The Art of GIving

I read an interesting article today:

I think there is definitely something good about giving. We've all felt good about giving. Countless essays could be written about whether it is a selfless act or what actually makes one feel good or not. I've felt good giving to a few charities. I've felt good taking a friend out and helping him out for a meal. I've felt good about helping someone out of a jam.

On the other hand, I've also felt bad about being expected to help someone who was irresponsible or someone who was not as giving.

I definitely think empathy is some thing built into us. I recall watching a documentary a while ago where it showed that a mouse seeing another mouse trapped as well as some food. It would actually free the other mouse instead of eating the food immediately. The mouse would then share the food with the other mouse, taking a greater share.

I like to the time to find all the nuances in things, so I'm the kind of nutjob who actually read the scientific papers linked in newspaper articles.

Here's a few nuances.

Giving Makes One Happier

  • Relatedness
    • Consistent with this idea, we found that individuals garner more happiness from prosocial spending when giving provides the opportunity to connect with other people
      • one experiment, participants who received a $10 Starbucks gift card were happier if they spent it on a friend rather than on themselves—but only if they took the time to go to Starbucks with their friends
      • Basically, this suggest it is not the act of giving, but the the opportunity for companionship that giving often brings the rewards.
  • Competence
    • Prosocial spending is most likely to satisfy the need for competence if people can see how their generous actions have made a difference. 
      • In contrast, giving money to UNICEF provided no such benefit
  • Autonomy
    • Weinstein and Ryan (2010) showed that people experienced happier moods when they gave more money away—but only if they had a choice about how much to give.

This seems pretty decent. You give more to people close to you who you want to spend time around. It's why you sometimes don't mind helping a friend move as it provides a chance to bond.
Maybe coming from an Islamic/Indian background, one can see why some people who might give a lot are not exactly happy. Often giving is a matter of duty, rather than a choice. It might as well be taxation :P I pay my taxes out of duty, but I certainly don't feel good doing it :P

Rich Vs Poor and Empathy

The other Major link concerns empathy in rich versus poor people. I'm no stranger to this. I'm just a regular developer, but I enjoy talking to all people. I've had some pretty frank conversations with executives and the rest. Sometimes it boggles my mind who cold it can be at the executive level. Laying off people, outsourcing, contracting... it's as if there isn't a thought giving to the lives of these people and their families.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying any one person can change the entire system, but just the whole mindset. I don't get the sense that the mindset is:
It sucks, but that's how the money flows and we have to deal with it

As cold as it sounds, that's a mentality I can understand. Money is limited for any company. They have to make some tough choices.

This is the key diagram that the paper derives a lot from. In a sense, the upper class do not perceive a world of threats, so they can pursue their own goals and form moral judgements. The poor of course suffer from plentiful threats and so might approach things more from a collective survival standpoint.

I guess it's no surprise I fall roughly half way here. I grew up working class and still try and keep those values. Some notion of personal responsibility and values mixed with the general idea that society should still be run so people can be okay.

What's interesting is that reading the paper one wonder if you can actually read it in the black/white poor is good mindset that the GlobeAndMail article displays.

If the communal aspect is mainly tied to a sense of fear and vulnerability, is that really good?
Is it really good that the poor are more concerned with harm/purity than active morality?

I guess in this respect, I don't really see the poor or rich being any 'gooder' and it kind of matches my life experiences. I think within each class there are choices within it that one can classify as being good/bad.

It also brings to mind a interesting question.
One could argue that this kind of thinking is needed. For example, being a single mother is not that bad if you're from a well off family. Being a single mother could be pretty devastating if you're a poor person.

Is it any surprise that poorer people had their morality derived from harm/purity.  Basically, it's a kind of don't worry about figuring out morality or philosophy; just don't screw your life with drugs or getting pregnant..

Of course this also brings an interesting dimension to politics.
If the masses of poorer people are not actively thinking of morality, what does it do to them to remove harm/purity based morality from the equation. We can think of certain urban or African American communities to be the result of this experiment. Despite being poor, many of these communities have removed the harm/purity morality, while at the same time not being free from insecurity to enable the discovery of morality or philosophy or personal goals. Backed by a welfare state and a general socially liberal culture in the main stream, the result has not been very good. It cannot be blamed on slavery as the black family was stronger before the 1960s. There's a wide variety of causes, but I won't get into that here.

It is not about poverty, as there are many groups of people who are extremely poor, but where families and sexual restrictions are more enforced by strong cultural norms and harm/purity angles. It is often times why people from Asia/India can come to the USA extremely poor, but end up doing really well. It is still very 'wrong' to have kids out of wedlock or any number of other harmful activities.

But then it gets to an another interesting discussion I had once when talking to a woman. I mentioned how a rich people have the luxury of screwing up. A rich girl can have a kid out of wedlock and its probably not going to ruin her life. A rich guy can get involved in drugs or laze around school for a while, and it's probably not going to destroy his life.

But people from more modest background have to be a bit more vigilant.

To which she responded: But that's not fair.

Well I suppose it isn't at some level. But I'd rather focus on improving our condition than worrying about some advantage a rich person might have.

Perhaps it is just the flow of life as generations of people walk through life.
Perhaps you raise your kids wit the harm/purity angle to get them out of poverty.
Then they can focus more of freedom/choice/control and their kids even more so.


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