Spare more than a thought

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Christmas is the season of giving, so let’s be generous in word and deed to those less fortunate than us,
writes NOELS G DE SOUZA in our December (1) 2012 issue

Christmas is a universal festival in a country like Australia. Schools and workplaces have their own Xmas parties. Children, no matter of what religious denomination, expect to receive presents at Christmas-time and to show those gifts to their friends. Shopping centres play Christmas songs and are well-decorated at Yuletide and thus, one cannot escape a permeation of the Xmas spirit in the atmosphere.

At a time of such festivities, we need to ponder on those families which have been dealt a sudden shock, such as by Hurricane Sandy when numerous people were affected. Some have had partial losses such as the loss of children’s toys, whilst others virtually lost everything. Several neighbourhoods have seen incredible destruction by the force of waves and by fire, such as along the waterfront in Manhattan.

Here in Australia, we have been spared such devastation. However, there have been other shocks. In recent weeks and months, numerous workers, such as in manufacturing industries, have suddenly been made redundant; their families cannot celebrate as they would normally do. Early November saw the loss of 400 manufacturing jobs in Victoria alone.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) made a cash donation to help support the homeless with emergency accommodation. Some of these could actually be members of the union who now face hardship. The much-loved Darrell Lea confectioners are expected to close stores and reduce production while cutting some 160 jobs. There are thousands of jobs being lost in the motor car industry, in pharmaceuticals and in Qantas.

The pain suffered by workers and their families gets exacerbated when company management gets rewarded with higher pays and bonuses, despite their workers getting retrenched.

It is situations like these that put heavier pressure on charitable organisations like the Salvation Army. It would be hoped that the super-rich in Australia would set up philanthropic foundations as the super-rich Americans have done.

However, the state of Victoria has been said to have quietly gained some 13,000 manufacturing jobs in the private sector (Ian Porter, Fairfax Media). One would wish such enterprises every success.

Those who are suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy can expect to receive some care and solace from the many philantropic organisations in the USA. They were set up by super-rich people like Ford, Carnegie, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Buffet. President Obama in his victory speech, rightly told a cheering audience, “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America …”

Likewise, talented young Americans who are hit by the burdens of recession can expect, in a non-discriminatory atmosphere, to be helped along. Obama continued his speech, “…in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag, to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner, to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.”

Obama’s poignant words apply to all countries, particularly those which are doing well like Australia and which take pride in being considered as democratic. They apply to India as well, and they encapsulate the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

Indian readers can take time-honoured concepts of Indian philosophy to draw a roadmap (marga) for the future. That is why Christmas and New Year is considered as a good time for making resolutions.

Those who are well-off can reach out to those who are suffering (dukha) and give them solace (dan) which may or may not be material help; there is no substitute for sympathy which is sincerely given. The term dan is akin to the French donner and English donation. Giving can be material or emotional.

Those who are doing well should refrain from the greed (tahna) of constantly acquiring more. They may also do well by refraining to flaunt their wealth or indulging themselves excessively in the pursuit of sensual pleasures (kama tanha), whilst those around them suffer for want of the mere basics.

Those who moan that the Indian community in Australia has numerous associations based on different languages and religions should consider that at times like Christmas they might actually be a strength, because they may be the best placed to provide companionship and solace to those members of their communities who feel distressed and lonely.

Let me close with the following lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s celebrated Geetanjali:

Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake.
(Geetanjali, Bengali 1910, English 1920)

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