Thursday, February 23, 2012

Online vs. Offline Generosity

The previous part of this article is here: Part 1.

Today, I was talking with a friend. She had just bought a house for herself in India. I called her on Skype to congratulate her. She was very happy, and it showed in her voice and eyes. I’m sure her new acquisition contributed a lot to her happiness, especially because she had struggled a lot to own her house—working more than one job, saving every penny for the down payment, and so on so forth. However, as we chatted another interesting story began to emerge which explained part of her happiness. Sure, the ownership of the house brought her happiness, but something else had also contributed to it.

Before my friend moved into her own house, she rented a house, where she had two families living as neighbors. These neighbors were people of very modest means. The women of these families, with whom my friend was friends, tailored clothes from their homes to support their families. Despite their limited financial means, the two women got together and gifted my friend two bean bag chairs for her new house. My friend was very touched by the generosity of her friends. Of course, t was very thoughtful of them to gift her some nice furniture for her new house. However, the fact that they went out of their means made the gift even more special.

My friend narrated about the generosity of many other people as well: one of her colleagues bought her a good music system for her new house. Another offered to buy food for all guests on her housewarming day, because my friend would be too busy with ceremonial duties associated with the housewarming day. These were all so thoughtful gestures by friends.

The greatest thing about such acts of generosity is that you don’t have to be the recipient of such generosity to feel touched; even listening to such stories makes you feel good. That's the power of generosity. Yet, many of us get so caught up in our own self-created, fast-paced lives that we don’t bother to pay attention to the needs of people around us. Many just get satisfied to wish their friends on Facebook, but are not actually present for them.

Certainly, being kind on Facebook is a good thing. According to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center on the behavior of people in social networking sites (SNS), the experience of adults was much more pleasant than that of teens, which is not at all surprising. However, what is surprising the magnitude of the positive experiences of adults using social networking sites. 85% said that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind. 68% said they had an experience that made them feel good about themselves. 61% reported feeling closer to another person. 39% said they frequently saw acts of generosity by other SNS users and another 36% say they sometimes see others behaving generously and helpfully.

The above findings show that we all have a generous heart. However, I believe that we should also be careful about not deriving all our satisfaction by being generous only through Likes and Comments on Facebook. It's imperative that we take concrete actions in the brick and mortar world, because ultimately that's the world we live in. Generosity on Facebook is good, but it will appear shallow if it is not supplemented by generosity in real life. Kind actions have to follow our kind words. That's the only way our world will become a better place.

To be continued ...

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