Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guidelines On The Value Of Giving

By Masami Sato

A new innovation is transforming many lives in the villages of India by bringing light where there used to be darkness.

The New York Times published an article titled, "Husk Power for India". Electricity, which is prevalent in the lives of many in developed nations, is a pure luxury in remote areas of developing ones. What was once fed to animals now is used to generate electricity - rice husks.

Being brought up in the pastoral Bihar State, Manoj Sinha knew what it was like to be without light at night. Being an engineer with Intel Corporation he had all the competence to bring a lifelong idea to fruition. He led the creation of his power generation equipment from rice husks and other wastes from farms and now he sells power to rural areas across India.

Sinha is what could be called a reformative businessman because he feels business is the answer to major social problems. "Business leaders must realise that the world's poor need investments more than handouts," he says, adding, "these are customers, not victims."

The article motivated me to think about offering things in a different way that made me ask myself, "what is the most perfect form of giving?" Is it edification, commerce or disaster aid? There are so many ways to create a difference. One way of giving can seem more productive or practical than other ways depending on the way it is given expression, viewed or put into practice.

I then came to define there were eight parts to giving as a way to look at this. So, let me map out the eight distinctions; which in effect are often 'stages' of giving as well.

Phase one: Exigency - salvaging and helping others who are suffering due to natural calamities, epidemic diseases or other insurmountable problems.

Phase two: Respite - providing respite from enduring need, poverty, ill-health, disadvantages or prejudice which otherwise would continue or deteriorate because of the lack of awareness, training or resources.

Stage three: Healing and protection - mentally, physically and emotionally. Many people carry traumas that may be invisible but severely limiting their lives. Giving the healing to release the deep-rooted pain creates more opportunities for them while giving suitable protection gives them a sense of security.

Stage four: Training - giving better training, knowledge and skill instruction to create empowered and practical solutions to resource creation while encouraging people to identify their singular talent to survive.

Stage five: Inspired investment - giving a help, capital or resources to those who have great talent to alter the situation. This gets used many times as the resources become more and passed on to other people who again produce more out of the prospects given.

Stage six: Tenability - working together with the people in the local surroundings, creating tenable groups - ambience-wise and reciprocally.

Stage seven: Empowerment - empowering and inspiring the people to unleash their true potential and motivation to make a difference. In this group of giving, the aim of giving changes from 'giving to the people who are in need' to 'giving people opportunity to give to others' and to the community.

Stage eight: Loving - just doing whatever we feel to do to love and care for others. No strategy or expected outcome exists in this stage of giving. 'Giving' does not even exist here in the traditional sense of the word, as there is no sense of possession or judgment or desire to change anything. This is where we do not even have to think about anything, we give as a part of our own joyful experience.

What we also perceive is that at each one of these eight stages of giving there are distinctive things that the donor gets back.

One: Sense of relationship

Two: Sense of comfort

Three: Relief from pain (our own)

Four: Gratitude for our own knowledge, skills and circumstances

Five: Long-term sense of involvement and fulfillment for our own life

Six: Improved environment for our own life and for the lives for all those we love and care for

Seven: Soul gratifying encouragement and devotion to our own purpose

Eight: Love

Giving has many planes and understandings upon the basis of the giver and the beneficiary. And the 'levels' do not explain which one is higher than the other. All are imperative.

I was lucky to have an experience early in 2008 while journeying with a group of devoted entrepreneurs across India to see how we could be more productive in our helping. I was particularly happy to have one outstanding encounter that led me to think about what 'actual giving' really meant.

We were in a little town one day. Four of us had just booked a taxi to take us to another town nearby. We negotiated with the driver carefully as our hotel staff had warned us in advance about the rip-off we might experience seeing we were not local.

We chose to stop in front of the local train station for a short interval en route to the town. While the others went to use restrooms, I struck up a conversation with the driver of the taxi, standing nearby. With his limited English vocabulary and a smiling face that showed his black front teeth to advantage, he told me that he lived in the outskirts of the town and that he had a young wife and two kids who attended the local school - I began to feel a relationship with him.

I patted him on the back for having an affectionate family and told him that I also had two kids of the same age as his. When the others came back the driver instantly asked us to come to his house for food. I thought it was just a formality he wanted to convey at first. However, after leaving us at the centre of the town, he was particular that he would wait for us till we were done with our traveling around the town. And he actually did. I was in fact quite taken aback to see him still standing by the side of the road next to his taxi even after an hour. We hopped back into the taxi and he whizzed off up the road to where his home was.

When we arrived we were actually quite shocked to see how he was living. It was almost like the same condition (if not worse) to the lifestyle of people living in slums we had visited previously. From the nice new taxi he was driving, who could have imagined

As he drove into the narrow unsealed street between small houses that were made with roughcast concrete blocks and mud painted walls, we almost regretted about saying yes to his invite. For a brief moment I felt pangs of guilt. "How could I go to this man's home who didn't seem to have anything and I didn't even bring any food or gifts for his family", I thought.

As we got into his house, we saw a small pot and a stove on the mud floor. His shy sweet wife smiled and blushed at the sight of visitors and vanished into the cupboard sized storeroom of the house. As I looked around, I saw the man's neighbours giving the woman a few cups over the crumbling concrete walls. They simply didn't have enough cups in their house. There was just a single small room that had a lone cot and an old galvanised trunk adjacent to it.

The taxi driver quickly pulled out three hand-woven rugs from the chest and rolled them out on the small patch of mud floor putting one on the bed.

Steaming cups of tea and hot snacks arrived soon. Both his kids as well as kids from the neighbouring houses came to see us and remained at the doorway. The six of us could just squeeze into the tiny room. I was curious to know where his children were sleeping. I thought maybe they had another space somewhere. To my astonishment, he just pointed at the chest and said with his happy smile that it was their bed.

He gleefully told us that he was a dancing champion in town and pointed to some trophies on the shelf above the bed. Keen to show us his dancing skills he suddenly dashed outside. From nowhere music filled the tiny room. He didn't have any music system in the house, it was coming from outside. I was curious so I stood up to see him reversing his taxi right against the back wall of his house with the doors wide open with car radio on full volume!

The time moved fast (with his dancing and the many more cups of tea that followed) and very soon it was time to thank them for their great warmth and courtesy and make our move. As we got ready to leave and express our gratitude to him and his wife, he pulled out the best of all the rugs he had, and just gave it to us. It was one of the very few things he owned. It was impossible to believe that he was offering it to us.

We all politely declined his gift and walked out saying goodbye to all the people waving at us. We got confused about this whole thing. Should we have given some money to the family as their life obviously looked very limited? Should we have accepted his prized gift?

As I was thinking about this awe-inspiring experience after a few days, I considered our begging off his gift. He looked crest-fallen that we didn't accept the gift. It wasn't only the rejecting of the gift that remained in my mind.

I understood that the sense of unease I felt was really ensuing from viewing him as unfortunate. I was perhaps thinking that I couldn't possibly accept something from a person who had very little.

But did he actually have modest means? Maybe he had other things - a lot more.

Maybe the perfect gift we could have given him then was to accept his gift in total surrender and gratefulness.

All acts of giving and receiving are necessary for us to fill our world with abundance and fulfillment equally for both giver and receiver. We can start doing this instead of judging and justifying one over another. The pure act of giving and receiving requires no further explanation.

Manoj Sinha's words echo in my mind once again, "these are customers, not victims." I can imagine the smiling faces of the villagers who are now proud to have electricity in their villages and the children who now can read books and learn in their homes at night.

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