What does it really mean to be generous? A journey in a foreign country and the words of the Baha’i writings completely redefined the word for Lori Noguchi.
In this episode of “Moments of Meaning,” Sean Hinton speaks to Lori Noguchi. Born in the United States, she has lived and worked most of her life in greater China, and today she lives and works in Israel as an academic and development professional in the non-profit sector.
Lori’s journey to better understand generosity began with a powerful experience she had while traveling, which completely redefined the way she thought about its role in one’s life. She had read the following passage from Baha’u’llah, the founder and prophet of the Baha’i Faith:
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge.
Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.
This passage is from “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,” a letter addressed to a high-ranking official in the Ottoman Empire. Written just one year before Baha’u’llah’s passing in 1892, it’s generally considered as His final major work and in many ways draws together the core teachings from his entire Ministry. In this particular passage, Baha’u’llah assures the official — who had been responsible for many injustices — that it is never too late to change and adopt a better conduct, guided by the laws and principles enshrined within the Teachings of Baha’u’llah.
Still, to Lori, “it’s not so much that the first time I read it was so powerful, but an experience that changed my understanding of it.”
This experience took place while she was working on soil conservation research. Lori had studied Chinese while pursuing her undergraduate degree in development, which had in turn led her to a masters at Nanjing University. Her work there took her to Gansu province, a region affected by severe deforestation, which in turn affected water and soil. She lived there for three months, getting to know the area and the people who lived there.
On the day that she had to leave, however, complications arose with transportation. She was unable to get a train ticket for the trip back. Finding one took some serious, sacrificial effort from a friend, and the support and collaboration of the community.
“As I was coming back,” Lori says, “I was on this train, and I began to realize what had happened. It really made me think about how I had considered generosity. What I had been thinking about as a generous act in my own mind really was such a low standard.”
In this episode, Lori explores how this act of generosity reframed her understanding of the virtue entirely, and exemplified the spiritual wealth one can witness when visiting cultures other than one’s own. “It wasn’t that I’d never thought about generosity. It wasn’t that I didn’t have in my mind that yes, we need the contribution of these different countries, these different cultures, in order to figure out how to create a prosperous society for the whole human race. But it really touched me in a different way. And it demonstrated it in such a practical sense that it is something that has, I think, influenced me to this day.”
The experience helped her see how Baha’u’llah’s words could apply to everyone’s life, regardless of where or how they live. It even affected her perception of academic discourse, and helped shape the way she now approaches her work in the non-profit sector. “Prosperity,” she realized,” isn’t simply a question of material wellbeing and access to goods.”
“Moments of Meaning” is a podcast where Sean Hinton speaks to people from all walks of life whose lives have been profoundly affected by the writings of the Baha’i Faith. They share the quotes that inspired them and delve into the story of that moment of meaning and the powerful changes it caused.
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