Most of us encounter Charlotte Mason when exploring educational options, but before long we learn that her perspective on education embraces far more than science, history, or the arts. We find that her educational philosophy grows from an understanding of persons. Viewing others as made in the image of God, each one reflecting his nature, expands our perspective on education beyond knowledge for intellectual development of persons. We discover that the living ideas and habits fit for us as persons nourish our character to grow into all we were ever meant to be as persons.
In her book Ourselves, a narrative account full of living ideas of what it means to be born persons, Mason masterfully unfolds the realms of personhood. Over and over, she asserts that attributes of God are within us, part of our person, and need only to be nourished and practiced to become habits of life. She writes for example, that our hearts have inborn desires for love and justice, shown by the existence of such character qualities as kindness, sympathy, humility, courage, and loyalty. Cultivation of these natural qualities of persons by knowledge and formation of habits strengthens us to fulfill the law of God to love our neighbor as ourself and to love the God in whose image we are made.
Take, for example, her explanation of generosity. In this season of gift giving it is easy to see demonstrations of generosity all around us. Even the myth of Santa Claus reveals our longing for liberal distribution to all. Everywhere we turn there are opportunities to give charitably for the needs of others. Our minds are occupied and our eyes confronted with boundless options for ministering to the needs and pleasures of others.
Mason asserts that generosity is not exclusively a characteristic of a few noble individuals, but exists within us all:
The nature of Generosity is to bring forth, to give, always at the cost of personal suffering or deprivation, little or great. There is no generosity in giving what we shall never miss and do not want; this is mere good-nature, and is not even kindness, unless it springs out of a real thought about another person’s needs. (Ourselves, p. 104)
Mason describes her notion of generosity as “large trustfulness.” Generosity comes from the heart, and affects our thoughts, attitudes, and interactions with others. In each instance, it puts aside self and cost to self in order to give the best of our thoughts and attitudes toward others, whether individuals, groups, or countries. Guardedness, suspicion, and widely held prejudices have no part in generosity. Taking the generous road in these areas usually does cost us something.
I remember puzzling over the verse in the famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13: “Love trusts at all times.” Surely this could not mean in cases where I knew the person to be untrustworthy? Clearly, Mason’s idea of generosity gives room for second chances for others. In Christianity, we allow no place for bitterness or grudges. Surely such thoughts focus on self more than what is best for the other. A generous person, Mason remarks, may come to the end of life without a long list of the ways he has been cheated or defrauded.
Mason says, “What magnanimity is to the things of the mind, generosity is to the things of the heart” (p. 104). Generosity involves more than just the cost to the purse, which we most often associate with generous persons, but is “always costly, because it is always dispersing” (p. 105). One way she describes that we can prevent ourselves from the narrow view of others, stinginess of thought and attitude, is by cultivating wide and varied interests. The feast we spread for our children lays a foundation for such boundless interests. She encouraged “liberal interpretations” of the ideas of others, the appreciation of which is fostered by those multitudinous interests to which this education introduces our children. Generosity with material things is only an outgrowth of hearts full of concern for the other person, and consideration of circumstances and conditions outside of our own experience.
And yet, Mason does acknowledge Biblical remuneration when we are always dispersing any goods or goodness to others. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, running over, shall men give into your bosom” (Luke 6:38). One of the practical rewards we gain, Mason says, is living a life free from anxiety, worries, endless fretting over slights, inequities, or perplexities. The mind set on giving to others has no time for petty grievances.
She does list a few commonly held views towards others that prevent the “large and warm living” our nature is meant to express and enjoy:
Surely at this Christmas season, we realize this afresh. “While we were yet sinners,” God gave his only Son, the most generous gift ever given: God himself wrapped in swaddling cloths, born in the humblest place, announced to the lowly, ministering to the poor and outcasts, giving regardless of rejection, giving at the cost of His own life—giving largely that we might continue to give largely. “You have received freely, freely give.”
Mason, C.M. (2017). Ourselves: our souls and bodies. book 1. Pennsylvania: Riverbend Press. (Original work published 1905)
© 2017 Liz Cottrill