Recently a friend had invited me to attend an exclusive gathering of select industrialists, entrepreneurs, and politicians including the Industry Minister of Canada. While attending the program, I encountered an environment that made me discover the ease, unease, nuances and opportunities that relate to giving and taking. Most importantly, this event compelled me to think about the art of giving.
The program was organized by a brilliant and charming friend in an exquisite venue with great ambiance, superb dinner, and ample supply of beverage. As I quickly discovered, each seating in the table had a pledge form and all the pledged money would go to an environmental scholarship fund created for young and aspiring students in a rural riding currently represented by the minister. Being a person of rural upbringing, respectful of environmental causes, earned three degrees with scholarships, and concerned about depletion of rural fortunes, I was inspired to give. The key people behind the creation of the concept were there and sitting on my left was the chairperson of the scholarship fund who had traveled to Nepal some 20 years ago. He had a positive influence on me and I felt a sense of duty to encourage his affinity to giving for the society. On my right was a successful manufacturer, and beyond him was yet another businessman. I filled up the form except the dollar amount for which I started to think and my mind traveled over vast distances in a quest of determining the right amount while I was talking to the gentlemen around me.
I thought of my American friend who is in a village school trying to teach computer technology but impeded by unavailability of electrical power supply during school hours. His proposal for producing 10kW hydroelectric plant dedicated to the school from a local stream at a cost of thirty thousand dollars, and another proposal to build a library arrived a month ago but has not moved anywhere. Two Canadian friends have just reached Nepal to build an early childhood education centre for which much is yet to be accomplished. Two aspiring graduates were hired to do survey and preparatory work for an education project in Nepal’s Muktinath-Lumbini corridor with a verbal pledge from a friend to pay for their salaries but I am left with my own devices to pay that after my friend faced some unforeseen circumstances. One of the recruits had to be let go due to an inability to pay for both. Having given up half of my regular job for humanist causes, my expenses now are exceeding my income. Means to advance the key endeavor for which I left my job have yet to be found. Even the grandchildren of my oldest brother who are orphaned, landless, and living in severe poverty appeared in my mind making me question why I am not in their rescue as yet. These contemplations evoked a sense of incapacity in me.
Questions thus arose: Should I help with dollars or should I provide some other tangible or intangible help that carries value? Are there other non-monetary utilities of mine in that particular endeavor? How improbable would it be for me to reach the feat of individuals present in the room in wealth accumulation? My track record in wealth building looked bleak, even when I had desire. Now that I have drifted away from that path, any substantive wealth has to be my mind, which could be offered either “as is” or through products created by it. After all, Mother Teresa was one of the greatest givers despite having wealth of her own to offer. Thoughts traveled in many directions and large distances while the physical body resided in the hall.
This was a moment of struggle for finding a balance between generosity and survival. However, my thoughts met with a challenge when it was announced that some twenty-five thousand dollars were raised already in a short while. The range of figure in my contemplation suddenly looked not so significant. Having devoted years attempting to do something measurable through volunteerism with sparse use of dollars, it took me no time noticing the enormity of the root of a “tree” compared to that of “grass”. Having known the term grassroots for long, a term “treeroots” flashed in the mind as a moment of Eureka. The power and utilities of “trees” were being revealed onto a person who is an ardent believer in grassroots.
When it was announced that in excess of thirty-five thousands were already and the minister’s long term target of raising one hundred thousand dollars were soon going to be met by this small group of enthusiastic people, my friend was demonstrating how much influence a single person can make over many people by letting the power of friendships work its way through. People attested to me that this friend does a lot for the community and is generous himself and that is one of the reason he receives generosity from others.
Torn between the urge to give and the tininess of my giving in comparison to those around me, I simply folded the paper and put in my pocket. I could not come up with a rightful policy to guide me. Only as I was driving away from the venue, a story from my childhood suddenly flashed in my mind. This story was from Mahabharata, a Hindu epic in which a poor Brahmin named Sudama goes to meet Krishna a person of high social status and royalty. Having nothing valuable to take as a gift, Sudama took beaten rice. Krishna was able to understand the value embedded in the beaten rice and was deeply pleased. The fact that Krishna welcomed poor Sudama with the same fanfare as a royalty conveyed the reciprocal value Krishna possessed. This story imparts a message that the value of giving is in intentions and not in amount. Further, the measure of a person’s generosity is not in its absolute quantity but in its proportion to giver’s capacity. In the same epic, King Draupada had refused to recognize his close but poor childhood friend Drona despite knowing that Drona possessed superb intellect and strategic mind.
As per this story, because the endeavor was within my conscience and my friend’s leadership on this matter was worthy of encouragement, supporting him right at that moment was the right action. Although exhausted with my own responsibilities, the giving of that day would not have made me poorer in totality. Albeit small, a giving would have a symbolic value and would have had shifted me from the position of indecision and inaction to a preferred position of decision and action. Even a hundred from me would have been far larger in proportion compared to some givers of thousands. Moreover, giving then-and-there had the most productive and efficient utilization of time and energy for anyone involved compared to giving in any other way and time.
After all, many years of education had not taught me the art of giving and the art of taking actions. Finally, this incidence revealed that a gift bears the greatest meaning when it is given to a right person or a right cause at right place and right time with right faith. And most of all, an action is superior to inaction and a decision is superior to indecision.