Monday, 3 January 2011

Keep the faith. Give a little.

Emirates Parent Plus. January 2011
A while ago, I was reading an article on races and their traits. Some are allegedly more prone to philanthropy than others. Some have been shown to be more value-based than most. A few select come across a lot more unscrupulous than everyone else put together and hence less averse to generosity.

The question that raised so many jingoistic pronouncements was, among others, a simple enquiry into why some of us, as a race, don’t give back to society.

As we step into the second decade of the fairly new millennium, this question becomes pertinent to me, especially as the parent of a young child preparing to become a deciding member of the same society. Within my modest understanding of basic human psychology, I want to attempt exploring this query further.

My disclaimer will remain: No individual can claim to have a complete understanding of the human mind and, hence, the ‘collective’ of minds that a race represents. Every word here on, must be seen as a personal view point. It is human nature that we are talking about – no rule applies to all as uniform and any judgement is essentially subjective.

My belief is that apart from the fact that the human race is a result of evolution where the basic instinct remains animal, impulse and emotion tend of have their moments of significant expression. Like all animal groups in the wild have order and strict rules of territoriality, so does the human race. Because of allegedly higher intellect and resultant education and scientific advancement, our rules of governance and understanding of the same are proportionally advanced too. Religion plays a supreme part in this polity of existence and I believe, beyond natural response and laws of lands, it is religion, at a sub-conscious level, that fashions simple daily acts. Giving, is one of them.

While Islam gives importance to community and togetherness within that, Hinduism believes in ‘Daandharm’ (duty of charity) and ‘Atiti devo bhava’ (guest is God). Christian charity spans as far as its following. There are many more religious sects that we may not even be aware of. And they all accommodate the act of giving. And whether it is out of natural empathy or simply because it has been ingrained in us through years of teaching, we give.

So, when some tend to see this trend in the negative, at least in some races and cultures, I believe this notion to be more a statement of ignorance rather than based on fact.

Victims of time
Through the various ages of conflicts, invasions and take-overs the world over, we have become victims of a mistrust of change and the unfamiliar. We do not have reason to trust what is not obvious. To give, you have to trust.

While our hearts want to make it possible to give the maximum practically possible to a flood relief drive some place across the seas, our minds start working out the deterrents. It is a fact that many donations do not reach their intended destination. In spite of what we might want to believe, we know what we know. We only know what we see. And we take that as the truth. Many times, we apply the experience we have had with someone else, to someone else. Many times that application is not even called for. Distrust, thus, takes seed.

Life has taught us to learn by lesson and instinct has been trained to stay in leash. Our expectations stem from this simple format.

Time and action
In the global village we live in today, a follower of any faith has access to a religious centre that provides solace. These centres keep people grounded in their identity, the laws reinstate their faith and instruction retains its flock on the path of goodness. No religion preaches mistrust or evil. The faithful see this and know this. And this is what has been handed down – the habit to believe and trust what we are made to know.

But ‘life’ is a great teacher too and her students will imbibe her lessons according to the trend current at that moment in time. These momentary perceptions have a tendency to remain with us forever. So, if in life we are happy that in our giving, someone else gets to smile, our religion tells us that in giving, we bring ourselves that much closer to God. Both are ample incentives. And religion, being one of the strongest binders of people, helps propagate these perceptions into a group.

But in the East or the West, over time immemorial, the makers of these religious laws, have messed about with them as they pleased. Blame it on ground realities that demanded change, these edits have taken place nonetheless. What remains paramount is the fact that all these changes were brought about to curb and control vices and promote virtues that are natural to being human, but require regulation in organised society.

And in spite of such sound logic, even these law makers with supreme powers felt answerable, for some drastic actions, to a higher power. So they repented – the rules of which, again, were set by them. But repentance occurred, all the same. ‘Giving’ to the needy served very well as penance. In the process, even those of us who followed these laws have seen wrong as much as we have seen right. We don’t need to go into these places of worship to know that a wrong deed does not magically become right by penance. Yet, our ‘instruction’ prevails – we do not question.

The alpha male syndrome inspires better and brighter means to upstage. So while the cleric derives his superiority in dishing out the most difficult rules of atonement, even the highly educated devotee will try his hardest to prove his devotion. So strong is the power of indoctrination. Some candidly exhibit it while others carry it on demurely under the cloak of pristine smoothness. Some others just try their hardest to stay human.

Giving back
So, why don't we give back to society? We are always giving back to society – we are just not aware of it always. And others don't want to acknowledge it. It is all in the perspective – what amount of giving, and what manner of giving is ‘seen’ as giving.

In the circles that include Carnegie, Gates and Rockfeller, ‘giving’ is a public event. The media garnishes it and it becomes a standard upon which to judge the rest that follow different rules of conduct.

While political correctness sets massive expectations upon the movers and shakers of the world, it is really the deep-rooted animal instinct to care and the human instinct to give, that make all philanthropy possible. Religion and religious institutions regularly affect ‘return to society’, as matter of principle.

But what of the trillions people give away in ‘kind’? In a country like India, for instance, where the sole purpose of education is to achieve high paying jobs that will alleviate poverty in some sections of society and improve standards of living in others, the most valuable contribution is employment.

Given the population of the country (1.2 billion!), local technocrats who provide this education and employment to most of these millions, are already giving back to society, every year, much more than so many of the more famous global figures do in their lifetimes. But these names remain hidden behind the obscurity of their races and more unfortunately, remain unacknowledged and maligned by the global press and the public opinion it engineers.

Matter of perspective
Referring to specific examples from the article mentioned earlier, Bill Gates, an American, gives millions in charity to Africa to control malaria, in spite of the fact that America does not have that epidemic to deal with. India’s Ambani (one of the richest families in the world), does not have any such record. They do not give to Africa, the article says. The international press has duly noted this and spoken its wrath.

What it has not informed its readers is that the Ambanis constantly address serious issues of the multitude in their own country. Alongside tremendous prosperity, there is also poverty. There is disease and destitution. And in spite of all its troubles, India gives. For itself, India recognises that its most important need is to progress in its global strides and regain the economic prowess it enjoyed before it was ravaged by colonisers. The only solutions, therefore, are education and employment.

What’s worth a search is figures on just how many millions have benefitted from the family’s initiative in education across all social classes and how many more millions are in their direct and indirect employment. Add to this, similar contributions by other industry giants like the Tatas, Birlas and Mittals. Can you imagine how many billions and trillions of currency and livelihoods these indigenous industrialists have given thus? Taking a global head count, India alone can take credit as one of the nations making the maximum contribution to the needy of the entire world.

Unfortunately, charity is noble only if it is ‘seen’ and recognised by certain factions of the world that also decide the standards upon which to judge. Bill Gates made his famous donations after he had acquired more than he gave. As did Buffet and Carnegie. But if a non-western industrialist wants to dispense of his money in a manner he deems fit, the propaganda press cries foul.

We do because we are
There is a reason certain cultures are seen as more aggressive and pushy than others. These cultures are still victims of alien perceptions. And these perceptions further the mistrust rooted in histories of gore and subjugation. When these cultures are finally free from shackles not of their making, they still have to bear the brunt of attitudes that deem themselves superior. They have been made the underdogs - the underdogs that have the strength of their own culture, faith and values. And more often than not, much to the disdain of those who have made it their habit to push over, the underdog succeeds.

Globalisation and education have thrown many skeletons out of cupboards even in the darkest corners of the world. It can only be a good thing. When one is forced to introspect, be it a nation of individuals or an individual conscience, it will awaken. And the human heart therein, will take responsibility. That’s where lies, retribution. And that’s where lies, humanity’s hope. That’s also where religion, that has shaped modern societies, continues to play its part.

We are always giving back to the society that gives us our credence. It is not in human nature not to.

Happy 2011, all. Take the time this year, to think a little. Give a little more.