Thoughts on Generosity

Posted by Pratyush Rajvanshi on Apr 15, 2013

Recently, Pratyush was interviewed by a leading national newspaper on his thoughts on Generosity. Over the last couple years, weve seen this ex-McKinsey consultant move from working in the formal education space in India to serving the children of a Tribal community in Kerala. Currently based out of Delhi, he stays dedicated to his Inner transformation by rooting himself in small acts of service in the local Awakins, Retreats or even acts of kindness in various communities in Delhi. 

Here are a few thoughts from someone whos a constant source of inspiration for many!

"To me, generosity (like kindness, charity, etc) is just another name for something simple yet powerful: love. Each of these names has its own connotations that have become attached to them over time and, hence, have come to be seen as different. But, the essence behind all is the same:)"
1. Please define the context of generosity in today’s India. How is it relevant to the times we are living in today?
Going by the definition above, this question becomes very easy to answer. Love seems to have always been there and will probably always be:) It is something so fundamental and universal that it does not adhere to the constraints of space and time. So, love has existed everywhere (not just in India) at all times (not just in the past or now), and can be expected to be exist as long as living beings exist, at the very least:)
As to its relevance for our current times, one only has to go within and ask oneself, ‘Do I need love in my life?’, and the answer is there! In today’s world, technology (mobiles, Facebook, etc) has brought us closer together and one can make more friends and stay connected with them in more ways than ever. Why then, do so many of us still feel empty? As if something’s missing. Could this mean that we are not getting something we need, something many of us dont even realize? Could this thing be love? What if what we really needed was not a thousand Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but rather a handful of friends whom we feel connected to! Whom we feel loved by and love back:) It does not mean that Facebook or Twitter are bad, it is only about recognizing the importance of deep ties in nourishing us.
Every once in a while, we come across people who seem really content or happy in life. Or read about great beings still alive or those who have lived in the past. What if we took out time to wonder what their secret was? Many of them tend to be acknowledged for their loving nature. What if the secret lied therein? To love oneself and others, without any expectations? To be generous to others even in small ways? What if this could fill the emptiness inside and make us feel complete again!
One only has to try it out, to conclude for oneself. Everyone will probably agree that there is no harm in trying out:)
Do you think it is on a steady decline?
One’s view on this will really depend on how one looks at it. One could look at the increasing transactional nature of our relationships and the increasing hunger for love, and say that yes, love and generosity are on the decline. Or, one could look at the revived focus on love and generosity in discussions, scientific research, and even actions across the world, and say that they are now on an upward swing.
As for my view, I feel its cyclical in nature. When I examine the state of the world over a large period of time, it seems that there were the ancient times when, based on available texts, it seems that people clearly understood the importance of generosity in their well-being and growth. They consciously practiced these values and it became a part of their inherent nature. Then, there was a period where these practices were passed on to us and we continued to live them. But, perhaps, we overlooked the part of understanding why it was important and, over time, the wisdom behind it was lost. Then came another period, where the ‘being’ and these practices also got diluted and a lot of questions came up around why these were being followed. Since we no longer carried the wisdom within us and were unable to see the value in these practices, we started discarding them. Then came our current period, where we started feeling empty inside, leading to attempts to find ways to feel complete again. Among the many attempts, some involve revived interest in ancient wisdom and practices, including those around generosity. This interest is now being pursued in many ways: some people are trying to learn from ancient texts, some are using modern science to discern the benefits, and some others are experimenting with generosity in their daily lives.
Hence, I see it as cyclical in nature and we seem to be on an upward curve at the moment:)
Since the divide between the haves and the haves-not is so huge in our country, do you think a study on generosity or teaching children about generosity at home is one of the ways in which we can imbibe this virtue?
Yes, definitely. Children’s education starts from their home and immediate surroundings, and they pick up a lot from these ecosystems in their early years. However this, like other virtues/values (e.g.- honesty), is something which children pick up by observation rather than from direct teaching. So, instead of focusing on teaching or preaching to children, one could focus on developing this virtue within oneself and practicing generosity in ones own daily life. Children will naturally follow. Care should also be taken to not give the children all the answers, but rather help them to reflect on their own experiences and learn from them.
In fact, this is how our ancient Gurukul system worked. The students lived with the guru and learnt from his example, as well as own reflection. The guru’s role was to help the students find their answers, rather than preach his answers to them.
Also, from the views on the previous question, it is important to learn and practice these virtues, but also be aware of why we should be doing so. Action and wisdom need to go hand-in-hand, for it to ripple out and sustain.
How do you think we can help people associate generosity with caring for people and not merely giving out money for charity?
Whoever is able to realize that love is the essence of generosity, will naturally care for people. The act could still be giving money to charity, but the attitude/intent behind it will be different. It will be one of serving based on oneness and compassion, rather than that of helping, which is based on division and pity.
One should not look down upon money giving. It is one of the resources required to serve people at times (e.g.- you need money to buy books for children, if you want to teach them). Giving away is important, what is given is secondary. In fact, for many people including me, the journey of giving/generosity starts with giving out money!
One way we try to develop love in ourselves, is by focusing on building communities rather than projects. So, we give more importance to supporting each other in our journeys rather than achieving a specific project target. Targets are still achieved, but so much more of individual and collective transformation also happens.
Another way could be to bring more attention to time volunteering, which is already happening. There are so many places where volunteers could come in and really make a difference, and also explore their own generosity. This will require systems and institutions to create awareness about volunteering, create opportunities for people to do so, and make it an enriching experience for the volunteers. On this, we can learn from many of the developed countries who have systems in place to make this happen, for various age groups (from childhood to senior citizens).
Yet another way could be that of celebrating everyday heroes who practice generosity in small yet beautiful ways (e.g.- Uday bhai in Ahmedabad). Many people respect Mother Teresa for her great generosity and are inspired by it, but her acts are regarded as superhuman. However, when one reads about a man who goes around repairing taps in peoples homes for free as a way to save water, it evokes a different response: ‘I can also do this!’. This is more likely to inspire people to action:)
5. Since good virtues are taught at home and school, do you think generosity should be introduced as a subject at school level? What can be the benefits?
It should surely be given more importance in schools, but not sure about it being introduced as a subject. An act of generosity, its benefits to the doer and ripple outside are all very subjective and subtle in nature. So, not sure how much they can be standardized into a curriculum.
Already, moral values have been introduced in our schools as a subject and there is plenty of debate around how successful/unsuccessful the approach is. On the other hand, some other alternative approaches, where values are interwoven with other subjects and activities in the school, have received a fair amount of appreciation.
My view is that, just like at home, children learn most from observation. So, if we want them to learn to be generous, we have to start by being generous ourselves, around them and with them. Then, we can additionally figure out ways to embed the spirit of generosity into a typical day for the children at school.
All in all, as Gandhji would say, we have to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’.

Posted by Pratyush Rajvanshi on Apr 15, 2013 | permalink

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  • Nikita wrote ...

    Just stumbled upon this! :) good to know your thoughts!...well articulated! P.S -what tribal community did you serve and are you still involved?