Saturday, June 22, 2013

Giving Grudgingly Vs.Giving Graciously

Giving Grudgingly.....Are you a Karnan or a Kuselan?

Anyone who is familiar with Indian mythology would know the story of King Sibi who cut out a pound of his own flesh for a starving bird. And the story of King Karna who famously said that what the right hand gives the left hand should not know- rule only applying to alms and donations. But that was then. Now, most of us make sure that not only do we give publicly, we also make sure that everyone around knows that we give, whatever we give.

My very first job as an assistant at a hospital (in Perambur) was under a doctor who followed the above principle very carefully. Anything he gave away, be it as small as a pencil, he made sure carried his name on it, lovingly engraved as "donated by so-and-so". In fact, that was the point of his donation as he wanted to gain publicity among his fellow rotary club members and round table club members. If it hadn’t been that some kind of charity was required for his advancement in social standing in these clubs, he wouldn't have donated a single paisa. The gentleman finally had his hearts pleasure of becoming the chairman of the local rotary branch, when he promptly ceased making any personal donations and started doing all his philanthropic works using the club funds (legitimately) collected for that purpose- a win, win situation all around.

Now, if you think that i quoted the above example out of grudge at my former boss- you are wrong- we parted amicably when my apprentice time was up and we have still stayed in touch sporadically over the years. And that despite his initial test for my honesty, when during my first day at the job, he randomly sprinkled money in a few places in the clinic and watched me secretly (along with the nurses) to see if I picked them up and handed them all to him or if i was tempted to steal. With such an initiation ceremony was i welcomed into my new (and first job) and I did prove my honesty to him but was also pissed off at the test but waited till I had learned everything useful I could from him before showing him the finger and exiting on my own terms. That’s a story for a different day and let’s return to the premise of this blog post.

So what the puranas teach us is to give without holding back and if you cant give like that, don’t give rather than give grudgingly. But how many of us follow this rule? Many people are guilty of giving for their own sakes to assuage some secret guilt rather than give selflessly. And that’s the reason why the hundi at Tirupati (and many other temples) is always over flowing - because evil men who defraud their fellow human beings try to buy their salvation (Punyam) by trying to bribe God himself. Those who pour such vast amounts as donations to temples are the same ones who grudge what little they give to the others around them- their employees, their customers and the general public.

Sometimes we cannot afford to give to others when our own needs are wanting. But the Bible says that’s the best time to give- to give out of our need rather than to give out of our excess. Have you ever done so? And not regretted it? If so, I raise my hat to you. For I haven’t. I still feel a little reluctance at my giving off my need. To put things in perspective let’s see a brief introduction to the economics of the health care profession.

The month of May is usually a lean month to doctors everywhere. Most prospective patients are away on vacations and even the ones who are not, are saving up their money for their upcoming vacations and would rather not waste it on paying doctors fees, unless it’s an unavoidable emergency. Also, if you factor in the kids, you can see that the average man has to pay school fees for the upcoming academic year and buy books, shoes, uniforms and all that. Hence any disease for which treatment can be postponed is usually avoided for the next couple of months. Hence doctors everywhere feel the pinch (of low to very low earnings) during the months of May and June.

So in such a state of distrait circumstance financially, i was sitting and calculating the amount of money I had declined from patients for doing pro bono (charity) work over the past month. For one reason or other, i had taken pity on these patients and had declined my consultant fees entirely giving them the benefit of my time, skill and care entirely freely - they still had to pay the other fees, for the original doctor and hospital charges. The final amount came to quite a big amount (by my low standards) and i am sorry to say, I regretted sacrificing it when I clearly needed it to tide over a very lean month for me financially (i am not yet reduced to asking for personal loans, so please don’t avoid my phone calls). As i said it is easier to give when you have in excess, but tougher when you need it yourself. And then I consoled myself with the self satisfied thought that I had given away the money even when I needed it so I am like Karna or Sibi or in that league.

I was actually filled with false pride for a moment before reality brought me down. It wasn’t as if I had handed it over from my own pocket. I clearly had never been in ownership of that money- it had stayed with the patients and was their money from first to last. So I wasn’t entitled to feel proud for something which had never belonged to me in the first place. And whatever false pride i had felt at my own generosity melted away and i was ashamed of myself- for patting myself on the back for an undeserved deed.

And thats when i recalled the original stories of Karna and Sibi - those guys didn’t give to others to feel happy about giving. They gave without a second thought. And they certainly didn’t give grudgingly and grumble later about the loss of it- like I did. It’s better not to give at all rather than give like that. People like me are a far cry from the high standards of our forefathers. 

So I finally came to the conclusion that I had been a fool- I should either have declined to do free cases on a needy month or once done I should not have counted the money i didn’t get (in the first place) as part of my charity efforts for the month. All I did was creative accounting and not real charity. I gave grudgingly (regretting it) and so it didn’t count at all. If I am going to regret it later, then i better not give at all, just to experience the false satisfaction of saying that i too do charity work.

I think i have learned my lesson from this. So, have you?

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