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Terrifying as the COVID Pandemic is, the Crisis has Also Shown Us How Humans are Hardwired for Empathy

[avatar user=”Nabakishore” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]OINAM NABAKISHORE SINGH[/avatar]

It is, indeed, amazing to witness large-scale philanthropic activities by various organizations and individuals in India in general and Manipur in particular during the ongoing lockdown on account of Covid-19. Hardships of people in Manipur in comparison to that of migrant workers without home and food in many parts of the country do not appear to be very harsh. Hunger and desperation writ large in the face of migrant workers stranded on the road, bus terminus or railway stations are hugely moving. Many non-profit organizations and generous individuals have stepped out of the comfort of their home to share meals with their brethren on the road. In Manipur too, several individuals, leaders and social workers, civil society organizations have exhibited compassion and kindness, heart and soul, to provide the much-needed meals to all in need. The grand gestures of charity and philanthropy visible across the country reaffirms our faith in the goodness of human nature.
The moot question I would like to engage is on matters of the benevolent and philanthropic behaviour of human being. Are human beings hardwired to be concerned with the well-being of fellow human beings or are they helping others in their own self-interest? We may look for the answers in different literatures on psychology of human behaviour. Behaviour of a person is shaped largely by his/her motive/motivation which are influenced by needs, hereditary, experience and culture.
It is in the best interest of any species to share food, survive together, work and live together. This improves significantly chances of success by a group of animals and human beings in the wild areas especially during stone age era. It is in the best interest of human beings that other fellow being too live and work together. In a market economy, there is all the more reason for the need to see others live so that the latter continue to buy the goods and services produced by those in position to supply such goods and services. There is an inextricable and inseparable relationship among all human beings. It is a win-win situation when people live together.
Let us question as to why so many individuals, organizations and governments are in the forefront to help each other during the period of scarcity. Why has the TATA company donated Rs.2500 crore to the PM-CARES Fund? Why has Akshay Kumar donated Rs.25 crores to the same fund? Why are many social workers and civil society organizations donating daily necessities to the families which are poorer and facing a hard time? The answer to this question may be found by probing the motives behind such generous works. One overriding human instinct is to help fellow human beings who are in pain and distress. We are seeing a large number of Samaritans helping people in distress by distributing food packets, face masks, groceries, etc. Indeed, it is really heartening to see the scale of help being extended in every locality of Manipur.
Is helping others good for the person helping? What are the benefits of helping others especially the weak and poor? At the psychological level, helping serves the purpose of contentment and self-satisfaction of the mind of the giver. According to Maslow’s law, beyond physical and material needs, there is need for esteem need, etc. Perhaps, a sense of pride and excitement surge in the mind of giver of assistance. From the religious point of view, helping others in need is indeed mandated by many prophets. Jesus Christ is the foremost to urge upon Christians to share their belongings with others. Islam too insists upon sharing about ten percent of the profits with others. In Hinduism, offering (or dan) of gold, cow, rice, etc., especially to Brahmins, who are priests and teachers in the society is clearly prescribed. However, giving dans by the rich and powerful in the form of anna (food grains) to the poor has been a tradition as a good karma among those who follow Hinduism. In Buddhism too, offering alms (biksha) to the monks is considered to be good karma to credit the account of good deeds for a better next birth.
Another question to be asked of the donors during the crisis of lockdown and suffering is related to social pressure and expectation of society. It is natural to expect from those who are well-placed and endowed with wealth to help those not so fortunate? Many including sports and film stars, who are well-placed and rich due to their talents, have donated both in kind and cash. Shah Rukh Khan, one of the richest and most successful film stars preferred to give in kind rather than in cash. There must be a good reason for that. While giving donation, a donor wants assurance that his gifts would be used for the intended purpose, and not otherwise. So, sometimes, donors prefer to directly reach out to the needy persons.
In Manipur, maximum distribution of groceries among the people is done by MLAs and social workers, who are planning to upgrade themselves to MLAs in the near future. As for MLAs, they receive rations under NFSA (National Food Security Act) and PMGKY (Prime Minister’s Gariv Kalyan Yojana) from the Government. They also have an added advantage of using Rs. 25 lakhs from the MLA local area development fund to buy and distribute rations.
The optics of giving assistance appear to be more important than the act of giving itself. Media – social, print and electronic – are the most important accompaniments of the events of distribution where MLAs or social workers personally hand over the items at the risk of contracting coronavirus. It is surmised that helping those in need now may reap the benefit at the time of election as payback.
However, the most important need of the hour is making the necessities available to those in need so as to have a smooth sail over the lockdown period of scarcity. We should all say “Bravo” to all big and small, corporate or individual, MLA or social worker, Pradhan or councillor, NGO or CSO, etc. for doing a yeoman service to the people in need. Let this compassion and humanism prevail the society and country in future.

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