Help & Economics – What’s in it for me?

Helping others is one of the most fundamental actions and a satisfying emotion for humans. Our whole civilization is built on it – all around the world. Mankind is linked, as if by a long invisible chain. Some of the links are seen between the mother and the child, the teacher and the student, the doctor and the patient, between friends etc. A mother feeding her child is an obvious link. A patient is linked to the doctor, yet not linked until we fall sick. As friends and colleagues, we work/play as a team and the invisible linkages help us accomplish goals.

Helping can be split into 3 basic types:

  1. Informal help: This is the most common of all and doesn’t have any obligation whatsoever. It is more of our altruistic behaviour in daily life. Helping a child carry his bag, helping someone cross a busy street, carrying or picking up something that your colleague dropped, tying the shoelace for your child or passing the dish on the dining table etc.
  2. Semi-formal: The best example is asking and providing advice, buying a car or a home, taking a job, car servicing or changing tyres for a fee etc.
  3. Formal help: Legal help from a lawyer, medical help from a doctor, tutor teaching children in a school or at home and books are a form of formal help.

More often than not we need informal help in our day – to – day lives.

“Informal help” shapes our life and how we behave with others. In fact, even while we seek formal help there is quite a bit of informal help added to the “formal help” to make it convenient to the receiver. However, it is often the informal help that makes a difference to our lives. So, can we agree informal help is what makes the human clock tick?

Let’s look at the economic angle – We don’t like to admit to ourselves, but we know that our social relationships revolve around the simple mantra “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. The nature of give and take can be seen as transactional. Human relations are a lot like economics, even when we are helping each other. The way it mirrors the logic can also be understood by certain common expressions. We “pay” respect, we “pay” attention. We say “the move paid – off” when something goes well. Ideas get “sold” when convincing others. To me that is all economics! What is it to you?

Although it seems counter intuitive “helping” resembles an economic exchange. If you help a poor man on the street, you expect a grateful nod as an acknowledgement. That reassures you that you are a good person for acting so charitably. To understand how helping relationships work we need to acknowledge the reciprocal dynamics of human society. This dynamics makes life easier when giving or receiving help!

Economics is deeply embedded into our lives. We expect to have equitable social interactions or a fair exchange of thoughts. We expect people to listen carefully and take us seriously.

Back to the invisible links – Why do the links so often go wrong? Why do children desert their old parents? Why do patients sue doctors? Why do people get stuck in legalese while helping others in a road accident? Why are colleagues at workplace fraught with tension? This is despite “helping” to be so intrinsic to our society.

In my opinion – we don’t make the economics work. We don’t acknowledge or pay the “help” it’s due. The links exist. We break them when we start ignoring the economics.

Acknowledge your help! Pay back generously. Strengthen the links. You will see that our community will be far stronger and livelier, than what it is now.

5 Responses
  1. Anitha Mary

    Enlightening article sir.I remember you sharing this, in one of the English Departmental meetings.It leaves us with a lot of introspection.

    Thank you sir

  2. Ushasree

    Very well written piece Sir.. However, it irks me to think of everything in economic parlance. I mean it may be true as we live in such a world but if we look at everything from such a lense we forget being human. Don’t we?

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