Many times we are told that we owe something to society. But, many of us get duped when we try to do good to others. I have shared my understanding on this “Ungratefulness problem” in this article. If interested, you may read and share your own understanding on this serious issue.
“The ungratefulness problem” is experienced by many sensitive people in their lives. This means you do good to someone and that person instead of showing gratitude for whatever good you did to him/her (1) turns against you and do harm to you emotionally or materially or (2) never tries to do anything for you in your needy situation even when he/she is capable.
When I was a teenager, my mother used to say many times, “People are very ungrateful.” That time I used to find her assertion most ridiculous due to my inexperience with the world. Years later I read a quote by Lord Buddha, “Kind and grateful people are rare.” and I was shocked beyond expression because this was the first really harsh quote of Buddha that I had read in life by that time. All other quotes of Lord Buddha were very sweet-worded and positive. Still, I could not accept it even a bit. But, I eventually had to accept this to some extent once I got some very, very nasty experiences which, in short, is described below:
I met a lady during my 6th semester during B. Tech at IIT Kanpur who was weeping while talking to someone. Overcome with great empathy, I asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She replied, “I had married Prof. A of IIT Kanpur and I had a child with him and he left us. (This was just a false story she used to cheat me and other students at IIT Kanpur.) Now, I have a tumour problem and I have no one to help me treat it. I may die one day due to lack of treatment.” I promised her that I will find a way to get her treated. She took lots of my time in 7th and 8th semesters and I used to be liberal in giving her time because I felt that she was suffering from depression and wanted to vent out a bit to someone. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out a way to get her tumour treated. I finally managed to do so in 8th semester at IIT Kanpur. Under my initiative, IIT Kanpur students raised Rs. 1.2 lakh for her treatment and we got her treated. Some of us even stayed at SGPGI hospital, Lucknow during her treatment. Long story cut short – “I went to USA after finishing B. Tech for higher education and she told me when I was in USA that her treatment was not successful and that she will need more injections. First she did not show bills for injections but later showed fake bills and even sent a mail from an IIT Kanpur Professor confirming me that she had indeed spent money on her treatment.” She ended up cheating me total Rs. 15 lakhs in name of her fake treatment and her household expenses.
Her two sons also helped her cheat me. I spend additional Rs. 8 lakhs on both her sons’ education for IIT-JEE coaching at Kota. Both proved to be insincere students despite having good scores in Class X board exam and could not crack any engineering entrance exam. Both sons actively cheated me. One of his sons saw me helping her family since he was just 11 and still when he was 16 and was sent by me to Kota, he cheated me money repeatedly in many ways (like taking Rs. 12k per month for his expenses whereas, as I learnt later, Rs. 6k per month was enough in Kota for a student). So, even a pre-teenager did not learn any virtue from me.
The whole family was supposedly devotees of Sai Baba and Gayatri Pariwar. I did everything for them that was possible for a person to do and I ended up getting cheated Rs. 23 lakhs without getting any good result.
I also helped one relative with lakhs of rupees, but he also broke my trust by indulging in some serious cheating like sitting in place of his brother in a competitive examination. Though he repents for his mistake now, yet it was not fair to me as I believe in putting society above self and family which his wrong deed completely violated.
And all this cheating was done to me when I was emotionally the purest and the most selfless person – I was so much devoid of personal desires that I was not willing to even marry that time in order to serve the society. They all knew these things and yet cheated me. Even my teaching them mindfulness meditation of Buddhism, Self-Enquiry meditation of Sri Raman Maharshi and other yoga techniques did not change them even a bit.
Just today, I read this quote in “Jnana Yoga” book by Swami Vivekananda:
I want to do work, I want to do good to a human being; and it is ninety to one (i.e., out of those whom one does good, 90 turn out to be ungrateful for every single person who turns out to be grateful) that that human being whom I have helped will prove ungrateful and go against me; and the result to me is pain. Such things deter mankind from working; and it spoils a good portion of the work and energy of mankind, this fear of pain and misery.
Reading above quote motivated me to share my experience and insight on “The ungratefulness problem” in this article. Karma Yoga’s solution is quite simple (quoting from above book):
Karma-Yoga teaches us how to work for work’s sake, unattached, without caring who is helped, and what for. The Karma-Yogi works because it is his nature, because he feels that it is good for him to do so, and he has no object beyond that. His position in this world is that of a giver, and he never cares to receive anything. He knows that he is giving, and does not ask for anything in return and, therefore, he eludes the grasp of misery. The grasp of pain, whenever it comes, is the result of the reaction of “attachment”.
Despite Karma Yoga principle of working without expectation of result, I think it is very natural for any intelligent person to aspire for optimization of one’s efforts. If I know that person A is insensitive (and hence will turn out to be ungrateful) and person B is sensitive and truly good-hearted, I will obviously find it better to do good to person B rather than person A. So, the principle 1 to deal with “The ungratefulness problem”:
Principle 1. The help should indeed be given to only the deserving.
Since it becomes very difficult to know who is the deserving, hence, in general,
Principle 2. It is a good idea to avoid spending more than a very small (not more than 10%) percentage of time, energy, money and other resources till the first 3 decades of one’s life (till the age of 30) on doing good to others because during this period, humans are very sentimental and immature and hence are prone to emotional blackmail and exploitation and also because the first 3 decades of our live constitute the foundation upon which the whole life is built and hence, must not be weakened by dissipation and emotional, foolish idealism.
Principle 3. It is a good idea to do good to someone with the charity of knowledge rather than the charity of money and other material resources. This is because in comparison to the charity of money and other material resources, the charity of knowledge is more useful and lasting, requires less involvement and does less damage to the giver even when not used properly by the recipient. This is also because it is better to teach people to grow apples rather than give them apples. In one of the letters to his Gurubhai (brother disciple) Swami Brahmananda, Swami Vivekananda writes: “I see very well that my policy is wrong, and yours is correct, regarding helping others; that is to say, if you help with money too much at a time, people instead of feeling grateful remark on the contrary that they have got a simpleton to bank upon. I always lost sight of the demoralising influence of charity on the receiver.” A great lesson indeed for us!
Principle 4. It is a good idea to do good to someone under the framework of full transparency and adequate accountability and without exposing oneself to emotional blackmail and manipulation one should stop the help the moment full transparency or adequate accountability is not shown by the recipient.
Principle 5. It is a good idea to do good to someone with feedback from multiple sources on a continuous basis. This ensures that the giver knows whether he is getting emotionally blackmailed or duped by the recipient by taking feedback from others who can give an objective, independent view of the situation and the recipient’s character.
Also, even if we accept that individuals, more often than not, turn out to be ungrateful, we have to accept that enough good work is getting done by individuals and organizations with great support from individuals. How is that possible? The explanation, in my humble opinion, lies below:
Principle 6. One should always prefer doing good to society on group basis rather than on one-on-one basis. This is because group psychology works differently from individual psychology: every individual wants to maintain a good image before his/her group even if he/she may have a very defective character. If I do good to 91 individuals on one-on-one basis, 90 will turn against me in most ungrateful manner and only 1 will stay grateful. But, if I do good to 91 individuals on collective basis (all together), the group of 91 will most likely stay grateful towards me and help me in my social and political work because even the worst type person wants to maintain a positive image in his/her group. That probably explains why people like Anna Hazare got so much support and respect from his villagers eventually and how people like Gandhiji, Subhas Chandra Bose and other social and political activists were able to do so much good to humanity.
If some people show ungratefulness, should we never render personal help? No. We should, but
Principle 7. One should do good to others on individual basis also but only after an intelligent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the persons being helped by a team of people (and not just alone) and only to the extent that any ungratefulness does not hurt one’s bigger plans for social and political work beyond the completely manageable extent.
The significance of principle 7 is many times the needy people can be helped only on individual basis and not doing such help just because of the possibility of “the ungratefulness problem” will be quite inhuman and selfish.
What if one actually experiences “the ungratefulness problem” despite taking all intelligent steps to avoid or mitigate it or due to an erroneous faith leading to subsequent betrayal?
Principle 8. Even in face of ungratefulness, one should still believe that the vast majority of humans want to be good people, but many fail because of weak minds and deserve compassionate forgiveness rather than hatred and hence, despite ungratefulness shown by some people, one should consider the ungrateful people as teachers, learn the lessons they taught for ever and continue practising intelligent compassion with one’s zeal and faith in humanity fully intact.
Are there other principles or insights involved in managing “The ungratefulness problem”? If yes, please share with me and my readers in comment section below.
I will end this article with a heart-warming instance of gratefulness and honest character :).
In 2013, my maid said to me one day, “I am going to my village to get my daughter married and will need to spend Rs. 50k to Rs. 1 lakh for this purpose and will be taking loans from people for this. Please give me some loan. I will get my daughter married and then come back after 4-5 months and then return loan to you.” I, being too short on money these days, wanted to give her a loan of Rs. 5k, but even that much money was not present with me that time and hence, I could give her only Rs. 1k loan. Though I was feeling quite frustrated that I could not give her more, she was quite glad with even Rs. 1k loan and went away.
But, she did not return even after 6 months. And I started thinking that she will never return and just fooled me. I said to even my room-partner, “Even she cheated me. If she would have just said that she cannot return the money, I would have gladly accepted and yet would have given her the money for her daughter’s marriage? Why do people cheat? Sigh!” What was hurting me was not the loss of money, but the betrayal of trust.
After 9 months’ gap, one day someone knocked on my door and when I opened her, I found my maid there and became extremely elated because I knew that she did not cheat me and had come to return money. My faith in the principle of helping others restored, I told her not to worry about returning the money. But, I asked, “I thought, you will not come back and have cheated me. Would you have come back if the money would have been tens of thousands or lakhs of rupees?” She replied, “I do not believe in cheating anyone. I would have come back even if it would have been lakhs or crores of rupees. Why would I cheat anyone? This is a big sin which I can never do with anyone.”