Monday, June 29, 2009

36) The Art of Giving

"The price of living is giving." Paul Adams

When the earthquake struck China in May 2008, many people performed heroic acts; one less known is reproduced here. Xu Chao(60), homeless and poor, was in Nanjing(1000 miles from the quake zone), when he read of the tragedy, and the relief work set in motion. He responded by donating 5 yuan in the morning. By late afternoon he donated another 100 yuan. He had only coins, which he exchanged for big bills to save the volunteers the trouble of counting coins. This donation came from a man who did not have money to buy food for himself. "When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing." Anon

An equally touching story comes from Singapore, where maids work part time in different homes, when they cannot get full time employment. Joanne is one such maid. She herself is in need, but decides to share her 'half-a-loaf' with an unemployed friend, whom she invites to share the work she gets. By doing that, she divides her earnings in two, keeping half and giving the other half to her needy friend. Winston
Churchill gave words to this spirit when he wrote: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give".

As part of Parental Instructions, are we teaching our children such lessons in 'giving'? Or, do we tell them that they may give only from the surpluses they generate? Do 'giving' and 'sacrificing' figure on the list of virtues that children should imbibe, against their natural tendency to be selfish? We could begin by explaining to them what Muhammad(570-632AD) meant, when he said: "A man's true wealth
is the good that he does in this world, to his fellows". Notice that 'money' does not find a place in his statement.

Children fix the label 'mine' to what they see and that which they can lay their hands on; my Pepsi, my gun, my doll and so on. Even siblings are excluded from ownership. It is for us parents to wean our children away from selfish thoughts and habits, by seizing every opportunity to show them that 'sharing' is a better option to 'clinging'. The rich man, who died leaving behind a huge fortune, did not get this lesson. When he reached the gates of heaven, he met Saints Gabriel and Peter.
Gabriel asked the rich man what he had done for others with all the wealth at his disposal. The rich man quickly recounted the good deeds he had done on earth. Once, he gave a penny to a starving man; another time, he gave a penny to a blind boy; and on a third occasion, he gave a penny to a poor old widow. Saint Peter who heard the rich man told Saint Gabriel: "Give him three pennies and send him to hell". The story is allegoric, but the message is profound. Rousseau paraphrases the message brilliantly: "When a man dies, he carries in his clenched hands only that which he has given away".

If children continue with their selfish and clinging ways, they will turn out to be brutes who tread on others to gain control and aggressively have their way. Such traits will not be countenanced later, when they will have to share their lives with another person. Many Counselors lament the selfishness they find in spouses, which leads to irreconcilable differences, and to divorce. In the Corporate World, team spirit and shared responsibilities are not just oft-quoted mantras, but important yardsticks to measure the usefulness of employees. HR professionals fret over self-centered employees who put spokes in the wheel of motion. Do we want our children to wreck their marriages or stunt their career growth?

Many virtues sprout from the seed of 'giving'. With 'giving' planted in their hearts,
our children will readily forgive the lapses of those they live and work with. They will show compassion for those in distress and reach out to them like Xu Chao and Joanne. They will joyfully praise others for their good qualities and performances. They will respect fair play. They will realize that 'giving' is the oil that takes the friction out of life. After much study Antony Robbins wrote: "The only way a relationship will last is, if you see your relationship as a place you go to give, and not as a place that you go to take".

Through a chance meeting with a few young men, I was enriched, when they added meaning to 'giving'. My family and I were to go to a late night movie. They would join me later at the complex, in time for the show. I drove to the complex and was dismayed to find that I had a flat tire just as I entered the parking area. Suddenly there was a power breakdown at the complex, and I was left in the dark with a car I could not drive. Moments later, a few college students drove up in a car and saw me struggle with the tools. They kept their car headlights on and offered to change the flat tire. In minutes they had the job done. Why did they choose to help a stranger?
They gained nothing from me but a 'thank you'. Perhaps those young men came from homes where 'giving' meant more than just giving a little money to the needy.

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