Written by good friend, Celene Loo of Hong Kong and published in the April issue of Bacarrat/Luxury Insider magazine.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” – Luke 6:20
Since you are reading this article in a high-end lifestyle magazine, I assume you are fairly well educated and likely to have the means (money, talent or time) to help the needy. And you are grateful to have a comfortable life. But do the wealthy and middle class in Hong Kong seriously care for the less fortunate? Or have their cosy hearts been hardened by lofty self-centeredness, resulting in apathy to others’ sufferings?
For the past several months, the people’s revolt against the regimes in the Middle East has taken the world by surprise and largely unprepared. What first began as an isolated protest in Tunisia and Egypt has developed into a regional tsunami calling for justice for the underprivileged. Many governments including those in Asia – and to some extent China – are now acknowledging this new epoch for reforms and improvements for the working class.
Gap between Rich and Poor
Hong Kong’s 2010 GDP per capita is US$45,000, ahead of Switzerland, Germany and Japan. However, the gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong is the highest in the world, according the United Nations Development Program. An astounding one million Hong Kongers live below the poverty line, more than 10 per cent of the population!
Hong Kong is a glittering affluent paragon boasting the highest number of Rolls-Royces per capita in the world. Yet we have residents living in vile inhumane squalor such as the infamous cage homes. The heart-wrenching paradox is that rent per square foot in these bed-size cages is the highest in the world, even higher than that at the Peak! And average waiting times for admission to care facilities are alarming: mentally handicapped homes (seven years), physically handicapped centres (nine years) and nursing homes for the elderly (four years).
After decades of stellar leapfrogging growth, Hong Kong’s economy slowed down drastically in the past decade, compounded with issues like ageing population and rising food and housing inflation. In fact, today’s average household incomes have not returned to the levels of 1997. Families can no longer assume their children will enjoy a better standard of living than them. Baby boomers are waking up to the harsh reality that their retirement plans are on shaky foundation due to depleting savings and the society’s lack of comprehensive welfare.
What Motivates Charity?
If we rely solely on the government to help the less fortunate, we are either too optimistic about the efficiency of the political system or we are trying to defer our societal responsibility to help.
Volunteering, donation, community outreach – I trust many readers have been involved one way or the other. What motivates charity? In Hong Kong, some believe in karma or reincarnation: doing charity is likened to accumulating goodwill for a better ‘next’ life after death. And there may also be a nagging sense of guilt of being in a privileged position and not helping the less fortunate.
For some there can even be fear: the worry that you might end up in the position of needing help someday. Then there is peer pressure or a need to show off: “My socialite friend asked me to buy a table for the charity ball . . . I don’t really know what the charity is all about, but I can’t appear too cheap not to swiftly write a cheque for this fancy black-tie event!”
Some may argue that if money is being raised and people are being helped it should not matter what the motivation is. And yes, to some extent, I agree. However, I also observe from my experience as a founder of a charity that only the right motivation can sustain charity and service. Guilt may cause a passerby to give a homeless man some loose change, but the giver is likely to walk past swiftly as well. Humans have the tendency to entomb uncomfortable feelings as quickly as possible.
While guilt, fear or fame may spur one act of charity, they are unlikely to sustain the giving for long. The charitable actions will be sporadic, occurring whenever these feelings are jolted to life. This is because guilt, fear and pride are still self-centered, whereas love and genuine compassion focus on the receiver and not on one self. Only love can release us of our self-centeredness and propel us into the situation of the less fortunate, resulting in a more sustaining charitable heart.
I have experienced first hand a certain magical emotional resonance when direct help comes from non-mandated hands of love. The giver experiences an inexplicable sense of satisfaction. The receiver gets not only the comfort of the physical gift but the sweet joy that he has not been neglected.
To see a copy of the article, click the link below