like me if I say no, or I’ll be a bad person if I say no. Doesn’t that make it ok?” The answer is no, none of those rationalizations make it ok. Such people pleasing arises from a spiritual imbalance in multiple soul traits. Humility imbalance leads to a feeling of not being enough; Honor imbalance underestimates the other’s ability to find an alternate source of help, and the overall anxiety and uncertainty indicated a lack of Trust.
The Mussar lesson taught that a closed hand in stinginess is a symptom of a closed heart. One who is stingy keeps too much to themselves, and does’t share with others. When I procrastinate, and don’t answer others who are making a request of me, I am being stingy with my answer, and my heart is closed to the impact of the delay on the other person.
Thus comes the answer to the question: When someone comes to me and makes a request, I am obliged to give an answer promptly.
****Here’s the Generosity Mussar Practice***
Give prompt answers. Yes or no is all that is required of you. Don’t hold on to your answer. When someone honors you with a request for help, pay them promptly with a respectful response.”
As it says in the Torah “The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.” (Leviticus 19:13). While this commandment is generally thought to apply to paying laborers promptly, it has a similar flavor to giving a prompt response to a request. Just as one might withhold payment out of stinginess, withholding of a “yes or no” is also a form of stinginess. If this reference doesn’t resonate for you, perhaps “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) will.
After all, no one likes to be left in limbo.
Does this generosity Mussar practice resonate with you? Please leave a comment below.
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