Friday, January 13, 2006

Put on Your Thinking Cap

Charity begins at Home?

A few days ago, while I was climbing the stairs of Malai Mandir, a temple for the Hindu Deity Lord Murugan, in New Delhi, I happened to notice a small marble slab pasted along side the wall. It had the engraving of the name of the person who had donated money for construction of the stairs, possibly put in place for publicity by the person himself. It is not the first time I was seeing such a thing, but then this time it really made me think. Then every passing day, more and more marble slabs in temples or a neat painting in the corner of a bus shed tin roof advertising the name of the person who had donated it, became conspicuous to me. It often makes me wonder why people would do that. When someone does a work of charity, why would it always have to be accompanied by some publicity? Is it direct fallout of our basic human need for recognition? Is it a manifestation of our reputation consciousness rather than character consciousness? If the real intention is to do charity alone, then I don’t think it requires any sort of publicity. It is said that even the left hand should not know what the right hand is donating.

Many institutions even offer options for publicity in a sliding scale such as donations above a certain amount which would be felicitated by proper acknowledgement in the newspapers or inscriptions in granite stones etc. This is very common with these Times of India relief fund, India Today funds or such like funds collected for national calamities like the Tsunami or even the Kargil war fund collection initiatives. Big organizations host expensive dinners under the veil of fund raisers whose invite list would include the rich and the super rich people who then donate a lot of money to these NGOs for their projects. And without doubt, these parties are hosted with the money that has flown in as donations in the first place. A deeper look does give me the wisdom to realize that these are indeed a necessary evil. The pity is that if an NGO does not satisfy some men’s need for public recognition of their nobility and altruism, then big bucks just wouldn’t flow. It’s a case of satisfying someone’s vice to save the needy and the poor.

But if indeed one expects to find his name in the list of donors, neatly engraved on a marble and put up in the most prominent place, where is the nobility and altruism at all? Personally I don’t think the value of money donated goes down, if donor chooses to have his name publicized. If that serves the ends of receiving more donations, then by all means, we can promise every possible publicity to attract more donations. But what puzzles me is the underlying human need for such publicity. These are the same denizens who would criticize the politicians for hogging the media for anything and everything they do. Is it a case of throwing stones from a glass house? Possibly, yes.

Talking about charity, it is said that charity begins at home. But when a person decides to donate a certain sum of money, can he really help not feeling guilty when he donates for someone among his own family? For that matter, the neediest person could be his own son or daughter, or even parents or relatives! Is he being selfish by helping his own kith and kin? Will it make his act any less noble than had he helped an unknown poor beggar or an orphan? If indeed charity begins at home, then what is wrong on spending the money on himself? Where would one draw a line between need and luxury while judging the merit of a case where one needs help?

Let me illustrate with an example. Let us say a person X, decides to donate Rs 50000. Now, who would constitute a better candidate? A Rs 50 meal for 1000 beggars for one time? It would mean, that the full power of Rs 50000 is not being harnessed and its broken into 1000 parts of Rs 50. It is easier to find 1000 people ready to donate Rs 50 than one person ready to donate Rs 50000. So, in my opinion, the power of this total sum must be fully exploited and hence it must be donated to a cause that is in critical need of this sum. Would it be nobler to save a life by helping to finance a life saving operation for a man? Or to help someone to get that education which he is otherwise not able to afford, which when acquired would empower him to earn further and help others like he was helped by someone when he was in need?

But whatever it is, at the end of it all, I always wonder how would it feel to suddenly walk into someone’s life, silently pull him out of that gravest misery he is undergoing, and walk out as silently as we walked in? Doesn’t it feel exciting to play God sometimes? To me, it does!


Trespasser said...

Interesting thought - the power of one donation used for one constructive work. But, there is always a mismatch between the donors and the recievers. One can never expect such uniformity.

In my opinion, donations and charity should be made in such a manner that it impacts the life of that person. It should be a symbol of love.

The Soul Doctor said...

Hi Ganesh

Very correctly said. Charity must be a symbol of love. This humanity has sustained only by spreading this love for fellow human being.

But love when publicised becomes bussiness.
I feel, when one donates some money and seeks publicity for his donations, one is actually buying an image of good samaritan by paying what may euphemistically be termed as donations. Isnt it?

Thanks for stopping by.

Demi Goddezz said...

very true..nowadays donations are more about how much more i gave than antyhing else .or to cut taxes....well written!

The Soul Doctor said...

Hi Goddezz

Yeah, I left out the tax exemptions part. Correctly brought out.

icyblue said...


Interesting read.

Is it direct fallout of our basic human need for recognition?

I feel it has to do with recognition. It's only human to want to be recognised, especially when someone has done good. It gives a feeling of achievement. Abt the donation part of it, well, you hv raised an interesting question, but I feel that at the end of the day a person wants to be recognized at every phase of life.

Don't mean to critize your post, but just feel like looking at the other side of the coin. Please don't mind.

Thanks for stopping by my blog :)


The Soul Doctor said...

Hi Icy,

You dont ever have to get defensive while expressing your point of view. I completely agree with you that the need for recogntion is inherant in every human being in the practical sense.

I was just wondering why it must be so.thats all.

Even the Hit counter we put in our blogs are one of the manisfestations of this need for recognition.

Thanks for dropping in.

Neha said...

great name....the Soul Doctor!Great blog too!

Shashank said...

nice piece there.
but tell me doc, is it necessary that charity must b a huge sum...or it can also b money given to the poor and needy.that too not big amounts and small amounts more than the loose change.
also whats ur opinion?should charity me only monetary?

The Soul Doctor said...

Hi shashank

No.Charity need not be big money, for that matter money at all. I often say a beggar donating a banana is more noble than a millionaire donating a banana. But the practical difficulties are galore.

You decide to donate a 100rs from your pocket money every month. Highly noble. Kudos to you. But practically what that 100rs can do? For amelioration of the poor, fighting pandemics like AIDS, we need big money. Thats where these biggies come into play.

It need not be always money. But anything in kind like medicines, for that matter used shirts, DOES involve money, at the bottom line.

Yes, you can say, one can donate time and efforts. But one would be doing that by sacrificing one's productive capacity where he/she COULD have done something else that could have generated money. Dont we know that time is money?

Thanks for dropping by shashank. Wish you a very happy new year!

Shashank said...

...which reminds me to ask you somthing. i had put a link on my blog to urs. hope its ok. had asked u earlier but u dint reply.

The Soul Doctor said...

Hi Shashank,

Sorry for missing that out. I have no problems. I shall put a link to yours too.


Slice Of Life said...


The Soul Doctor said...

Hi Uma

Thanks for dropping by.


IdeaSmith said...

I think the key is in the phrase "play God".

As for charity, I think it boils down to a deep-seated need for power and control in all human beings. After all, what makes any one of us believe that we could possibly bring happiness/deliverance/peace to another person? I think these are individual pursuits and no one but the person himself/herself can create them in his/her life.

But that again, is just what I believe...who am I to claim that I have the answers to life or cure for the soul?

The Soul Doctor said...

Hi IdeaSmithy

You are absolutely correct. No one can EVER claim that he has cure for soul, except for his/her own.

After all, what makes any one of us believe that we could possibly bring happiness/deliverance/peace to another person?

You hit a bullseye with this.

But as you said, we all believe that we possibly can bring happiness by our actions to others. Otherwise, man as a social animal ceases to exist. Why do you stand in queue, on a ticket counter? Because any irrationality here by you, would cause trouble and unhappiness for others and hence to keep things in order and thereby keep the society happy, we obey by rules. Charity is an extended form of such sociability and gregariousness.

And yes....The key is in the phrase "Play God". But not by belligerance but benevelonce.

Thanks for dropping by!

Madhooo said...

A beautiful thought! That too in times where even a small bit of charity becomes the headline.