Problem cannot be solved through systemic interventions alone; we must address the most fundamental of society’s problems—changing human behaviour.
During an interesting conversation I had with a seasoned development professional some years back, he held forth his view on why charity is bad and development is good. “Imagine”, he said, “that you are standing by a river, and you see a baby floating by, obviously thrown into the water and likely to die. Naturally, you will get into the river and try to rescue it. But a few minutes later, another baby will float by, and another, and another.” He continued, “Now if you walk upstream, you will find the root cause: someone who is throwing these babies into the water. Tackling that person and preventing them from throwing babies into the water, will solve the problem for ever. That is development, and it creates impact—charity doesn’t change much.”
To this, I raised a question, “Well, what happens if after a few hours, you find another person throwing babies into the water?” I continued, “And another and another… surely, one has to go to the source of that problem and you will discover that some childhood trauma is creating individuals to throw babies into the water. So, shouldn’t we solve that problem, isn’t that the root cause?”
“Well, yes”, he agreed, “If that is the case, we need to create counselling solutions for such people.”
“But what if we find out that those children experienced trauma because their parents weren’t taking good care of them? That those parents weren’t educated about bringing up children; they weren’t educated because schools don’t teach parenting; isn’t that then the root cause?”
“Well, there’s no end to it, then, is there?” he asked, struggling to see his ‘development’ model collapse in a few seconds.
Popular Western development paradigms believe in deterministic approaches and ‘permanent solutions’ to problems. They fail to acknowledge that the world we live in is complex and dynamic and the only thing permanent is that there will always be new problems to solve. Therefore, the only solution is to build the capacity of our people and institutions to address these problems. But an equally important aspect is developing empathy and motivation to solve these problems—what in a layperson’s language is called ‘caring’. It is only when we care, and we manifest that care through action, that we will—individually and collectively—build our capacity to solve problems. Which is why, individual and community giving, and volunteerism are the bedrock of any society; not CSR or any large grant making institution.
Change must come from within
Ancient oriental wisdom tells us that a fair and happy society can only be built by good human beings. All spiritual texts exhort us to seek and find the good within ourselves, to focus on it and expand it, so that the bad in us has diminishing space available.
In today’s India, it means that we can only have a Swachh Bharat if the average Indian becomes swachh and stops littering and dirtying. Our women can only be safe if our men (and our High Courts) understand the meaning of consent. Problems cannot be solved through systemic interventions like laws or policing alone; they have to address the most fundamental of society’s problems—changing human behaviour.
The corporate world and the government are built to give us what we want. Neither have the courage to hold a mirror to us and tell us that ‘we’ are the problem. So it is up to us, as a civil society, or as a community of individuals, to look inwards and make ourselves better human beings.
Making the world a better place, slowly but surely
The only way to do that, is by getting each and every citizen to engage in making our world a better place. This can be in many ways— volunteering at a langar, teaching a child, helping a policeman manage traffic or donating money and materials to support various causes.
As author Peter Drucker says, the role of giving, above all, is to help us live out our ideals, our beliefs, our best opinion of ourselves, so that when we look into the mirror, we can see someone who as a citizen takes responsibility. Someone who as a neighbour cares..
A festival like #DaanUtsav celebrates exactly that— the opportunity for each one of us to be the best we can. To give without expectation and in doing so, to experience the unbelievable joy of knowing that you just became a slightly better human being, and that you made the world, howsoever infinitesimally, a slightly better place!
(Venkat Krishnan co-founded Educational Initiatives Pvt Ltd and founder of Give India. He mentors young social entrepreneurs and volunteers to evangelise #DaanUtsav- the Joy of Giving Week.)