charity, helpfulness, India

The Degradation of Charity

Gentle Reader, I come from India and as we all have understood, my country is a paradox.

The third largest economy as well as the epitome of a third world country, my land has never failed to confound me.

I have travelled a fair bit and even in my country I have interacted with many tourists; I must say that India’s poverty was the subject of my conversations no matter who I spoke with.

I understand why it must be so. India has always been portrayed to be exceptionally poor; sometimes those movies and books brought tears to my own eyes.

I don’t disagree that India is poor, the word poor is a relative term so if we compare a rich country with India then we will see that India is rightly called poor – Nothing wrong there.

I also recognize that economies function like that. If there are no rich there won’t be poor. But everyone also can’t be equal because as history has explained, equality in the real sense of the term is impossible to achieve.

Many factors are involved in the concept of equality. These concepts, unfortunately, will take longer to understand and hence it would be incorrect to judge any country on the basis of a science so under-evolved.

As a person who was raised in a slum, I would like to make an appeal to all the charitable people in the world on behalf of fellow Indians.

I appreciate that through donations they want to improve someone’s life. However, do we feel great about ourselves when we receive such help?

Does becoming the receiver of charity make us feel good about ourselves?

I have experienced a sense of worthlessness when I had to borrow money from my Mom or a close friend, so how can charity from strangers leave me feeling fulfilled?

Our society has convinced us that being able to pay for our self is a good measure of worthiness. But we also do realize that all of us, no matter our place of birth have gone through days, sometimes weeks of such destitution. Hence, we also recognize the feeling attached to it – Shame, embarrassment, worthlessness and for some of us, hopelessness.

So could they, my fellow Indians feel good about such charity? If they are as human as the rest of us, are we truly helping them rise or degrading them still?

Charity, as defined by the dictionary, is the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.

We have all observed the manipulation of charity organisations that invoke a sense of shame in us typically during Christmas. Buy a goat for a family in Africa, send money to a child in India.

What’s worse, that these ads are in between ads for food companies that want to sell more food for less money. That is in between ads for losing weight. Furthermore, there are ads that sell medicine for eating that much food.

We already realise that the food industry is connected with the fitness industry and also the pharmaceutical one.

My perspective on all of these ads is one of a vicious cycle of bad emotions.

  1. Greed – For wanting more than we should have.
  2. Shame – For getting more than we should have.
  3. Pain – For becoming slave to greed so much that we need drugs to take care of that.
  4. Charity – To feel good about giving some of it away in order to be greedy again.

Isn’t it ironic that the point of charity is to give what they don’t have? How is buying lots of cheap food to save money and sending the surplus to India going to help with poverty, the food is still limited, that doesn’t grow like the economy? The money doesn’t feed them, the price of food still rises.

As an Indian, coming from the same place as these organisations, I feel upset by these ads.

I also do feel a sense of embarrassment at the notion people have of my nation and people.

It is true that we are poor and probably will be for a while, we attained independence only 70 years ago, so yes, it takes a while to rise from nothing.

But what upsets me most is how poor people are viewed as less human.

Why must I not feel embarrassed about Charity?

A person living in a slum will not have a sense of self-worth is an assumption quite revolting.

Don’t misunderstand me, Gentle Reader, I do not have qualms about help. I understand that being human is being cooperative, we are, indeed, a social animal.

What I really can’t make peace with is that charity is very one-sided. Could I not tell a story that would add value to your life and ask for a dollar in return?

Sure, they do not have money at the moment but they do have some experience. They can share that with us and we could in return help them out in an area they lack.

The degradation of charity begins when it allows one human to consider himself luckier than the other.

But are we?

Are we really? Don’t we all have pain? Sure they feel physical pain, but haven’t we realized that being hungry is a whole lot better than being depressed?

So why don’t we encourage them to do what we encourage ourselves to do? Be ourselves and do our best.

Don’t give a fish, teach how to fish instead.

I was told this by my father. He reminded me to be modest. He, in fact, told me not to ever feel that I was greater or better than anyone. I am only different, and just because someone is not as good as me at a certain task doesn’t mean that they aren’t good at all.

If I feel so inclined to help then I must teach my expertise to my new friend and also learn from them what they are good at.

It will allow me to actually help and see them flourish, instead of feeling pity for them and sorrow for the world.

My mother once told me, “Don’t ever compare your circumstances with another, compare your will-power instead. Feel inspired by someone who rises anyway, don’t congratulate yourself on having a better circumstance.”

As a child of the slum, I realized that life is just that – life.

There is no better life, nor is there a worse one.

I saw plenty of rich people visit the slum and do charity. Their tears at watching me smile in spite of not having much, made me realize that we are all poor. Some are poor in resources and some in feelings.

So I set about being kind to everyone in my way. To repay the charity that was once given me.

I realized that people didn’t see it in the same light as regular monetary charity but as something brighter. I improved my life by offering my experiences first and in return, I received training for jobs and sometimes I got jobs too.

I earned my living honestly and at the same time, I had people to thank for my progress. I am friends with these people and I express my gratitude every time I see them.

But I do not feel lower than them, I know that I am worthy of help and the transaction is equal.

As for the larger picture, let us admit that we are too many and the resources are limited. If we carefully manage our consumption the produce will be distributed evenly.

If I eat too much because I have money now, I will also be eating someone else’s share.

Nature demonstrates what eating too much does to our health. Not only do we look unhealthy but we feel it too.

If I manage my resources mindfully, it is very unlikely that I will overuse any resource. The resources that are not in demand automatically fall in prices which will effectively solve the problem of poverty.

Charity, in my opinion, is not a positive word; help is. Help each other to distribute resources evenly. And guess what, we don’t need to fly to India to help, we just need to buy less in the country we live in and automatically the surplus will find its way to my motherland.

Apart from my own view, there are several others that make a good point, here are some of them.