On Generosity, Entitlement and Saying, “Enough!”

“I wish we as a species were better at acknowledging gifts and generosity.”

I tweeted this in response to Ashley Ford who said that several commenters on her recent personal essay were asking for more information, more details, more background. These requests imply that Ford, telling us about developing a fuller relationship with her father after he was released from 30 years of incarceration, has not shared enough — of herself, of her personal life and that of her loved ones. Please imagine the extent of entitlement and privilege which would enable this kind of demand of Ford and her extremely delicate and tender treatment of this topic.

I wish we as a species were better at acknowledging gifts and generosity.

This week Audrey Watters drew a line regarding accessing her site for group annotations through platforms such as genius and hypothes.is. For many this came as a surprise and one could detect disappointment from several admirers of her work. In a brief post she explained her move to disable this form of access and suggested that while she appreciates using the margins to comment on a text, she did not feel the need to host this form of unbidden commentary directly on her own website. While most tried to maintain a level of understanding in their push-back, again a particular expression of entitlement to access and mark-up the author’s work even without her explicit consent was not uncommon.

I wish we as a species were better at acknowledging the power and privilege we hold and learned to check it across a spectrum of encounters and contexts.

These two examples stand out in my mind because they are very recent, because both involve women who produce writing and thinking of an extraordinary quality and depth, because the demands are of an intellectual emotional nature that strikes me as distinct from other kinds of labor demands made upon male authors, for example.

There are authors, observers, researchers who are certainly prepared to document the details of the patterns I am suggesting here. I’m not going to do that here. That is not how I wish to use my time or energy. What I am asking you to do is to look. Carefully. See if you find evidence of what I am describing here.

In my mind these examples have everything to do with identity, education and power. It is why this space exists: to keep pointing out what may not be obvious to many. Identity intersects with education, education with power and power always intersects with identity. I want all of us to shine light onto these intersections and then do better because we looked and learned.

I wish we as a species were better at acknowledging gifts and generosity and at knowing when we have received much more than we ever deserved.