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Updated: September 30, 2019 Community Connections

Generosity is an important leadership, life trait

Ted Carroll

Would you ever agree to house a stranger for a week? If so, would you be willing to sleep in the kids’ room so that the guest could use yours?

Even if I said yes to the first question, I’m pretty sure my response to the second would be “no way.”

Yet, last month I was that stranger. I volunteered to join others building houses in one of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s poorest barrios. A local family hosted me and the parents gave up their bedroom so that I could sleep more comfortably.

Now that’s what I call “extravagant hospitality.”

For the last 40 years, I have dedicated much of my life and work to building community in Greater Hartford, mostly as the head of the region’s community leadership organization. My recent trip to Ecuador, however, reminded me that a first step in building community is to extend a warm and generous welcome to new people who enter our space.

Whether it’s the new kid on the block, the new hire at work, or the new arrival at our border, we all have multiple opportunities to show kindness and generosity toward the other. Of course, sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.

When we do, positive changes often result. Supportive relationships can form, lives can be enriched, and the larger community can be strengthened with additional talents and energies.

When we are not so ready to accept and integrate the stranger, however, something else usually happens: We stay distant from one another, with some feeling fearful, others resentful and no one feeling particularly good.

So, what blocks us from being more open, more generous and more welcoming? Perhaps we fear we might lose something if we were to share our time, space and resources with the other. There may have been times when our kindness has not been returned, or when we felt people took advantage of our generosity. Those times may be rare, but they do happen.

In my experience, however, kindness and generosity usually beget more kindness and generosity. When we welcome new employees warmly, we take the first step to engaging their full talents and commitment to our enterprise.

When we prepare a meal for the family that has moved in next door, we lay the foundation for what could be a long and mutually beneficial friendship. When we help a refugee family settle in a new land, we pave the way for them to add to the rich tapestry of our country.

I am not sure what triggered my Ecuadorian family to offer me such a gracious welcome. Perhaps they were moved by my own willingness to help their neighbors re-build their homes. Perhaps they remembered that 20 years earlier, their own home was upgraded by a similar group of volunteers.

All I know for sure is that, throughout the week, we found ourselves in the midst of a wonderful giving and sharing cycle.

At meals, the family fed me first and with the biggest portion. Later, I played wiffle ball and soccer with their grandchildren. We helped one another communicate despite our language barrier. And before leaving, we exchanged modest gifts and touching notes that we will cherish long into the future.

If I have learned anything in my years of studying and trying to practice leadership, it’s that leaders go first. So, to break down the barriers and close the gaps that separate us, I believe real leaders must initiate the actions and take the risks associated with being kind, generous and welcoming to the stranger.

Gandhi once implored us to “be the change you want to see in the world.” When we summon the courage to do so, we take the first step in building genuine community and in healing a broken world.

And for such worthy goals, even I might be willing to give up my bedroom for a week.

Ted Carroll is the president and CEO of Leadership Greater Hartford.

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