If You’re Blessed. Be a Blessing.

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No one ever became poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

Anne Frank was a German- Dutch diarist, a Holocaust survivor who posthumously gained fame with the publication of her all time famous book “The Diary of a Young Girl”. For approximately two years she and her family lived in a secret annex to avoid getting caught by the Nazis. However, they got caught and only her father , Otto Frank managed to survive. The times she and her entire family was going through is completely unimaginable for all of us. In spite of living in such ordeals Anne Frank did not stop being optimistic and the best version of herself. While she had nothing to give to anyone outside that secret place she was living in, she believed in the power of giving. She said that no one in this world has ever become impoverished by giving to other people. 

Why you must give?

We all talk about giving. We all say if we have so much to be grateful for we must never back down from helping others. In other words, if we have so many countable blessings we must become a blessing to someone else too. I think that’s appropriate because life is not a life if it is lived not in the service of others (please mind that living in the service of others doesn’t mean we should forget our own selves). Many pundits and philosophers also believed in this and made the best usage of words to express themselves:

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”Leo Tolstoy

“We make a living by what we get, we make life by what we give.”- Winston Churchill

And finally…

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.  If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.  If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.  If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”  –Chinese Proverb

Is this enough? I mean is this the only reason we must give to other people? No. While poets and philosophers were right, science has now ample amount of data to prove that giving is a good thing and it adds meaning to our lives. 

In the year 2008 an interesting study was conducted by researchers at Harvard University and University of British Columbia on the benefits of giving. In the study they found that spending money on others lead to lasting improvements in people’s overall happiness levels. Another study was conducted by Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University and in one of their annual studies ‘Women Give 2017’ it was found that there is a connection between charitable giving and life satisfaction. In other words, there is a relation between how satisfied we feel in our lives and how charitable our attitudes are. Economists Bill Harbaugh & Daniel Burghart and psychologist Ulrich Mayr conducted a study in the year 2007 which was published in a prestigious journal Science. They were interested in observing the changes in brain activities when donations were voluntary or mandatory. Every participant was given a sum of $100 and were told no one would know how much of it they had kept with themselves or donated. The participants were kept under fMRI machines while they made decisions whether to keep some money or donate it. Their brain activity was measured by an fMRI. Sometimes subjects had a choice to choose if they were willing to donate some money to a local food bank while other times tax was levied and some of the money was sent to a local food bank without seeking the permission of the participants. Researchers found that when the participants chose to donate, the areas of the brain were lit up that release pleasure chemical called dopamine. These are the same brain areas which respond when we are involved in activities including eating and sex. On the other hand, when subjects had to donate in spite of their choice same brain areas were lit up but the activity was slower than in the previous case. 

These experiments are only a drop in the ocean. There are tons of other studies that clearly demonstrate that giving to other people is a good thing. Bill Gates is one of the names that is cited the most when it comes to philanthropy. His wealth is estimated to be nearly $94 billion and he has given away approximately $50 billion over the years to various charities. Other well-known philanthropists include Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, J K Rowling, etc. They all seem to have understood that by giving no one becomes poor. Ever. 

What can you give?

Now we know donating money to charities is an excellent practice to boost our psychological well-being. Even science agrees. But is it really about money? Does it always have to be about dollars or pounds or euros? Is it really that only if I am donating a part of my income to various charities and people in general then I am contributing in uplifting the society? Was Anne Frank merely talking about money when she said about ‘giving’? 

While it is true that it’s money which often comes to our minds whenever we are talking about giving something, we need to expand our perspective. Not everyone is in a position to help someone financially. Sometimes you’re helping someone if you are being kind and understanding with them. You’re also helping someone if you’re guiding them correctly so that they stay on the right path throughout their lives. Moreover, you’re helping someone by being the best version of yourself. They may not be given much worth but they are definitely worthy. Currently, I am not earning any money and I cannot help someone money wise. I cannot buy anyone any gifts on their birthdays. Until that day comes I am trying to help people with everything else. I am trying to become a better person each day so that my goodness is out there in the world. 

We are natural born dualists?

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What is dualism?

To speak for myself, when I was younger the word simply meant people’s tendency to be double- faced. This was dualism for me. That’s it!!

I think I was naïve. Not wrong. Just naïve because the literal meaning of the word ‘dualism’ is dichotomy or division of something into two opposing aspects. So, that should suffice for my naive understanding because technically I wasn’t wrong.

But what exactly is dualism? How deep can it be? Who coined the word ‘dualism’ after all? When it comes to dualism there is no other name than Rene Descartes that pops up. Rene Descartes was a French philosopher and a scientist. He had written many great works including “Discourse on the Method” which still survives today as one of the important works ever written. He is often regarded as the father of Western philosophy whose approach has changed the course of Western philosophy and set the basis for modernity.

Cogito, ergo sum”: Cartesian dualism

 “I think, therefore, I am.” This is what Descartes meant with “Cogito, ergo sum”. These are the most important words ever spoken by Descartes. He said, “How can one know that anything including oneself actually exists rather than being some sort of a dream or phantasm?” He believed human senses are completely unreliable. He said that he could not be trusted to know whether he was actually sitting in a room in his gown or merely dreaming about it. However, he was confident about one thing: that he was actually ‘thinking’. Descartes was a fierce rationalist and trusted in the power of human logic.

Body and soul

Mind-body dualism is closely associated with Rene Descartes. He had believed that ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are two separate things. Our bodies are physical while our minds or souls are immaterial. Since he had made a clear distinction between the mind and the body he concluded that there is definitely an interaction between the two but one of them can exist in the absence of another. The idea is debatable even today among the scholars. Whether Descartes was right or whether he made sense with this mind-body dualism is a matter of another day. What’s important here is that it is being proven through some studies that we are actually ‘pre-wired’ to believe that mind and body are entirely two different things.

Pre-wired for Dualism

Psychologists are now trying to find answer to a question: where does the distinction between mind and body actually comes from? Is it something that we learn as we interact with the external environment or we are pre-wired to believe in the duality of mind and body? Scientists believe the mind is what the brain does. I, personally, believe so. This is called “The Astonishing Hypothesis” which was first coined by Francis Crick who won a Nobel Prize. At the same time some significant studies say that we have an innate ability to distinguish between the mind and the body. Two psychologists- Jesse Bering from the University of Arkansas and David Bjorklund from Florida Atlantic University conducted a study with young children. In the experiment, they told children a story about an alligator and a mouse that actually had a tragic end. The story was told through a series of pictures shown to children. For an instance, children were shown a picture in which alligator was eating the mouse. “Uh, oh!! Mr Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” This is how the experimenters interacted with children. “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

Further in the experiment, researchers asked different questions from young children regarding the mental and biological functioning of the mouse. The questions related to mental functioning included, “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?” The questions related to biological functioning included, “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”

It was found that children said that the mouse would not be hungry anymore, would not be able to go to the bathroom, ears won’t be working, etc. In other words, body is dead so there is no functioning. However, to questions related to mental functioning children said that the mental activities will remain intact. In other words, the soul will live. It will survive. Only the body will decay.

Encountering dualism at a personal level

After reading an article by Professor Paul Bloom from Yale University (whose work I follow and admire very much) titled “Is God an Accident?” I realized that yes, dualism does prevail in all of us. Although I am a believer of “The mind is what the brain does” I think I am skeptical when it comes to dualism. Probably because I still do not understand a lot of the things proposed by Rene Descartes. At the same time, I have come to realize that whenever I am talking to myself (self-talk) I often regard my own self as “YOU”. I am just one person. I know that. Still while having a conversation with myself regarding anything I am talking as if there is someone else in the room with me. I believe I can call this my predisposition for dualism.

I am no expert in dualism. I am still at a nascent stage when it comes to such complicated philosophical approaches. Also, there are no right or wrong answers. Presently, I do not believe in dualism. I definitely do not believe that ‘souls’ exist. When we die our bodies and brains die too.