This is a tale of two rooms. In each is a long table laid out with fabulous foods. In one room, a happy group of well-fed people sits around a table laughing and enjoying the food and one another’s company. In the other room, around a table piled equally high with delicious delicacies, sits a group of thin, hungry, grim-faced people.
There is just one rule in both rooms: each diner must eat with a spoon which is too long to feed him or herself. In the first room, everyone is sharing the meal and helping one another to eat. In the second room, the people are too greedy, mean, selfish, fearful or distrustful to feed their neighbour, and so they are all starving.
|Feeding others is only natural|
Similarly, my mother once recalled her mother telling her the Garden of Eden was right here, now. We never left it; we just have to realise it in the way we live our lives.
More recently, I read about a woman trying to feed her children during a famine in Africa. She was asked if she was worried about the food being donated by rich Western countries never reaching her family.
“No,” she insisted. “It is enough to know there are people hundreds of miles away who care – mothers like me with young mouths to feed, who know how it feels to have children crying from hunger. It gives me hope that people so far away can care so much about people they’ve never met.”
Poverty (along with its twin, inequality) is probably one of the most destabilising forces in the world – it nurses anger and resentment and can lead to fighting, and war, over resources. This can then lead to mass migration as refugees flee conflict, genocide and/or starvation.
It is, therefore, advantageous to everyone – the giver and the recipient – to reduce poverty and inequality in the world: a kind of enlightened self-interest.
Fears over immigration will not be solved by closing the borders, but by helping other nations to feed themselves so that people are not forced to leave their homes in search of food, shelter and safety.
Psychologically, I believe it is good for us to care about others as well as ourselves – to look beyond the limits of our own needs, wants and desires. There is always someone worse off than we are – and it is the responsibility (and privilege) of those with more than they need to help those with less than they need.
And, as Mahatma Gandhi wisely observed: "The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose."
In short, generosity opens hearts – and everyone is made the richer for it.
So, in an uncertain world, in which we, even in a recession, live in one of the richest nations on earth, it is in our best interests to be generous. Britain gives less than 0.7pc of its gross national income in overseas aid. As long as it is given wisely and with compassion and understanding, it is money well spent – an investment in our future and that of the world.
Charity does indeed begin at home, but that does not mean it ends there too. Generosity is an opening of the heart, not shutting it off. As someone once said: “Money is made round to go round.”
Humans have been successful because they can co-operate: this is our great strength. If we are ill, the illness is overcome by the cells in our bodies working together to restore balance.
Humanity has gone through a long period of competition, which has brought great technological advances but at great cost – our environmental credit card is up to its limit.
And I believe that, in order for humanity to evolve further, we must move from competition to a new co-operation.
The earth’s table is full. If we feed one another, there is good reason to hope that we all have a future.