Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Discourse on Charity

I was reading a book By Daniel Pink recently- Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Now the book in question is about theories of motivation and how creative activities are hampered by extrinsic motivators. Highly recommended. If you do not have the time to read this book, watch this 11 minutes clip. This covers some of the principal points of the book.

However, this post is not about motivation per se. The title suggests that I must talk about charity. And I am about to do precisely that.

While I was browsing through the “English Language and Usage” site I talked about a few days back, I came across this question. It set me thinking about volunteering and charity in new light. Is there something called charity at all? Are the conventional definitions of charity portraying an accurate picture? 

Charity is defined as  “liberality to or provision for those in need or distress; alms-giving” by the Oxford dictionary. Explicitly, whenever you do something that benefits someone else, it is charity. However, that would imply that anyone working anywhere is being charitable. All doctors, all engineers, all accountants, all of them do things that benefit others. That is why they are there in the first place. However, there acts are not called charity at all. Why? Because  these have a return to the respective benefactors.

This brings us to the implicit assumptions of this definition, that there is no benefit to the benefactor where charity is involved. As a doctor, if you treat your patients and pocket a fat fee, it is not charity but if you do it for free (monetarily), it’s charity! Right?

I hope you have seen the video by now. You haven’t? Go back and watch it now! I’ll wait here.

OK. As you must have seen in the video, most people in creative endeavors are driven by intrinsic motivators, a sense of autonomy, a sense of mastery and a sense of purpose. This is the principal driving force behind all the ‘so called’ charitable activities. A sense of purpose and autonomy, gives a kind of a high to the benefactor that money might not bring.

Now if there IS a return on the activity, can it really be called charity? Why is it that the definitions imply that the only benefit worth considering is monetary in nature? The great products of the intrinsic motivators, Linux-Wikipedia-Firefox-Apache, are certainly not charity. Or are they? What do you think?

Friday, August 20, 2010

An invaluable Resource

English Language and Usage is a free, community driven Q&A site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Visit this site- trust me- it is an exhilarating experience.

Here’s the link again: English Language and Usage

This site uses open ID, so if you have mail accounts on Gmail, yahoo or a host of other sites, you are good to go at the start.

Monday, August 2, 2010


What is the first thing that you pay attention to when you are given somebody else's vehicle to drive? Think about it! Is it not usually the brakes of the vehicle? (Okay, I admit, the title is a dead giveaway but let's run with it.) At least I always test the brakes before I start driving the vehicle comfortably.

Now, is it not a bit strange and ironical that the most importance is given to a thing that has a purpose that is an exact antithesis to the very concept of a vehicle? A vehicle aids your movement from one point to another, brakes stop it from doing so. And still they are considered as important as, or even more important than, the systems that aid movement-viz. tires, engine and so forth. Their disruptive influence is welcome and essential. They are essential because had they not existed, the vehicle would never have dared travel at speeds it does for the fear of a wreck. Today, a vehicle with brakes is blissfully nimble, confident in the belief that there are brakes that would not let it go astray.

I hope you can see where this is going. Our civilization, as we know it is akin to a vehicle. It continues its relentless march to future and to the utopian ideals that human kind strives for. It has such wonderful tools such as science and technology and culture and traditions and philosophies and democracies et al. These are the engines of civilization, which move the vehicle of civilization forward. For eons, humans have been a witness to this juggernaut continuing on its relentless march.

Now, as a logical extension to this analogy, what are the brakes to the vehicle of civilization? Are there any at all? Are they as important as brakes in a physical vehicle?

The brakes to the civilization are the people who hold on to beliefs that are long irrelevant, refuse to consider new ideas and thwart all attempts to hold a meaningful discourse and discussion on any issue. They still 'knock on the wood' a hundred times a day, believe in horoscopes and planetary influences and live in intellectual caves. Every new idea, be it cloning, or erection of new nuclear reactors, or new vaccines meet with an inflexible resistance that make the progress of ideas as protracted as if they are moving in a pond of morass. They are a disruptive influence, without a shard of doubt, just as brakes are. Need examples? Here they are! Opposition to cloning. Opposition to Nuclear reactors. Stuff people believe in.

Now, is there a silver lining to this cloud? Does this self-ordained rectitude serve a larger purpose in social and civilization unpinning of human sociology?

It turns out that it indeed does. Consider what these attitudes do to our innovators. They compel them to make informed and cautious choices. They compel them to make their arguments bulletproof. It is the heat of skepticism that either bakes the hitherto 'half-baked and worthy' ideas or burns away the unworthy ones. Look at the safety regulations on the erection of nuclear power plants, all under the pressure of the vocal opposition. Also, opposition can act as a great catalyst to ideas, affecting the rate rather than the inputs and outputs. And just like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, all changes to ideas leave them by. And then they are ready to throw their spanners in the next set of wheels.