Happiness in Giving: A brief exposition on the conceptual framework of a Giving Economy
[box_light]“We must try to build a better world in which mental and physical barriers cause conflict and hatred are slowly and steadily reduced and finally overcome.”[/box_light]
Such words of wisdom from our distinguished and revered philanthropist of Singapore, the famous Late Dr Lee Kong Chian, founder of Lee Foundation of which it continues to reverberate like a mnemonic wind in today’s era of endless pursuit for progress, development and wealth.
Rising COE and HDB prices, inflated household goods, expensive medical care, endless pursuit for energy sources – all these issues in fact points towards a reconsideration and reevaluation on how we view consumption and wealth. In what may seem to be an economic problem that some Singaporeans might view it as a ‘national affair’ that requires state attention, in actuality, it presents itself as mere symptoms resulting from a corrupted worldview.
The concept of ‘value’; frequently emphasized in our education system; accentuates a more economic measurement of worth. Thus, our humanistic values towards achieving happiness and justice in the community reflect our unceasing pursuit for monetary stature or wealth. Notions like integrity, accountability or honesty are hence reduced to a shadow of moral development, like a puppeteer manipulating an inanimate puppet, and in turn gaining full utility of it to serve a far corrupted intention. Therefore, it logically follows that such utilitarian approach towards character development is the primary cause of what we are facing today.
Virtue, on the other hand, recognizes an ethical worldview that acknowledges the need for righteousness, morality and purity in what seems to be the solution against overconsumption and the pursuit of material happiness. Of course, it is in every Man’s yearning for happiness. But the question is, can we assume that material wealth bring us real happiness?
Internationally acclaimed speaker on Leadership and Management, Professor Etsko clarifies in his book ‘Intent: The Core of Being Human’ about the pursuit for monetary well being as a failure in attempting to answer the question of how much is enough. When is it exactly enough?
Let us look at it in this perspective. A consumer consumes a consumable good that is fashioned and dolled up by the cosmetics of marketing as a need, and being consumable in its nature, directs us into another needy state. This cycle of ‘it is never enough’ inspires Man in its endless pursuit for wealth and resources, creating in turn, a hostile environment of vicious competition. We sent Man to the Moon, into the deep darkest and murkiest depths of the ocean, through thick vegetation, over mountains of rock and stone, leaving behind a reflection of a corrupted mind amongst the images of litter, pollution, war or even illegal child labor.
Perhaps we should simply take the simplest step. Stop at the juncture, and take a deep moment to question our deep-embedded paradigms. Is this right?
The smallest unit of a huge community can make a difference. We can make a difference. So what exactly is the message that the late Dr Lee Kong Chian tries to envision? How can we overcome these mental and physical barriers that brings about pain and hatred? Perhaps the answer lies in the opposite of taking that is championed by our overconsumption and endless pursuit for material wealth.
Giving. The benefit lies in the act and intention of giving, not in the extrinsic value of the contribution that we may gain as how it is advocated in corporate brandings via corporate social responsibility (CSR). There is no proof to affirm our full ownership on the wealth that we have gained. We may argue that we gain it from our blood, sweat and tears. But certainly, if one sincerely reflects upon his own existence, we can never credit ourselves fully for the efforts we put in to gain this wealth.
Let’s take an example. A commodity trader cannot work without the efforts of the farmer. And the farmer cannot work without the seeds to grow. And the seeds cannot grow without the elements of light, rain, dirt, right climate and temperature. How can we fully claim the wealth is ours then?
The Islamic Gift Economy, as defined by Dr Adi Setia who wrote extensively on the system in his magnus opus ‘Muamalah and the Revival of the Islamic Gift Economy’, is an integrative economic system founded on the principles of ethics of mercy (rahmah), gratitude (shukr), generosity (karam/ih̨sān), moderation (tawāzun/‘iffah), trusteeship (khilāfah) and trustworthiness or responsibility (amānah).
These universal principles are the pillars towards a better future for our children, families and friends. To exercise moderation, we counter overconsumption. To counter greed, we practice generosity. To counter hatred, we give mercy. To relinquish corruption, we exercise trusteeship and responsibility.
To answer to the ‘it is never enough’, we embrace gratitude. Gratitude that we are alive and well, and that there are others who do not enjoy such benefits as us. Perhaps this is the answer to what makes us human.[divider]
Hazlami Rachmatt Zawawi