Of altruism, perspective & compassion

by Ravi Tandon

Every weekend we plan a movie which is followed by a dinner that makes up for a wonderful get-together. This sort of has become a wonderful routine for us friends. This weekend we did a very simple act – which brings one to think upon the way we spend our precious resources.

So, after the movie, as we moved to a restaurant, a young boy (approximately 11 years of age), in a dilapidated condition came up to us begging for money. He seemed pretty afraid of us. A friend of mine called him up, asked why he wanted any money. He answered back saying he was hungry. He handed the boy a packed bag of dosa-sambhar, with a water bottle and the boy seemed pretty gratified with us. The look on his face was very satisfying for us too.

He told us that he had lost his parents, when he was young. He studies in some government school and usually takes his lunch there. He has no way of getting any dinner and therefore, has to beg for money to get his dinner.

It brings us to the very basic question that I have pondered over ever since I started earning and living independently i.e. are we justified (ethically) in living a luxurious life (in comparison to that poor boy)?The whole argument is why do we not give a thought about the problems that such citizens of our nation face. We keep crying and cringing about the petty problems that hinder our progress. We cry about the lack of comfort, the dearth of relationships in our lives, the lack of excess money, of poor quality food, of not working on cutting edge technology etc. etc. Yet, we tend to be ignorant of the common day problems of such poor people living amongst us. We tend to ignore our basic humane qualities of compassion and love towards them.

We tend to spend excessively on our essentials, our source of entertainment in life. At times, I ponder, if we ever give a little more thought to the way we spend our own money, we might be able to support or even feed one such hungry soul. Yet, we, the most educated people of our nation, tend to focus more on our small, narrow minded vision of the world.

There seems to be a lack of awareness and willingness within people (including me) in trying  go out of their way and make someone happy. We have a notion of hoarding money that creates wealth and yet no adds a minimalistic contribution to our society.  We tend to believe that it is the bank account balance that is the final measurement of our worth; a notion that really has objective aim to it.

Altruism is a non-gratifying goal for a large percentage of people. It involves self-denial, abnegation of one’s desires in order to part away with some of the pleasures one could create for one self. One tends to pursue happiness from a very self-ridden perspective. As long as the domain of one’s contribution is confined to the realm of him/herself the value proposition of one’s contribution remains less effective. Once people start propagating some essentials from their lives and dedicate it to others, we would start witnessing a change within the way wealth is distributed amongst the society.

Our society condemns altruism in a manner by not promoting it. Our social conditioning forces us to be restrictive in the way we plan our resource expenditure. There is an excessive emphasis laid on personal development. There in we lay constraints on ourselves and tend to believe that may be supporting another’s development might be an unnecessary burden especially if the other one may not be able to help us back in return. We tend to undermine our powers and the effectiveness of the impact we might be able to create. We might be able to understand the strength of collective efforts; yet the realization does not easily dawn up on us.

May be one day when we sit down and feel the pain, suffering & frustration that these helpless souls have to go through on a daily basis. As I sit down to write this blog post (after a delicious dinner) I am not even sure whether that boy went hungry or even sleep less tonight. This is the kind of thoughts that make me shudder at times. Those packages, salaries, grades seem to be ghosts that fettered our thoughts. Yes, they are important; however, there are other very grave problems that our society faces. Material seems meaningless when you cannot satisfy your stomach. And yet, when you can help some hungry soul go to bed peacefully with a filled tummy, there is a calmness that fills in your conscience; a feeling that is way more than any salary hike, promotion or level of self achievement might be able to.