Published July 03, 2007 by
Often a person giving gifts to others will be described as having largess. This word was originally derived from the Latin word largus, meaning large. This word was transformed in French to largesse and then shortened in English to largess. It doesn't mean large in size but rather generous in gift giving or in donating money to a good cause. These volunteer gifts are what makes them heartfelt.
One form of generosity is considered altruism. This is the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. It comes to human beings naturally, because it is observed in animal behavior. Some behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, like a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator. Most people do not practice the gift of altruism. Their largess is not very large.
Thousands of years ago, human beings were hunter-gatherers and quickly learned to work together to gather the ripe fruits and berries while they were still ripe, or to hunt in groups of people. However when the food and game was not plentiful and a person bragged about where the best fruit or game was located, they quickly learned that they had given a gift to those they told. They also learned that they would go hungry. So they leaned genetically to keep their mouths shut about food and other resources.
Altruism on the other hand is exactly the opposite. It is the willful sacrifice of one's own interests or well being for the sake of something that will be considered a gift to others. It is also often defined as being the selfless concern for the welfare of others. In English, this idea was often described as the Golden Rule of ethics. It states: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Two reversals of this saying go like this: "Do unto others before they do unto you"; and "Let no good deed go unpunished." These are normally expressed by people who are experiencing a shortage of food, or shelter, or have in their past. However as people get to the point in life that they have enough food, water, and shelter, they begin to look for more intangible items like love, affection and belongingness, both giving and receiving these items. Also people look for a high level of self-respect, and respect from others.
Sometimes this search for the respect of others will cause people to brag about their acquisitions or accomplishments. At the same time, they will be genetically programmed not to tell where others can find the best items or merchandise bargains. This causes some strain in the individual and their largess appears very small indeed.
Essentially Largess means the generous bestowal of gifts. It can also be referred to as the actual gift or gifts of money. In the olden days it meant generosity or liberality or bestowing gifts, especially in a lofty or condescending manner.
Now it is used to describe generosity of spirit or attitude, free from meanness or smallness of mind or character. It has been said that most people are generous and care about their fellow human beings. Many people would like to help out more and exercise their largess, but they don't have a clear picture of how to do this.
By a clear picture, I mean that human beings are not very good at predicting outcomes. If they were good at predicting outcomes, casinos would go out of business. This is why people get very nervous about writing exams, because they may know the subject matter, but they can't predict what questions will be asked and as such can't confidently predict that they will ace the test.
However if people could see that a gift to a charity would accomplish something or actually help the intended recipient they would be happy to make the gift of time or money to help out. As I previously mentioned, they would experience a high level of self-respect, and respect from others. That in itself is a gift that can't be replaced.