8 Oct 2013

The Science Behind the Art of Giving...

How Giving & Helping Others Makes Us Better Humans

Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, talks about an unnamed government official who pissed him off when the former won his second term as clerk. The person made no bones about the fact that he was strictly against Franklin winning, often announcing it known in public. Unfortunately, Franklin noticed, the man was a “gentleman with good education.” He would be a man of influence in the government one day. Rather than taking the fight to him, Benjamin Franklin delved into the man’s personal life and found out that he was an avid reader. Franklin asked him for a book, which he said was not easily available. The man obliged. A week later, Franklin returned the book along with a ‘Thank You’ note. The man suddenly turned into a staunch supporter of Franklin, and they remained fast friends until the former died.

While the above incident is a commonly cited example on the topic of converting foes into friends, the focus here is not on Ben Franklin – it’s on the other person. How did the man, who often publically lambasted Franklin, turn into one of his stalwarts? Was it because Franklin asked him for something? Or was it the ‘Thank You’ note? Neither. It was because he gave something that he had as sudden change of heart.

The world’s selfishness quotient seems to increase every day. Trust is dwindling, the hunger for power and dominance is on the rise; people are ready to trample others to get what they want... giving, sharing and selfless work are such rare commodities. What will we achieve by giving others when they won’t appreciate what we do? In fact, they may take us for granted and demand even more. Giving today is an art practised only by a select few.

The Art of Giving
Giving, however, is more than an art... it’s a science. Without delving into neurological studies, here’s the deal – the fact that we do things for someone we like is a misconception; it’s actually the opposite. We like people whom we do things for. Don’t believe me? Think about your daily life. Noticed how you tend to like the new recruit at office who regularly asks you for help and guidance? It’s because you’re regularly giving the new guy advice that you like him. Do you feel closer to your family when you are involved in household chores or when you’re painting the town red with friends? Do you feel a certain warmth for a stranger whom you’ve helped on the streets?

When we do something for someone (or give them something) our subconscious mind forms an opinion that the receiver is worthy of our time and effort. This makes us develop a liking for the person. Benjamin Franklin’s oppressor started liking him because he gave Franklin a book. His mind thus covertly told him that since he had made an effort for someone, that someone was a good guy.

The Bhagwad Gita talks about rendering selfless service. Now I won’t get into whether it’s good for cleansing the soul or not – each person has her own beliefs. But selfless help, giving and sharing enable one to look at her surroundings differently. She realizes that knowledge she shares isn’t reducing; it’s multiplying. We hear of people who provide water bottles to traffic constables standing in the sweltering heat; who go to slums and remote villages to distribute clothes and food, and to teach. Are they losing knowledge? Are they wasting and precious time? It may appear so to many. But those who indulge in these actions start seeing the world differently. They witness abundance; that resources like knowledge and money don’t disappear. In fact, the more they share, the more there is. They start seeing the world from an angle of compassion and empathy. When people start trusting them, they start trusting the world. They become vulnerable, and voluntarily so. They don’t mind the odd person hurting them; they focus on the greater good. Their egos take a bashing, and their self-respect is fuelled. And of course, people love them. Not just superficially but intrinsically.

So get off your chair. Turn off your TV and shut out that media which keeps talking about how bad the world has become. Stop looking at the world from the eyes of a grumpy 95 year old. You don’t need to become a social activist... just be more sensitive to people around. Don’t hesitate when someone asks for help. Do the best you can without expecting something in return. Because when you expect and you don’t get, you’re disillusioned again. There are millions out there who are trying hard to make the world a better place. Help them restore faith in mankind. You’ll suddenly see how beautiful things are, and how negativity kept you bogged down all this time.

image Courtesy: Google Images
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