The Math of Giving
Aasha Mehreen Amin
After a whole month of abstinence and solemnity Eid day is seen as the most joyous day for Muslims all over the world. Buying new clothes, putting on henna, making plans for outings with friends, inviting relatives to sumptuous dinners or lunches, there is no end to the celebratory preparations. But perhaps the greatest pleasure of all is the spirit of giving that infects everyone. Apart from buying clothes for near and dear ones, most people give clothes to the less fortunate. True, the last part is often seen as a religious duty, but the end result is positive in that it is one of those rare times when the rich give to the poor quite ungrudgingly.
The act of giving is indeed a complex phenomenon. While some of us may think that we are being magnanimous and noble by sacrificing a part of our income for our less fortunate compatriots, the truth is that the ultimate benefactor of this generosity is in fact ourselves. When we give it makes us feel good, it relieves us a little from the burden of conscience that is hiding in some forgotten corner of our brains, gathering dust. It is a high that cannot be compared to anything else when you see a face light up when a gift is given. The more generously we give the more we get back in return. It is a winning formula that ensures exponential increases in happiness with subsequent increases in the rate of giving.
Our culture of giving however, does not usually conform to this logic. The extent of giving is also directly proportional to the social status of the recipient and the closeness by blood or relationship to the giver. Conversely the extent of giving is inversely proportional to the receiver's needs; in other words the needier the person the less he or she will receive. It may seem like a complex mathematical idea but actually a simple lesson in human behaviour. The largest proportion of our Eid budget will in most cases, be spent on oneself if one is single and with few obligations or on one's children (this is the closest one can get to oneself). The second largest amount will go for gifts for one's spouse, immediate family members (parents, brothers, sisters), in-laws (for strategic reasons), extended family and friends (perhaps, if they are lucky). Strangely or rather illogically, the smallest proportion of the budget is reserved for the poor - the domestic workers and their family, the deaf and mute beggar one meets everyday, the old darwan or bua who comes every year to get whatever they can, people who earn next to nothing for their work. The reason is simple. People hate parting with money and they can only digest the trauma if they make the sacrifice for someone they love or are close to or someone they need to make happy.
But what if this formula was reversed and the extent of giving became directly proportional to the extent of need? This would mean that instead of buying that must-have outfit for your daughter (which she will forget by Eid ul Adha) you could use the money to buy something really nice for your home worker's daughter. Most people will balk at this idea and consider it preposterous and perhaps a little too sanctimonious. Yet it makes so much more sense to give things to people who really need to be made special rather than give to those who already have more than they need. Also it wouldn't be such a bad idea to inspire our own children to get into the spirit of giving to those less fortunate than them.
All too soon the festivities of Eid will be over, the mehendi will have faded and we will go back to our mundane lives. Many will go back to their drudgery. Wouldn't it be wonderful however, if we can look back to this time and remind ourselves that this time we decided to give a bit more than usual, to those whose lives are bleak and desperate all year round? The results of this formula goes into infinity: Giving to the (Deserving and Needy) = Maximum Joy + Satisfaction = Feel Good Factor * N.
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