By Anisha Anilraj January 2011 When we share, we break out of the boundaries of our ego and recognise the humanity of the other. Sharing breeds inter-dependence, happiness and harmony. For a planet with limited resources, sharing is the way forward. There are three kinds of givers in the world: The stone, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a stone, you must hammer it; even then it only yields chips and sparks. To make a sponge part with the water it holds, you must squeeze it. The harder you squeeze the more you get. Then there is the honeycomb, from which sweetness overflows.’ This unattributed saying beautifully sums up how we humans abounding with attachment, and fraught with emotion, share what we consider our own.“You guys have it all figured out in India,” my boss said to me one hot Californian summer afternoon.As a post-graduate student, I worked part-time as an assistant with my university’s student housing office. My boss, Tom’s statement came seemingly out of the blue with no reference to context. I swivelled my chair around to face him. “What do you mean?” I asked, eager to understand what had spurred an American, one who had never visited India no less, to make a statement like that.“In India, you guys value all the right things,” he said. “We do?” I asked. “Yes, you do. You value knowledge and education above all else. Look at the number of Indian students who come here to study. It is because it is in your blood as Indians. It is in the air you breathe. You are from the land of Tagore’s Shantiniketan and the Vedas. That’s why you are on a constant knowledge quest.” Food for the soul: Children dip into each other’s lunch boxes I smiled faintly on hearing Indian words so carefully and precisely spoken despite his thick American accent. “Where is this coming from, Tom? You can’t possibly be ruminating on the virtues of my motherland for no reason. What triggered this thought process?” I probed. He went on to tell me how he had been reading an article citing an increase in the rate of student drop outs in high schools. “I love America, but sometimes I think as a nation we seriously need to rethink our priorities.” Tom sighed. I sat there for a moment and thought about the gruelling years spent in India, trying to score high marks at numerous board exams and I said, “We all do, Tom. Both as individuals and as a nation, we all need to remember our roots and rethink our priorities”. Enculturation As Indians, we sometimes eagerly incorporate the seemingly progressive culture of the West. If we look deeper into the hearts of Western societies we find a large number of people in search of higher meaning. As we preoccupy ourselves with their ways, the West in turn is looking East in search for answers. Today, as societies converge across the world and we witness the emergence of a global village, people have increasingly adopted many western cultural norms as their own. While there are merits in this approach, we still need to exercise caution before discarding values that are tried, true, and wholeheartedly Indian. Granted, it can be hard to appreciate Indian ways as we live and deal with the consequent inconveniences of our large population. Yet, the truth remains that we in India inherently know how to live as one holistic society. It follows logic. We have limited space and limited resources, yet we grow and prosper. We make do, and while we dream of a better life, we sleep restfully and remember to be grateful for what we have. Sure, we have moments when we play the stone or the sponge, but the sum of our efforts makes our nation a giant honeycomb. Sharing in the West In the West, there is a clear distinction between sharing and giving. Owing to the fact that there is usually enough for everyone, the need for sharing is often a matter of increasing a person’s access to variety. Giving, on the other hand, is when you make a gift of something you have, ideally without anticipating anything in return, and mostly to those who have lesser. The structure of Western societies is such that natural situations that warrant sharing do not present themselves frequently. Hence, parents often need to create scenarios in order to teach their children how to share. Developmental psychologists advise parents to inform their children that sharing makes for more amicable playtime, that playing with a friend’s toy means that you, in all fairness, need to let your friend play with your own toys. They also suggest that children be allowed to display some amount of possessiveness in the interest of healthy parent-child relationships, lest the child associate the negative feelings accompanying forced sharing with the parent. No doubt, in a consumer-based economy the idea of sharing is not in the interest of the nation at large. When people mostly lead individualistic lifestyles sharing is also not preferred. Given the ready access each person has to goods, sharing is not even necessary. Thus, having neither need nor inclination to perform these acts of giving and taking, the West has cultivated a society where people can live independently of each other. Since man is a social animal, it is no surprise that over time this lifestyle begins to affect a person. As they grapple with feelings of loneliness and isolation, some people seek out others with the same set of beliefs and ideals. United in their sense of purpose, there are groups of people in America, who are starting to recreate the old ways into their modernised lives. They group together and settle as a mutually adopted family. This has lead to an increase in the number of co-operative housing ventures in the US. The American co-op comprises a number of unrelated families sharing a big house, usually located in a city. This shared residence allows them to simulate the effects of the proverbial “village” and offers their families the opportunity to interact with each other everyday. They work together in organising the household, its maintenance and upkeep, and also make decisions together. Some co-operatives share a common purpose which unites every resident who is a part of it. However, it is not uncommon for co-operatives to form with the mere intention of economic benefits. While co-ops have been known to emerge spontaneously, others are formed when families come together with a specific purpose they hope to achieve together. The Stone Soup Co-op in Chicago, Illinois, for instance, has been formed by a group of families who believe in social justice and joy. At any point in time, there are about eight people and their pets, living together and sharing the rent, the kitchen, appliances, food, and utility expenses together. If a vacancy should arise at this co-op as members move out, the current residents meet new tenants and collectively decide on who is fit to move into their little community. Larger groups who come together are called intentional communities and ecovillages. These usually differ from co-ops by having multiple houses for individual families but often maintaining shared spaces. They share vegetable gardens and wells, and even groceries or other household expenses. Many communities often pool their resources and install solar heating panels and make other environment-friendly modifications to their residences, a task that would prove too expensive for one family to shoulder on their own. Given the increased requirement for space, intentional communities and ecovillages are generally found in suburbs outside of cities. Although co-operative living is in essence a reversion to the golden days of yore, the masses view it as an alternative lifestyle. The main factor contributing to this stereotype is that these communes imply communal ownership of property, restriction on personal space, and increased social responsibility as resources are shared. In other words, it is very much like our own co-operative housing societies, where altruistic actions make for a happier building which feels like home and increases our sense of security. Billy Graham,American evangelist‘We are not cisterns made forhoarding, we are channels made forsharing’ In retrospect, it seems like the West went around in a circle, only to find peace in how things were when people looked out for each other. As they realised the hollowness of life when objects replace real-life experiences, some of them reverted to seeking out what really brought them joy. Our culture in India is evolving with our growing economy; we could save ourselves the trouble of taking a U-turn by becoming aware of our inherent virtues and maintaining our traditions of kinship and camaraderie. Sharing and technology Technology has done wonderful things to assist sharing knowledge, news, and information. We can now stay connected with anyone in the world through email, Twitter, and Facebook. Yet being constantly connected sometimes makes us disconnected. Our phones and laptops make us oblivious of our surroundings. As we bring e-readers and iPods into our lives, they replace other more social habits. We lose the tradition of lending and borrowing books. Our iPods prevent us from hearing a friend call out from across the street. As we develop relationships through inanimate objects we have less time for human interaction and the comfort it brings. Hence, while we bring in the new, we need to preserve and reincorporate the best of the old. Rani Swamy, a senior manager with ZipDial Mobile Solutions, shares a story from her childhood in Orissa. “When I was a kid, we lived in a quaint township called Sunabeda for the family of HAL employees. My friends and I loved reading books by Enid Blyton but there were no bookstores in our town. We would get together and make lists of books we
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