The other day, I was reading acclaimed writer Maya Angelou’s take on philanthropy in her first collection of personal essays, “Letter to My Daughter,” a book dedicated to the daughter she never had, but has won the hearts of women of all ages worldwide through her captivating voice. She revisited an episode of her childhood, where she described her self as her grandmother’s shadow, a figure she so highly respects that she “imitated” her. “She was the picture of dignity. She spoke softly and walked slowly, with her hands behind her back, fingers laced together.”
As I was reading the chapter, I recognized the little soul of a quiet girl who had never known the hidden powers of her smile, and that it can mean the world to someone else. Reading her exposee has brought me delight, knowing that long ago, in another time and another place of the world, someone I never knew shared the same silent spirit as I do. Now, she is widely respected for that enigmatic smile on her face.
Being the mother figure that she is, I consulted her chapter once again after the realization of our increasingly secular yet selfless generation, upon pondering Scott Brown’s message in his article, “How Twitter + Dopamine = Better Humans.“
We be, therefore we are. Deep down, our be-ings are built as lovers of humanity. Yes, you might say that we are designed out of the idea of humanity, from which we call our-selves “human beings”. Our mere existence is a living proof that each one of us is a lover of mankind – not necessarily are we labelled as philanthropists, but we are all charitable by nature, at least, on a neurochemical level.
Evolutionary science has proven that our brains are wired to feel good once we’ve performed an altruistic behavior. Infants who have not yet learned even the most basic social skills are readily there to pick up our clothes for us if they fall off the hanger. Once tapped, this ingrained cooperative spirit in all of us huddle into one powerful energy to fend off imminent dangers. The 9/11 attack elicited an unstoppable heroism toward the victims, demanding the donation of bloods and other acts of compassion or an expression of grief, as selfless as the 300 Spartans who died for the welfare of their state against the Persian invasion, expecting no reward of any kind in return.
Actually, we kind of do. Whenever we act out a selfless deed, the brain’s reward system is flooded with the feel-good hormones better known as dopamine. It’s the same kind of feeling when you receive a hug, eat chocolate, have good sex, and gets a promotion at work. You reap what you sow. I suppose that is why when someone thanks you for what you’ve done for them, you say, with a smile, “My pleasure.”
In the words of Angelou, being charitable is as if to say, “I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.” My generation, the Millennials, practically grew up with technology. We are better informed, better equipped, and better connected to the world than any other generation before us to reach out and help those in need. With our multitasking skills and spurts of creativity, we are capable to drive any social, environmental, and political cause with the least amount of time, considering a tweet and a Facebook like is as easy as clicking a button.
I had numerous impulses to give in excess to various charities I feel passionate about. After all, I memorized my credit card information by heart, thanks to my humongous hippocampus (through regular exercise) and overflowing dopamine (through brain stimulation that comes along with regular exercise). Yet, my conscience will always strike back at every impulse, especially when distance and time can still be a factor despite technological advances.
I remember those exact words my mother, my most enduring role model, once said to me when I decided to give up life: If you want to give so much, might as well give to the people closest to you. “You’ve got a lot to give, so give those you care about in abundance. You don’t have to go so far as to donating huge amounts of money for people you never know. There are people at your arm’s length – sick grandparents, elderly neighbors, wounded beggars and starving children in Indonesia – who need more of your help than the needy in Africa.”
I still live off my parents’ income and am presently living with them. I’m jobless too.Yet I’ve also recently done something that has made them extremely proud: I am a college graduate. That alone has brought the all smiles and made them kissed me on each cheek. With the addition of my job offers, upcoming activities, and future opportunities, I have succeeded in making my self a joyful gift for them.
With every individual who focuses on the people closest to them to be happy, the less amount of time it takes for the joy of gift-giving to come back in return. Even fewer the hungry and the sickly have to wait for someone across the planet to give them clean water to drink, replenish their souls with medicine.
Looking ahead, despite the occasional hurdles to test our faith, humanity remains promising. I am promising my parents, two people who have given me life, to continue making them proud, for I have never failed them (but have been close to) in my 22 years of existence as a human being.
By this, I, too, am happy to describe my self as charitable.
- Image courtesy of Serendipity; life itself via Tumblr