An excerpt from the book, Why People Give : Interpreting Altruism by Ratna Vira and Suhasini Vira.

In a more cynical and brutal world, newspaper headlines no longer stun us. Our apathy is so strong. A girl is abandoned, daughters killed, women raped and families found murdered.

These stories no longer move us. Ponzi schemes bankrupt families, farmers commit suicide. Millionaires are made, and some led to prison. ‘Karma’, we mutter, ‘catching up’. Ingenuous ways to multiply and quadruple wealth and dodge tax are revealed daily.

All the while, the same people are seen supporting the latest causes, visiting the temples and houses of prayer, and washing their sins through giving. Is this truly charity? Is it altruism or merely selfish behaviour?

Compassion and emotion are passé. We live in the digital age surrounded by millennials who use Emojis and Instagram to express themselves, and with them most of us are forgetting life as we once knew it. We forget the heart and meticulously count Likes on Facebook posts. We believe that Facebook and WhatsApp are free. What we are just beginning to realize is that in using them, we have begun to give up our freedom. In wanting to be connected all the time, our loneliness gets amplified.

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The problem is that no one seems to have enough, so where is there anything to give someone else? We are all chasing the good life, and nothing seems to cut it. Greed and avarice have moved from being deadly sins to a way of life. The more you have, the more you want, and the Ferris wheel never stops.

However, money does not seem to be the glue that binds people together. In a series on the lives of the super-rich on the History Channel, it was observed that they had the same insecurities as those with very little. Their wealth became their biggest insecurity, putting their lives at risk. So, the billionaire spends his life surrounded by body guards and then hires detectives to shadow his body guards who know too much about him and his family. He sends his kids to college wanting them to experience life and so-called normalcy but is worried about who they interact with and has their friends and associates shadowed and the boyfriend investigated. Beyond a point, the wealth that is meant to give happiness morphs into something else instead of protecting the individual from the hardships of life; it often is the reason that the person needs protection.

In the words of the Nigerian poet Ben Okri, the world is a bizarre place and spinning out of control. Most people numbly watch the suffering of others glad that they are not part of the statistics. We pass the blame around, tossing it in the air, forwarding message without reading them, dressing our apathy in pithy arguments.

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Political cladding, economic cladding, intellectual cladding — things that look good but have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding. They say the words but the words are hollow They make the gestures and the gestures are shallow. (Okri, 2017)

It is this view that has compelled this book to be written. The need to believe that the heart still beats, that humanity still has a chance. Counting cars and houses, clothes and parties, rocks on fingers is all good but life is meant to be measured by something far deeper, more sustainable, and although this book cannot give answers, it does attempt to show you how small changes can give hope. A trickle can become a downpour, covering the distance between words and the truth.

We need to see each other and relate to society. We need to see with our souls and reach out with our hearts. Look back and look ahead and carry people with you. Pause; help as you rush through your day. Count your blessings, and in your prayers, include someone else’s troubles.

Image Credit: Ratna Vira and Suhasini Vira/Sage Publications

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Excerpted with permission from Why People Give : Interpreting Altruism by Ratna Vira and Suhasini Vira, 

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