By AARTI MADHUSUDAN
IT was 42 degrees. The sun was beating down with a vengeance at 12 noon. I was late to pick up my son from his playgroup. He was a two and a half year old reluctant nursery goer.
I couldn’t run any faster from the end of the road where all traffic had stopped due to an accident. The guilt of being late to pick up a child who I was sure would be screaming his guts out did not make the sprint any easier.
I reached the gates of the playschool at 12.07 PM, sweating profusely, panting to catch my breath as my eyes searched the premises for my son. I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was a three-year-old girl. I don’t remember her name now. She looked up at me and held up a water bottle with a dirty, chewed-up spout.
“I have water. Take,” she said. I am not sure why I immediately felt a sense of calm prevail over me. I thanked her and took a sip of the water she offered. The kid went on her way, quite matter-of-factly. I found my son who was busy playing and not in the least traumatised as I had imagined.
As we walked back, I realised – and not for the first time – that human beings are wired naturally to be kind, empathetic and concerned for one another. A three-year-old who could barely speak felt my distress and offered me solace. It was not a planned gesture, she was not tutored, she was just in her true, natural element.
Believe in the power of love
I believe increasingly that in today’s context, cynicism and negative conditioning around us have blinded us to what we are naturally capable of – to care for one another and to take joy from the joy of another.
The other night I was watching a talent show on TV – a young boy sang soulfully. It was the level that would qualify him for the next stage. The parents waited with bated breath for the judges to announce their verdict.
He was given a standing ovation. The audience cheered madly – many had tears rolling down their faces as they watched the mother hug her son. Complete strangers jumping up and shouting with joy, feeling what the mother may have felt at that very moment for her son’s success.
I had tears in my eyes too as I watched this moment on television a few 1,000 miles away from where the contest was taking place.
I believe that the power to love, to be kind and caring and to feel the joy or the pain of another comes naturally to all of us. However, it worries me that we are increasingly failing to recognise this as an easy thing to do. And that prevents us from being proactive, from reaching out naturally to those who need help, whose pain we can feel and who we can respond to instinctively.
Think, reflect, act
Structured philanthropy or organised work to alleviate suffering perhaps create artificial constructs that we struggle to understand or internalise. There is no doubt that in the absence of a quick and natural response we need to ensure that people who need help, get it.
But every now and then, perhaps it is good to take a break, pause and reflect on our responses to another person’s state of being and what it inspires in us. We may not act immediately and that’s okay. We may have a million reasons to not respond with a gesture and that’s okay too.
But if we stopped and reflected for a moment on the instance or the person and introspected, we would find within us the “desire” for change to happen, for things to get better – and that’s the first trigger. That trigger stems from empathy, from our natural response.
All we need for change to happen, for life to get better for those around us is just us. Be kind because that’s what you already are.
Aarti Madhusudan is associated with India Cares Foundation, Bangalore, and iVolunteer and runs Governance Counts, an initiative to strengthen the board of NGOs. She volunteers for and evangelises India’s giving festival, DaanUtsav. Aarti is an alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and NIMHANS, Bangalore. She lives in Chennai close to a lovely clean beach that sometimes becomes her office too!