What makes one be generous towards someone else? Why do you give, help, share?
Walking down a street of Ella in Sri Lanka with my new travel companion, Lena from Germany, we started reflecting on the very reasons why poor people, particularly, are so generous. Our discussion originated from her story of a poor merchant of corn cobs in a small village on the south western coast of the country who gave her a cob one day she was running past with no money in her pockets.
We came up with four theories for such generosity:
1. Religion: a poor tuk tuk driver I met during my stay in Cambodia explained to me that even though he is poor, he still shares with people and help others because he wants his next life to be good. That’s buddhism generosity!
2. Reciprocal altruism: Lena read about ‘reciprocal altruism’ which is based on the theory that people might be generous because they believe they will also receive help in return in the future (closely related to the concept of ‘karma’) or because they actually receive something in return straight away – whether that be a simple thank you, a big smile or an internal feeling of satisfaction for having helped someone. Therefore, the theory goes, as poor people can’t buy themselves a lot of things, giving for them is also a mean of ‘receiving’.
3. Non-materialistic lifestyle: Posessions might mean very little to those who already haven’t got much, so giving to others doesn’t take anything away from them… I call it non-materialistic thinking.
4. Altruism: Pure generosity and kindness from the heart for no other reason than to help. I can think of the man in Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) who paid for my motorbike ride to get to the hotel district when I had no local currency and it was late at night (I related this story in my Vietnam summary post).
We each have our own reason – or a combination of – for being generous. The first three theories might be slightly egocentric, i.e. the person is generous because they want something for themselves in return or because it takes nothing away from them. But is one theory better than the other? Does it really matter the reason why we are generous if the end result is the same: to help others?
If I were honest with myself (and I try to be), I’d say that most of the time I’m generous because I just want to help (4. altruism) and/or I get a great feeling of satisfaction from it (2. reciprocal altruism).
What about you? What are your generous heart’s motives?