Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Art of Giving

Life is not fair. That's an obvious lesson life itself teaches you, although  interpretations of "fairness" tends to vary widely across the spectrum. 

For some, life tends to deal a particularly bad hand. In a poor country like India, you see them all the time, although most of us have developed the ability to "not see" in order to preserve our sanity and not be overwhelmed. But we can't escape the reality of the misery around us. This post is a plea to lend a helping hand to one such group of the unfortunate - the aged.

We talk a lot about Corporate Social Responsibility and the philanthropy demands on the rich.  But we rarely talk about Personal Social Responsibility and the philanthropy demands on the common man. This post is also meant to ask the reader to reflect on what each individual can do, however small.

In developing countries like India and China, the lot of the aged is particularly tough. There is no social security net - the net is the family. The family system was designed for the times when people did not live long. Families could cope with taking care of the aged for a while. Now while lifespans extend and families become smaller, this social system is straining at the seams. It is a particularly big problem in China because of the one child policy - four aged adults are dependent on one couple. In both these countries, it is all too common to see the aged on the street, begging. They have nowhere to go and in the sunset of their lives, when they ought to have some peace, they find none.

So the next time you see an aged person on the pavement, please don't turn away. Give him a dollar, or five rupees or one yuan. Whatever be your views on begging, please suspend them for an old lady who is on the streets. She is not begging there because that is an easy way out. She is there because she has no choice.

Doing good need not take on the contours of a gigantic project. Those who do it that way are indeed saints. But not all of us can do that. That's fine. It is equally noble just to reach out and give a little to a needy soul every day. The logical and rational questions as to whether that is the best way to help are academic. For that hungry lady in the blazing sun, its a manna from heaven. Lets leave it at that.

Perhaps this touches a chord in all of us. That's why the pictures and story of Jason, a young American outside a McDonalds in China chatting and sharing a burger and fries with a granny begging on the streets has gone viral and created such a storm.

We are privileged. God willing, we will never be on the streets. But we will join the ranks of the aged for sure, as Father Time is of course relentless. So here's a plea to help wipe a tear from our fellow brethren. Keep loose change in your pocket. And everytime you see an old person on the street, give her a coin. Its not a big deal for us. Its a huge deal for that unfortunate soul.

Pardon this blogger for a sanctimonious post. For you see, pontificating and pestering are attributes of the aged.