Altruism vs. Materialism - May God Give Us The Courage

on Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sometime back my friend Avanti wrote a blog post on the impracticality of Gandhian values i our times. The following are some lines from her blog post:

"It is highly unfortunate but most of Gandhian values have lost their importance in today’s world. The theory … essentially makes you think about others. When would you do that? When your stomach is full …Today altruism is dead because resources are scarce.

Corporate houses with huge turnovers doing CSR is a buzzword today… if any of these head honchos is asked to give up their opulent lifestyle … they shall outright refuse it.

In a country like India... where more than half the population is below the poverty line, such a concept is difficult to digest."
I felt I just had to respond so my comments are below:

Dear Avanti,

Gandhi lived in times of poverty and scarcity that we as children of free India in the new millennium can hardly even imagine. Yet he not only spoke about but demonstrated an altruism and selflessness so great that he is the most timeless and inspiring figure in the history of the nation. Even in today’s popular entertainment he stirs our hearts like no other (ref. to Munna Bhai Lage Raho).

The condition for altruism is not abundance of resources – it is principles. Principles and values are not something that a corporate organisation talks about after it has made ample profits – that is PR. Principles, on the other hand, are the way individuals act and the choices they make in times of crisis and scarcity – it takes, not a full stomach like you put it, but balls of steel. William Sleeman in his ‘Journey Through Oudh’ writes, “I have had before me hundreds of cases in which a man’s property, liberty or life depended on his telling a lie; and he has refused to tell it.”

On a more personal note, I really don’t know enough about how “head honchos” would behave if they were brought to the street and had to sleep n the gutter. But what I know for sure is the altruism and unselfish love that I have received from people in the most modest of situations. I know people who have had, like they say, a single roti to eat and yet have given me half of it. It’s easy to claim, “when it’s my turn to give I shall do so and so” or “when I have enough I will reform the world in such n such a way”. But the transition from receiver to giver is not one of ascending over the poverty line – it is a shift in perspective. Is our glass really half empty?

Or is it our fear driven worldview that creates this illusion of Scare City!

And (someone) once said that a person’s heart is inversely proportional to the size of their house.

Finally, I feel our generation gives in to compromise and convenience too often. And we use the words, “today’s materialistic world” as a blanket excuse to get rid of our guilt.

But is the world itself a materialistic or altruistic place – or is it what you and I make it? How about this quote for a parting thought:
"We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." -Anais Nin