May 28, 2012

Sharing builds spiritual capital

Within the dynamic of our monetized economy, helpfulness has been defined as a doling out of money. When someone asks for help it’s almost always a request for money - to pay school fees or books, to pay for medicines and tests the doctor prescribed, a supplement to a medical check-up abroad, to buy a tin of milk for a newborn, the list goes on. While we may not speculate on how the money received may actually be used – for true giving is unconditional giving -- the issue here is the disappearance of our culture of helping each other in mutually interactive ways – that of reciprocity.

Maldivian society of the past was the example of such reciprocity. I help thatch your roof and you help me thatch mine or help beach my boat, or I care for you when you are sick, and you do so when I am sick or your daughter helps me with my baby when I have to go to fetch firewood, and I would share some of the firewood I gathered, with you too.  The collective bonding that grows from this mutuality of interaction snowballs into community good-will and social cohesion. 

Doling out money is easy to do and the giver feels the temporary glow of a good deed done or alternatively, the regret of giving something for nothing. Either way these were passive processes that didn’t engage the heart. There was no caring from within, but just a deed done as a social chore or expectation. In this kind of giving there is no real interaction and no spark of humanity. It just depicts a situation where one person gives and the other takes with no reciprocity. When we are engaged in reciprocity the event depicts a giving by both sides, and the reward of such interaction is the bonding that grows between the two givers.

What we witness today in Maldives is an insidious breakdown of a time-tested cultural value – quite unawares to our very selves, and it has profound relevance to our attempt to build and sustain a cohesive and caring society. While not specific to Maldives, the pervasiveness of a monetized economy globally has commoditized even the help we seek from our neighbor. So we buy it now because we have the money with which to do so, and we seem so averse to the sense of dependence or a feeling of obligation to another person in the asking for such help and reciprocity. But social interaction is what enlivens our spiritual spark and keeps us human, and an obstruction to it, for whatever reason, can only harm us as social beings. I know -- perhaps we just want to bask in the freedom that money brings us. But we must be aware also, that this distorted sense of independence and so called freedom has whittled away our humanity. And, in the ignorance of this social dynamic, we are blindly moving towards the precipice of social disintegration. We must take heed of this writing on the wall, and devise social programs that will reverse the trend. 

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