The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 12, 2000
Your Option

The rewards of generosity
By Taru Bahl

A WISE and kind king once announced a huge reward for any creature in his kingdom who could prove that he was the most generous. The award was lifelong provision of board and lodging fit for royalty. A snake, who thought himself to be very generous, confidently arrived at the king’s court to stake his claim. The king asked him toback his claim. The snake said: "When I shed my skin yesterday, I gave it to a young goat who had wandered close to my hole. I asked the goat to make himself a snake-skin bag from it since this is a trendy and a much-sought-after fashion accessory."

The king was not convinced. He asked the snake, "Of what use is a fashionable snake-skin bag to a goat? Generosity does not mean presenting things you no longer require. It also does not lie in giving awaythings which are of no use to others,too. True generosity lies in giving away things they really need without their having to ask for it." This is the essence of generosity. It is in the ability to sense another’s need and to spontaneously reach out and share. It is giving even that which is useful to us without expecting anything in return, not even gratitude.

  Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus’ Ministry. As far back as the 13 B.C., Hebrew law institutionalised assistance to the poor. "When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien." The underlying conviction was that by giving others what they lack, we can find meaning and fulfilment in our lives.

Greed, avarice and a miserly disposition can only lead to an empty craving for more, sidetracking us completely from our spiritual journey.

Most non-givers, people who cling possessively to their belongings, are convicted that the act of giving would diminish their bank of resources. Their miserliness stretches to even things like smiling at a co-commuter or extending a hand to help someone who has lost his balance. They are so bereft of tenderness and compassion that they fail to connect with people at the humane level.

However, when generosity becomes a way of life, the giver gets his satisfaction by winning a smile, a blessing, a few emotionally charged words, an exchange of life experiences and, even when this is not forthcoming, he is still happy because he knows he has made a useful contribution. Although he does not enter a quid pro quo arrangement, at the end of the day he is richer in more ways than one. He understands and values the fact that service to others brings meaning and fulfilment to our lives in a way that wealth, power, possessions and self-centred pursuits can never match.

Each of us has something to offer to someone in need. We can give our money and time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick and lonely, do volunteer work or be a peacemaker. Just doing our everyday jobs with integrity and respect for others is also an act of generosity. Generosity then is a sign of emotional maturity. It is being thoughtful and considerate without being asked to be. A generous person has a special spark in his eyes and a glow on his face as he experiences the richness of life which a selfish person can never do.

When Jim Corbett’s book The Man-Eaters of Kumaon was selected as the book of the month in 1944, his publishers arranged for him a book promotion tour to London. He was looking forward to the ‘paid holiday’. But when he learnt that there was an English soldier waiting to rejoin his family after World War II and was without a ticket, Corbett handed over his seat to him and chose to stay back in India.

It is said that when we lose ourselves in giving, we find the reason for living. We also begin to discover our true selves through the quality of the contributions we make. Contributions by definition are offerings. And offerings are the things we give in order to receive. The principle of service may appear impractical to the cynic who considers it mere words and platitudes but the principle of service is basic to our modern capitalistic society. It can best be summerised by the statement: "Give and you shall receive in return". It is reflection of the law of cause and effect — for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When one gets right down to the meaning of success in business, one discovers it is simply to provide service. And the more service one provides the more successful one is. Henry Ford said: "To do more for the world than the world does for you is another way of judging how successful you are." He applied the same philosophy to his business and gave it credit for the incredible success he attained in his lifetime. The lasting wealth of this world is rightfully won by those who render quality service. And those who have surrounded themselves with a lasting prosperity cannot help but enrich the whole world through their efforts.

There is an interesting tale of how generosity was once enforced by the law. Foirella La Guardia, a Mayor of New York, was known to be a compassionate and generous soul. One day he was presiding over the police court when an old man, shivering with cold and fear was brought before him. He had been charged with the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. The old man asked for pardon, saying he had been forced to steal the bread since his family had not eaten a square meal for many days. The Mayor was touched by his poverty but felt he had to do justice and punish him for his act of stealing. He fined him $ 10. The Mayor then took out a $10 bill from his purse and laid it on the table. "This is the fine which I pay on your behalf", he said. He then went on to address the people seated in the courtroom, "All of you must pay a sum of 50 cents each for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to eat. This is a reflection on our collective moral psyche." The old man left the courtroom baffled with the ways of the law but richer by $ 50.

Peace of mind can come only when our lives are in harmony with true principles and values. There is an intrinsic security in it which results from an interdependent living. There is also security that comes when we automatically, creatively and in a cooperative manner interact with the people around us.