01 October, 2010

The Logic of Giving

Giving implies losing, foregoing in simple logic. Why Give, then? And how does losing bring “joy”? Let’s, rephrase this as “purchasing happiness by giving a little of what we have”. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains that after we satisfy our basic physical needs we need esteem, and self actualization, which he calls the ‘higher needs’.

Mohammed moved from the prosperity of his calling to the cave of Hira to ponder the ills of Arabia, Ram gave up his throne and took to the jungle, Sidhartha bartered the comfort of his palace for the shelter of a tree, Mohandas turned his back to Britan transforming himself to the naked fakir. They were basically satisfying their higher needs.

As a young banker, and a rationalist at that, I was startled with this saying of Swami Vivekananda: “Unselfishness pays better, but takes longer.” Laid down here clearly was a noble sanction for intelligent selfishness. Neither Charles Darwin of ‘Survival of Fittest’ fame, nor his acclaimed disciple, Richard Dawkins, of the ‘Selfish Gene’ fame – undermined the power of altruism in human life.

We begin by taking: from our mother, father, older siblings. Our city, our country and our environment guarantee us enormous gifts we did not yet earn. The entire society and the planet earth give us a lot we did not even seek. All of this must weigh upon us. Giving, then, at its best, is merely a small payback.

The best giving is that which earns the least returns to the giver and empowers the recipient to eventually become a giver himself. If giving can be a joy, giving to the ‘other’, the distant, is a higher form of joy. Good giving must be intelligent, constructive, empowering; not mechanical giving driven merely by piety, devoid of involvement.

Fortunately some giving costs very little; even the poor can give lots. Teach the illiterate, organize street games for poor children, listen to the tale of woe of the elderly loner. Lend a helping hand here and there. Just praise the good work you notice. Simply write a thank you note to the long forgotten teacher, distant uncle, old neighbour or friend who lost out in the race. Thank the cop or the conductor for doing his job well and with courtesy.

SPRAT’s JoyRide just offers a 6-hr free tour of the happening city to the elderly who never sat in a car, while its TALEEM programme teaches the un-lettered basic Gujarati and Mathematics. Their tears of joy bring us disproportionate harvest of returns.

By giving such small doses of happiness we can sleep a lot happier. Joy of Giving Week offers attractive discounts to buy our own happiness by giving in many different forms.

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