Helpfulness should be one's creed

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“Today, see if you can stretch your heart and expand your love so that it touches not only those to whom you can give it easily, but also to those who need it so much.”  – Anon.

In the very first week of my assuming the charge as Income Tax Officer, a lady named Gita Kantawala  entered appearance in my room and asked for refund that had been pending for over three years. I sent for the Head Clerk and enquired from him about the difficulty. He said that the refund could not be issued unless she produced a succession certificate from the competent authority because her dead husband had not authorized her to collect the refund. I sent him back but felt concerned for the widow. My inner voice seemed telling me that she needed to be helped, more so because the matter was already far too delayed. I started a conversation with the lady and came to understand that the banks had virtually accepted her as a legal heir and that she had access to his saving and other bank accounts. I requested her to attend her other assignments for the day and come to me again while on her way back home. A thought flashed to my mind that the problem could be solved right away. I asked the Head Clerk to bring the Refund Voucher Book along the related file. I noticed that all the calculations had been checked. I asked him to make the Refund Order payable to “Mrs Gita Katawala, Legal Heir Dr S. Kantawala”. The Head Clerk seemed hesitant; but had to comply looking at my firmness. And when the lady returned, it was a delight to see her receive the Refund Order that had eluded her for so long. Later I came to know that she had written a letter to the Commissioner in which apart from expressing her gratitude she had also expressed a surprise that a young officer could do the work in hours that others could not do for years. But, more than that, I got a feeling of happiness that lasted me several months and makes me smile even this day.

What do I call this transaction, performance of my duty or helpfulness? I was rediscovering myself and understanding that helpfulness is being of service. It is doing useful things for people, such as things they cannot do for themselves, something they do not have time to do, or just little things that make life easier. One can be helpful while being in a job, while being without a job, while walking, while shopping, while travelling and whatever one may be doing. It is just that one has to be willing, if not keen, to render help; opportunities galore do keep coming one’s way like by noticing when someone needs help, doing a service without being asked or even giving people what they need, not always what they want or even listening to someone who wants to talk.

We all need help sometimes. We need people to teach us, and people to give us their strength or ideas. Sometimes we just need a friend to talk to. If there were no helpfulness, there would be no cooperation. When we practice helpfulness we get more done. We make each other’s lives easier. There are times when we need help from others. That is a good time to ask for help. It may be important to be helpful to ourselves too, by taking care of our minds and bodies.

Practicing helpfulness means that you care about others. You don’t wait to be asked. You notice what needs to be done and just do it. If you cannot figure out what someone needs, ask him “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” Your mantra should be what someone anonymous wrote for our guidance as :“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” And recall what John Wesley exhorted us to do, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Why are some people helpful and not others? The plain answer to this question is that as a person becomes wise, he begins to understand that a great deal of the work in life, is being performed by a small percentage of the people. Only a small number of people offer answers, and only a smaller numbers actually offers “help”. This should not surprise us considering that most of us people are selfish. In fact what may be surprising is that there are people who offer extensive help after burdening themselves financially and even putting themselves to a lot of inconvenience.

Our scriptures encourage helpfulness in a big way. While Sama Veda (8:2:5) ordains that one should strongly resent miserliness and indulge in charity because one can acquire the never-ending wealth of immortality by doing so, the Rig Veda proclaims that one should performed karma for the benefit of humanity with an unbiased approach because bias gives birth to evil, which creates thousands of obstacles in our path. It also exhorts one to perform one’s karma with nonchalance without expecting the benefits because sooner or later one definitely gets the fruits. And finally it also stays that the person who is always involved in good deeds experiences incessant divine happiness.

The concept of helpfulness, especially the attitude toward poverty, changed with Judaism. Judaism emphasized tzedakah, or almsgiving, which stresses not only the obligation of the wealthy to give to the poor, but also the right of the poor to receive these gifts; so the Jewish charity is more of a duty than a voluntary action by the privileged. The poor are seen as equally virtuous as the rich. Charity is kindness shown to the needy. The Jews were charitable to all those in need, those in the community and strangers. The economic implication is the redistribution of wealth so that everybody can become more prosperous and the quality of life can be improved for all, both rich and poor.

Christianity continued the theme of helping those less fortunate. Christ’s teachings were a more radical departure because they emphasized self-sacrifice for the greater good. Relieving the needs of the poor became the responsibility of the entire community, not just the wealthy. Many scientific historians consider religious charity to be the predecessor to modern social welfare, including both government-supported programs and private philanthropy.

Jewish and Christian philosophy also influenced the early Muslim thought. Muslims implemented compulsory alms-giving (zakat) and voluntary giving (sadaqah) for social welfare. All three religions emphasize the notion of private stewardship, or private responsibility, for the poor.

The concept of charity, especially the attitude toward poverty, changed with Judaism. Judaism emphasized tzedakah, or almsgiving, which stresses not only the obligation of the wealthy to give to the poor, but also the right of the poor to receive these gifts. So Jewish charity is more of a duty than a voluntary action by the privileged. The poor are seen as equally virtuous as the rich. Charity is kindness shown to the needy. The Jews were charitable to all those in need, those in the community and strangers. The economic implication is the redistribution of wealth so that everybody can become more prosperous and the quality of life can be improved for all, both rich and poor.

Christianity continued the theme of helping those less fortunate. Christ’s teachings were a more radical departure because they emphasized self-sacrifice for the greater good. Relieving the needs of the poor became the responsibility of the entire community, not just the wealthy. Many scientific historians consider religious charity to be the predecessor to modern social welfare, including both government-supported programs and private philanthropy.

When you help others, you replace your selfishness with selflessness. One usually never feels bad after helping someone.  In fact, one gets the same good feeling inside whether one is helping a close friend or a total stranger. A collaborative help can prove much more effective on account of a broader perspective, more experience, and better expertise that can improve the quality and execution of ideas needed for more effective helpfulness. Therefore, let us not hold back helpfulness; because one kind gesture can make someone’s day and can also have a snowball effect. Just imagine how the world would be if we all practiced acts of kindness on a regular basis!

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.