Why I Would Love To Kick Social Activists And Other Do-Gooders – Plus My Philosophy Of Life, Generally.
There is a folk tale told about the wise man Tenali Raman and King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijaynagara Empire. When the kings mother dies without getting her last wish fulfilled of eating a mango before her death, the king asks the priests how to propitiate his dead mothers soul and the priests’ advise him to honour his mothers last wish before dying by giving mangoes made of gold to all the priests. When the King’s Minister Tenali Raman hears of this he invites all the priests home and brands them with a hot iron rod saying it was his dead mother’s last wish to be burnt by a hot iron. The priests and the king learn their lesson that even good deeds have to be intelligent deeds.
I am reminded of this story whenever I see a social activist trying to drum up support for “Causes” by playing on people’s guilt. As someone who works in the government medical sector, I get invited to a lot of causes by Ngo’s and social activists. Barring a few, a very few honorable exemptions (like rain in the Sahara desert) the rest are merely doing their social activities for gain -either monetary or for social standing among their peer group.
At a recent NGO’s office I visited, there was a large wall map of the globe with pins stuck on it on a dozen different countries worldwide. When I enquired about the pins the lady in charge proudly explained that it showed the number of countries they got donations from -“in dollars” the woman proudly explained. I asked her then, genuinely puzzled, if she had all that money “in dollars” with her why was she angling with me to organize a free medical camp by recruiting my friends informally while she could as well hire the best doctors and buy the best medicines to give at camp- at market rates- after all the dollar was now at stratospheric heights compared to the rupee.
She hemmed and hawed and said it was against the policy of their NGO to buy things- they only distributed things they get by free donation. My next question was, in that case what happens to all those dollars sent from those dozen countries? She told me with a straight face that the money was spent on “Administrative expenses”. Puzzled i asked naively “what administrative expenses?” for from what i observed it didn’t look to be large enough an organization like NASA to require all those administrative expenses. She took pity on my ignorance and said “you know, staff salaries, vehicle expenses, fuel, food and sundries” and i mentally added to that list- centralized air conditioning, staff meetings over dinner at five star restaurants to cry over the starving masses etc. I nodded my head in understanding- getting it at last- no wonder its so expensive to take care of the poor and unfortunate- there are so many administrative expenses to take care of first.
The above example is not one of its kind and not an exception at all – by and far it is the norm when it comes to NGO’S and social organizations. Which is why I politely but point blank refuse to participate in any free medical check up camps organised by any social worker -professional or amateur. Those who come and preach to me about how medicine is a “noble profession” are the very same ones who behave so ignobly in their lives and interactions with everyone else.
On the whole, I don’t buy this “You are lucky that you are so fortunate, so you have to suffer in remorse for those unfortunate” line being peddled by social activists and do-gooders. I have a brain of my own with a well functioning cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla oblongata and it tells me to apply reason before guilt. My reason tells me that as an individual I am responsible for my own troubles and as I cannot lay the blame of my own failings at the feet of others they too cannot lay their sufferings at my conscience. Playing the blame game is going to get me nowhere if I am not willing to accept responsibility for my condition and by my actions make a difference to my own life first. Or I could wallow in self pity and blame everyone else. It’s a choice I have to make every single day when I get up in the morning and face sunlight. Laying the blame on society is pure cowardice, according to my way of thought.
To confess the truth, I did not really come to this conclusion suddenly. It took me a long period of time to learn to use my gift of reason and see the truth as it is and not till my teens I learned to trust my faculty of self reasoning above all the preaching by others. When I was a school kid I had the benefit of twelve years of a convent education under priests of the catholic faith. Every Friday, the good fathers used to thunder at us about the sins and iniquities of mankind and how privileged we all were when compared to the less fortunate. The way they told us kids – the only way to come out of sin was to surrender at the feet of Jesus, grieve for our advantages and work for the poor. I so want to believe that the poor fathers must have practiced what they preached but I never can remember seeing a thin starving father (priest) who suffered by proxy for all the starving children of god. The fathers were all fat, smiling and prosperous looking despite their obvious discomfort for the suffering masses of people. Maybe their suffering was all spiritual and never bodily.
Anyway this constant reminders of our guilt for the less fortunate’s around us, had me one day reaching for the source code of it all- the Bible- where I found this profound advice which changed my whole outlook on this preaching of guilt process. The episode I refer to involves Jesus feet being washed by a woman and one of the disciples chides her for wasting the oil by anointing his feet which could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus rebukes the zealot and tells him “the poor will always be with you, I will not”. Reading those words straight from his mouth was a light bulb moment for me as I realized then that the poor will always be there and it was no fault of mine. It just was reality. The world was made like that- there would be prosperous people, there would be poor people and nothing can change the fact of their existence- not even god.
When the reality of it all struck me the scales fell of my eyes and I looked around at society with a new understanding. Unfortunately for me I was living in a socialist country at that time. The India of the late 80’s and early 90’s where I grew up was a communist country in all but name. As all socialist countries do, Indian society (and polity) punished exceptionalism and rewarded mediocrity. The Television channels were all state owned and were full of documentaries showing starving kids in Somalia and Sudan with big protruding bellies and sunken ribs with the subliminal message that said “see – their governments let them starve, at least we, the Indian government give you food for your bellies even if we dont give you anything else resembling freedom of thought or action”.
As per sound communist doctrine- perfected in Russia and China, when the population was reduced to a fight for their very existence then they would have no energy to fight for other rights like freedom of thought or expression. It was a grim sobering time in the early 90’s where the only inspirational thing I remember was the story of a college dropout who went onto found a company in his garage and made it a success- Bill Gates of Microsoft fame- a man who put the lie to the entire Indian Governmental Policy of – we are a developing nation and we will stay a developing nation where people fight over raw necessities and can never dream of success on a global scale. If Mr. Gates could make it from his garage then i could do it too, was the take home message I got from his story.
Anyway the point of the above story is that slowly but surely I developed the faculty of critical thinking and reasoning. I refused to swallow lies and propaganda- be it from anyone- figures of authority or people I trusted. With time solid reasoning became the benchmark with which i made all my decisions. The truth became my goddess and honesty became my religion. And I came to the independent conclusion that no individual could be held responsible for all the inequalities of society. All these public service messages by NGO’s and social activists about the needy and unfortunate suffering because others more fortunate are not helping them was suddenly revealed as just another form of indoctrination like what religion and politics preach but dont practice.
My clear understanding of the lies of communism showed me the truth that no one could be a slave to the needs of anyone else. Each man’s life is his own to live and he need not needlessly sacrifice it to any cause thought up by self-appointed arbiters of morality who sit in judgment over their fellow men in committees and societies (or as NGO’s). Blaming others and blaming society for all the ills suffered by individuals is just taking the easy way out and not facing reality. Reality is Reality. You cannot change facts even with the best of intentions. Every man starts with the same basic advantage of humanity. What he does with it defines his life. And so the only obligations we have to contribute to our society’s needs is by way of personal example, by living our lives to the fullest and happily. To say otherwise is to bind men into slavery with sweet words and noble intentions – but slavery nevertheless.
To conclude my argument- in the end we cannot save everyone, we can only help humanity by helping one person at a time starting with ourselves. Save yourself first before being presumptuous enough to save the rest of mankind. Are you happy with your current life, pleased with where you are on your life’s journey? If so, your happiness can itself serve as a lesson to all those wallowing in the depths of misery and self pity. To be a beacon of happiness to guide others through the dark times of their lives- is what I decided to do with my life. Always living positively despite all the doom and gloom of everyone around me is what I actually do every day. It’s not as easy as it sounds- but I try.
So the next time any of these social workers come to me and try to play the guilt card to society by espousing causes to me, they are going to get a good long kicking up their backs.. be warned.