Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on the 'Samaritan's Dilemma'

I just came back from a sectional class on business policy and strategy. Today, we discussed corporate social responsibility in the session and focused on the dilemma between ethics and profitability that many firms face today. How much can a firm do to contribute back to society, without antagonizing its stockholders in terms of eroding profits? The general consensus was that the firm should aim to strike a balance between the seemingly contradictory goals.

At the end of the class, my professor discussed 'The Samaritan's Dilemma'. The term refers to a dilemma of sorts faced by people when they try to help the poor. In the context of my strategy class, it was a metaphorical reference to the fact that if firms begin to help the poor, there is always a danger of their help being taken for granted. For example, a sense of complacence sets in and there is no motivation to work hard, since there is an easy way out. At the end of the class, as I walked to catch the shuttle bus back to my room, a stream of thoughts jumped into my mind. I was able to relate to this and I suddenly realized that we face this scenario back home quite often.

Whenever my parents and I go back to Coimbatore for our vacations, we often go out shopping at RS Puram. A Vinayagar temple is located in the middle of this part of the city, and we make it a point to offer our prayers there, since we have always felt that there is something special about the sacredness of that space. Outside the temple, one can see a few women selling lamps, garlands and jasmine flowers. And one can also see people begging for alms. As a child, I used to feel terribly sorry for most of them and would implore Amma or Appa to give them some money. And they always did the same. However, one day as Amma was about to buy a string of jasmine flowers before we entered the temple, a young woman approached her. She was dressed in tattered clothes, with sunken eyes, unkempt hair and held a baby at her hip. And she asked Amma for some money. I was so sure that Amma would give her something but to my shock, she just pretended not to hear. Then the lady spoke again and this time, Amma looked at her and said in Tamil, 'I'll give you a job. Will you work for me? Nothing much, just cleaning the house, basic cooking. Avalo dhaa!' The lady just stared at her, made a grimace and fled the scene.

I was indignant and said to Amma, 'How could you be so mean!' Then she looked at me and explained that the lady was young and in a perfectly healthy state to actually do some work, and earn a living, rather than beg one. And yet, she preferred to beg, since it was something that was much easier to do, compared to washing utensils or sweeping a house. The Samaritan's Dilemma indeed- by helping such people, more harm than help is done, since in a way, you are encouraging complacence and giving them more reasons not to work. In sharp contrast, we can also find children as young as ten (sometimes, even younger), selling bric-a-brac on the same streets. I wrote about meeting two such hardworking kids here and it's from people like them that we actually learn about the dignity of labor. And it's also people like them who truly deserve the help of the so-called Samaritans. There is absolutely no dilemma here, because as the famous adage goes, in this case, you are teaching a man how to fish rather than just giving him a fish for that day alone.

I sometimes feel frustrated about how little I can do to really change the world around me. The easiest thing for me to do is drop in a few coins and close my eyes to everything else, trying to convince myself that I have done what I could have done. But then, the Samaritan's Dilemma sets in again, and I know it isn't going to make much of a difference. I have always believed in living a life of meaning, and this can be achieved only if I find some way where I can truly help, not just give away some money glibly.

I'm still searching for the best way in which I can truly contribute (although I do have an inkling of what to do), and I sometimes dream that it can really make a difference. Here's to that dream and the realization of the same! But before I drift into La La Land, I guess I must at least graduate... Hold on, I'm already in Lah Lah Land!

P.S: Ignore the dreadful pun at the end- that's just university stress talking through yours truly!

4 comments:

  1. I understand your dilemma as I've been through it too. I've thought a lot about giving, and whom to give to, and who really deserves it. And then I read a poem that said something like, The tree does not give its fruit to the deserving, it does not choose whom to give to, anyone is free to take from it. And so is that true for every bounty provided to us by nature.

    So, I figured, if someone is too lazy to work, and has to beg, that is a situation to be pitied too. Probably that's all she's known in life. Probably she's begged since childhood. We can expect perfection from ourselves, but not from others.

    And most importantly, it is not really mine to give. I received, and tomorrow it goes to someone else. I am not the giver. I am just a medium.

    Thinking of it this way allows me to give to anyone without a second thought. :-)

    I may be wrong. But it's okay.

    You've articulated your thoughts pretty well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Sumitra! :)
    I liked your thoughts on how each person is only a medium- My dad often says the same thing too! So if we were fated (for lack of a better word) to help someone, we would, regardless of whether the person 'deserved' it or not!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I firmly believe in the Tamil saying 'Pathiram arindu pitchai idu'which roughly translates into give alms to people who deserve it the most. You have to pay back to the society, as you have a moral responsibility towards the down trodden and weaker sections of the society but it should go to the deserving people and not just for the sake of doing it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I liked that saying, Amma! But sometimes, I also feel, who are we to decide who deserves it and does not? Conflicting thoughts indeed!

    ReplyDelete

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on the 'Samaritan's Dilemma'

I just came back from a sectional class on business policy and strategy. Today, we discussed corporate social responsibility in the session and focused on the dilemma between ethics and profitability that many firms face today. How much can a firm do to contribute back to society, without antagonizing its stockholders in terms of eroding profits? The general consensus was that the firm should aim to strike a balance between the seemingly contradictory goals.

At the end of the class, my professor discussed 'The Samaritan's Dilemma'. The term refers to a dilemma of sorts faced by people when they try to help the poor. In the context of my strategy class, it was a metaphorical reference to the fact that if firms begin to help the poor, there is always a danger of their help being taken for granted. For example, a sense of complacence sets in and there is no motivation to work hard, since there is an easy way out. At the end of the class, as I walked to catch the shuttle bus back to my room, a stream of thoughts jumped into my mind. I was able to relate to this and I suddenly realized that we face this scenario back home quite often.

Whenever my parents and I go back to Coimbatore for our vacations, we often go out shopping at RS Puram. A Vinayagar temple is located in the middle of this part of the city, and we make it a point to offer our prayers there, since we have always felt that there is something special about the sacredness of that space. Outside the temple, one can see a few women selling lamps, garlands and jasmine flowers. And one can also see people begging for alms. As a child, I used to feel terribly sorry for most of them and would implore Amma or Appa to give them some money. And they always did the same. However, one day as Amma was about to buy a string of jasmine flowers before we entered the temple, a young woman approached her. She was dressed in tattered clothes, with sunken eyes, unkempt hair and held a baby at her hip. And she asked Amma for some money. I was so sure that Amma would give her something but to my shock, she just pretended not to hear. Then the lady spoke again and this time, Amma looked at her and said in Tamil, 'I'll give you a job. Will you work for me? Nothing much, just cleaning the house, basic cooking. Avalo dhaa!' The lady just stared at her, made a grimace and fled the scene.

I was indignant and said to Amma, 'How could you be so mean!' Then she looked at me and explained that the lady was young and in a perfectly healthy state to actually do some work, and earn a living, rather than beg one. And yet, she preferred to beg, since it was something that was much easier to do, compared to washing utensils or sweeping a house. The Samaritan's Dilemma indeed- by helping such people, more harm than help is done, since in a way, you are encouraging complacence and giving them more reasons not to work. In sharp contrast, we can also find children as young as ten (sometimes, even younger), selling bric-a-brac on the same streets. I wrote about meeting two such hardworking kids here and it's from people like them that we actually learn about the dignity of labor. And it's also people like them who truly deserve the help of the so-called Samaritans. There is absolutely no dilemma here, because as the famous adage goes, in this case, you are teaching a man how to fish rather than just giving him a fish for that day alone.

I sometimes feel frustrated about how little I can do to really change the world around me. The easiest thing for me to do is drop in a few coins and close my eyes to everything else, trying to convince myself that I have done what I could have done. But then, the Samaritan's Dilemma sets in again, and I know it isn't going to make much of a difference. I have always believed in living a life of meaning, and this can be achieved only if I find some way where I can truly help, not just give away some money glibly.

I'm still searching for the best way in which I can truly contribute (although I do have an inkling of what to do), and I sometimes dream that it can really make a difference. Here's to that dream and the realization of the same! But before I drift into La La Land, I guess I must at least graduate... Hold on, I'm already in Lah Lah Land!

P.S: Ignore the dreadful pun at the end- that's just university stress talking through yours truly!

4 comments:

  1. I understand your dilemma as I've been through it too. I've thought a lot about giving, and whom to give to, and who really deserves it. And then I read a poem that said something like, The tree does not give its fruit to the deserving, it does not choose whom to give to, anyone is free to take from it. And so is that true for every bounty provided to us by nature.

    So, I figured, if someone is too lazy to work, and has to beg, that is a situation to be pitied too. Probably that's all she's known in life. Probably she's begged since childhood. We can expect perfection from ourselves, but not from others.

    And most importantly, it is not really mine to give. I received, and tomorrow it goes to someone else. I am not the giver. I am just a medium.

    Thinking of it this way allows me to give to anyone without a second thought. :-)

    I may be wrong. But it's okay.

    You've articulated your thoughts pretty well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Sumitra! :)
    I liked your thoughts on how each person is only a medium- My dad often says the same thing too! So if we were fated (for lack of a better word) to help someone, we would, regardless of whether the person 'deserved' it or not!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I firmly believe in the Tamil saying 'Pathiram arindu pitchai idu'which roughly translates into give alms to people who deserve it the most. You have to pay back to the society, as you have a moral responsibility towards the down trodden and weaker sections of the society but it should go to the deserving people and not just for the sake of doing it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I liked that saying, Amma! But sometimes, I also feel, who are we to decide who deserves it and does not? Conflicting thoughts indeed!

    ReplyDelete