01 May 2020 21:59 IST

No hidden agenda in real generosity

These past weeks, people have been giving abundantly; what sets some apart is that they give with love

One of the silver linings through the Covid crisis is the inspiring tales of generosity. Ordinary people going around handing provisions to migrants, volunteers in communities taking the initiative to look out for the aged and infirm, people donating blood to make up for the sudden dip in supplies. Senior management taking a large pay cut to avoid having to do layoffs or salary cuts with lower pay employees.

K Venkata Murali, MD of Kaligotla Technologies organises 5,000 meals everyday through his NGO, No Food Waste. Bibhuddatta Panda, a software executive roams the roads on his bike, distributing food packets to the poor. Business Line reported on photographer Mustafa Quraishi, son of former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi who takes about a 1,000 meal packs in his Isuzu pick-up and distributes food to migrant labour. A Muslim family aids in the cremation of a Hindu neighbour whose family couldn’t make it because of the lockdown.

How should business leaders respond, what tests should their generosity pass?

What does it cost you?

There is a beautiful incident in the Mahabharata where the generosity of Yudhishthira and Karna is compared. Krishna (and some versions have him accompanied by Arjuna). disguised as a brahmin. goes to Yudhishthira asking for sandalwood so they can conduct a yagna. Yudhishthira goes all out to arrange it – getting trees in the forest cut down and the bundles of wood arranged. But alas it is raining, and the wood is wet, so it is useless for the ceremony.

When they later visit Karna and make the same request, he realises that with the rain, any outside wood is likely to be wet, so he goes into his own dwelling and starts chopping down doors, windows, any sandalwood he can find and gives to the brahmins the chopped wood. Krishna uses that incident to illustrate the difference in their generosity. Yudhishthira gave willingly but up to a point. He may have even given wood from within his house if he was asked, but it did not occur to him. As Krishna summarizes, Yudhishthira’s generosity is from his dharma, his duty; but Karna gives because he loves to give. He gives for giving’s sake. He gives even when it costs him.

Business leaders are having their generosity tested in these tough times. Across industries there has been a massive impact. Many organisations are staring at bankruptcy. Some leaders are forced into ‘shooting the wounded’ choices. Layoffs are no longer a possible plan; they are being activated. Salary cuts have moved from discussion to implementation.

For the leader, these decisions will cast long shadows. From a supplier to staff to client partners, people will remember to what point the leader was generous. People will remember whether generosity stopped or stayed during the crisis. People will remember the sequence in which you were generous — were you first in the queue when sacrifices were called for, or were they the first to be called on? Some companies have withdrawn their offers made at engineering and management campuses, a few have stood by their offers. Those Deans and Directors and Placement coordinators will remember when good times return.

Sometimes, tough choices are the only resort. In those cases, the tone and manner in which the decision is executed makes all the difference. Some start-ups and even established firms have been forced to lay off employees as cash flows dried up — but two-hour notice sackings, no show of concern or empathy, have left employees hurt. Consider this post from a senior journalist sacked by her media employer The entire team of XXX asked to leave. Got a call from my boss …. Sacked after 24 years from a company I served with love for more than two decades. Wow.” The hurt is palpable.

I remember in an earlier post referring to the epitaph on my grandfather’s grave, that my father composed as best summarising his Dad. “He Gave Even When It Hurt”. My grandfather was known to be a generous man but what distinguished him was that even when he fell on hard times, he still gave without hesitation.

Take the case of Kochouseph Chittilappilly, who was then Managing Director of V-Guard Industries, who donated his kidney to a poor truck driver, inspiring others to make similar sacrifices. No inspirational talk of his on the necessity of organ donation would have been as powerful as the generosity of his act, because it cost him. It was real.

No quid pro quo

Often, when we do display generosity, there is a hidden agenda. We’re filling up the credit side so that we can call in favours later. Sometimes we do it for the applause or publicity. We see several organisations’ CSR initiatives that are only run when the horde of cameras is available. Nifty videos then follow on social media and as part of ad campaigns. Loving-looking founders or their wives embrace hungry children and turn to smile for the camera while doling out their generosity. That’s less CSR and poverty exploitation at its worst.

In communities, residents have been stepping forward to clean common areas as cleaning staff are not available. Some come quietly finish the work and head home, others spend more time clicking selfies and posting them, than on doing any sweeping. The quid pro quo is the “oohs and aahs” and the “oh mys”. Real generosity expects no reward and is best done anonymously.

Does it focus on the receiver?

Sometimes, business leaders are generous with what they have in plenty with no thought for what their teams really need. Giving out a benefit long after the window for its usefulness has passed, is another sign of tone-deaf generosity.

At times generosity is handed out with the giver enjoying the position of dependence that the receiver is placed in. Some company bosses encourage loans to employees, often repeatedly, as a means of retention. It gives the employee a sense of having a generous employer, but the dependence is reinforced. Real generosity looks to empower and enable, not foster a deliberately dependent relationship. Real generosity always focuses on the receiver.

Once, when Jesus was sitting in the temple observing people dropping their offerings of gifts or money into the treasury box, he observed a poor widow put in two copper coins — in value terms almost nothing. Others had clearly contributed a thousand times more than she did and yet Jesus tells his disciples: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.”

That is real generosity.

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