When it comes to the very essence of philanthropy and its many definitions, associations (altruism, charitableness, bountifulness, kindness, humanitarianism, etc.) and manifestations (giving money, possessions, time, attention, aid etc.), we might first be inclined to put forward a basic question: How do people learn to give? Giving as a learned behavior is relatively easy to explain (it is transmitted by your family, your community, your spirituality etc.), but what we have few insights about is when and how it is learned. That is, to ask in which moment of our lives and by what means a human incorporates giving as an inner behavior. At the moment, aside from a philosophical approach, one might ask why this question is relevant. And is it?
When confronted with the daily news, the only things we hear about are pressing global challenges such as climate change, rising inequalities, artificial intelligence, bioengineering, epidemics and so on. It looks like our 21st century civilization is being challenged like never before as a result of our human inability to make good use of our natural intelligence in order to grant the next generations a safer, cleaner and more prosperous environment. “Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely,” says historian Yuval Noah Harari.
Hariri draws our attention to several questions through his many interventions worldwide, and in particular, in his bestselling book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” which details a series of dramatic prophecies that could lead us to think that our civilization and our world are on the verge of collapsing. On the contrary, when pointing out the imminent danger of “technological disruptions,” Hariri is all but a prophet of the apocalypse. By looking at disruptions in modern times through the lens of an historian, from Homo sapiens to the 21st century citizen, we can understand what is really on the table. Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, could be a dramatic disruption as it could lead humanity towards its deepest social inequalities ever.
By drawing interesting parallels with humanity’s struggle against exploitation over the centuries, the 21st century’s biggest struggle, he argues, will be against irrelevance (i.e., when you will lose your job to a robot), unless we act to distribute the benefits of AI between all humans. The question, he very judiciously addresses, is that today and now, technology is enhancing skills that we believe will be needed in the future and totally neglecting other equally (if not more) important human skills, such as compassion and artistic intelligence.
Compassion is certainly a word that is very much associated with philanthropy. The sooner in a lifetime and the more smartly one incorporates compassion as an inner behavior, the easier the struggle against irrelevance in the 21st century will be to overcome, as an answer to our question above.
Recently, Italy took the lead in innovation by announcing that climate change will be incorporated as a discipline in school curricula. Isn’t it time to follow this example and fully integrate philanthropy as a subject in our educational systems, enabling society to better elaborate (without seeking to replace the traditional channels) on ‘when’ and ‘how’ the “Art of Giving” actually comes into oneself as an inner behavior for the future of common good?
*President, Associação Internacional
de Filantropia (Macau)
Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).