After a conversation with an adult patient, I used the following exercise to describe generosity and selfishness, but with actual props.
Here's the mental exercise. Imagine you are sitting next to a person. You have six tootsie rolls in front of you. The Tootsie Rolls are yours, and the other person is interested in your Tootsie Rolls. What condition of need does the other person need to satisfy before you offer him (or her) a or some of your Tootsie Rolls?
Suppose the condition for including the person in your Tootsie Roll giving is satisfied, but now you need to determine the condition of giving. To satisfy your identity as a generous person, what is the minimum number of Tootsie Rolls you need to give the other person to meet your self-perception? Would one suffice? How about three? Would the other person's identity as a member of your family versus a stranger in the store be relevant to your giving?
Is fairness a factor? Let's say the other person satisfies your condition of need and your condition of relationship, then there is the condition of being perceived as fair or selfish. How many can you give before you feel unselfish? Does that equate to feeling generous? If you split the number of Tootsie Rolls evenly, then 3 = 3 and balance is achieved, but is it fair? You are being generous and unselfish, but does the feeling of being fair also present? People who consider possession will feel the distribution is unfair.
How about if you had seven Tootsie Rolls? Can you achieve fairness by simple distribution of Tootsie Rolls? Only if you split the lingering single Tootsie Roll in two. However, if you give four and keep three Tootsie Rolls, you will be generous and appear unselfish, but is it fair? Your self-image will be rewarded, but it may be complicated with a feeling of being taken advantaged of. If there is a feeling of being taken advantaged of, will that feeling overwhelm the reward of being generous? How do we reconcile the inconsistencies between opposing parts of our identity?
The exercise was successful in providing evidence for the person's generosity and the variability within the behavior of being generous and selfish, determined by self-perception and beliefs a person has on the perceptions of others. It is also influenced by our definition of fairness. As we define each, we define all, and, thus, can re-define to improve overall alignment.
In a time of the year where generosity is celebrated, how do you conceptualize generosity? No Tootsie Rolls were harmed in the making of this blog post.