Monday, June 13, 2011

Two sides to our generosity

A FOREIGNER I met at lunch last week praised Malaysians for our generosity.
When I asked him how he came to that conclusion after having stayed in the city for less than a week, he said he had seen enough beggars at hawker centres to arrive at the conclusion.

Embarrassed, I explained that the beggars were probably members preying on gullible locals. They have found rich pickings on our soil and are coming in droves on tourist visas to beg here.

Malaysians, I said, are too easily embarrassed and do not want to be seen as rude when approached by beggars at public places. So, instead of refusing the latter, most give in.

But, yes, I said, we are quite generous. We rally round to raise funds for disaster victims, here and there, at home and thousands of miles away.

Those who can give cash, those who had none, give in kind. We did it in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami which hit Aceh, and we rallied around to help many more disaster victims after that.

Millions of ringgit were raised within days, collectively and single-handedly, by corporations and individuals, and sent to these disaster-hit areas.

We give, whether or not our help is asked for or if our beneficiaries will remember the kind deeds we had done and not hit back at us at the slightest provocation later.

Yes, I think we can be proud of our generous nature and give ourselves a pat on our backs for the good that we have done -- unless of course, we are only giving to rid ourselves of the burden of an old or expiring possession.

I say this because of my experience at a religious observance a couple of weeks ago where boxfuls of soft drinks were donated for helpers and participants of the event.

For years, I recall, helpers had only filtered water to offer as refreshments. This year, they had soft drinks.

I was delighted to see the generosity displayed in a mountain of soft drinks. I even praised the donor's kind deeds when my attention was drawn to the expiry date on the boxes by a helper at the event -- the drinks were about to expire the following day.

Consuming the drinks would probably do no harm, I am sure.

I have unknowingly eaten bread several days after their expiry dates because they were printed on small sealing tags that were easily misplaced rather than the plastic bags.

Is the well-wisher aware of the expiry date before donating the soft drinks?

Or was the donation made because the drinks would otherwise have to be thrown away?

I think it is morally wrong to give only when you know you cannot possibly hold onto your possession anymore -- never mind if it is still consumable or usable for another day or two.

A disaster relief organiser once told me of her post-earthquake aid-raising effort. Her team had asked for blankets and clothes for the disaster victims who were facing an impending winter.

A week after the call was made, the collection centre was inundated with so much generosity. Unfortunately, many donors had also responded to the call to clear their homes of discards.

For days, the aid raiser and her helpers had to sieve through rags in search of clothes that could still be used by the disaster victims.

Otherwise, they would have brought embarrassment to themselves as well.

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