What I learned about generosity from Lakota students

May 30, 2011

I’m thinking tonight of the Lakota students at Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota and their stories of resistance and resilience within our country’s horrific history of death and destruction of indigenous people. I’m pondering how they can speak of maintaining a spirit of generosity through it all.

My colleague Lauren Carriere interviewed these students as her dissertation work on what it means to be a warrior. The students spoke about the value of Wacantognaka (Generosity); one of the four virtues pictured in the Sinte Gleska University Shield above.

We share everything; we give of ourselves as much as we can. What we have, we share, even if it’s a little bit. Generosity is something that, regardless of everything that we have been through and all the ordeals of how we got to where we are today, generosity is one thing that we maintained . . . We never lost that. (Student in study from dissertation of L. Carriere).

Stephen Levine once wrote: “How do you keep your heart open in hell?” when speaking of suffering. I am amazed that this generosity of heart has survived such historical trauma and tragedy. There is much to learn from this Lakota wisdom.

I can attest to being a fairly generous person when things are going right in the privileged world within which I live. However, when life gets tough, it is easy to start operating out of a mode of scarcity – of time, energy, money, and relationships – that can reduce my ability to live out of a spirit of generosity.

Next time that starts to happen, I will challenge myself as to how I define “tough” and remember the Lakota students with gratitude.

(Within the Lakota Medicine Wheel, pictured above, are the four Lakota values: Woksape: Wisdom; Woohitika: Bravery;  Wowacintanka: Fortitude; and Wacantognaka: Generosity).

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