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Category - "Do as you would be done by":

Milk And Sugar?


A Parsee (Parsi) Family, by William Johnson, Western India ca. 1855-1862 via SMU Central University Libraries @ Flickr Commons

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for  thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13.2)

Did you see Yasmeen’s story on Facebook? She has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here:

I am British/Egyptian and currently live in Egypt. Here there are now hundreds of thousands of Syrians if not more. In the past years since the Syrians started coming here to get away from the violence in their country, I have to say people here have been impressed and humbled by how they have dealt with their misfortunes. They have been very industrious, working hard, starting small businesses and in general doing whatever they can to make a living instead of burdening society. They are well known for their cooking, especially their sweets, and many of them have opened small dessert shops and the less well-off sometimes sell their pastries ready-packaged to passers by.
Keep in mind that Egypt is a country with its own poverty problems already and we have thousands of beggars on the streets. Many of the Syrians who came could easily have joined in the throngs of people waiting for hand-outs. But they are proud, hard- working people who will not accept extra money you try to give them when buying things from them even. They want to work for what they have. They have rented the homes they are now living in too.
Before the Syrian crisis, I knew several Syrian people who are well-educated and well-travelled and some are even dual nationals. But they are very patriotic to their country and although they could have lived in western countries most chose to stay in Syria.
My point is that Syrians are only travelling to the west because they are desperate to survive. Not because they want the western way of life as some are accusing them. Their country was beautiful with breathtaking landscapes and a rich culture. Also, they are hardworking, skillful people who, if given a chance, will gladly work hard and add to society and the economy and not depend on aid.

“Like sugar in milk”

But this is of course not the first time in history that large numbers of displaced people have sought sanctuary in other lands.

Do you know the story of how the Zorastrian Parsis first arrived in India? More than 1,000 years ago, at the time of the Islamisation of Persia, Zoroastrians went in several different directions in an effort to protect their religion and culture. The ones who went to India became known as Parsis, but there are other large Zoroastrian communities on the border of present-day Iran and Afghanistan.

A Zoroastrian priest arrived with a group of refugees in what is now the state of Gujarat. The Qissa  tells how about 18,000 Parsis came in seven junks, five of them landing in Div, one at Variav near Surat and one at Cambay. They asked the local king, Jadi Rana, for asylum But the king pointed to a vessel of milk, filled to the very brim, to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept any more additions to the population. In response, the priest asked for some sugar, which he stirred into the milk, where it dissolved without trace – and without a drop being spilled. He asked the king again: “If you take us into your kingdom, we will be like the sugar in the milk: we will become one with your kingdom, and will only make it sweeter.” 

Finding the argument unanswerable, Jadi Rana stipulated only that

  • they were to adopt the local language (Gujarati);
  • their women were to wear the garments of the local women (the Sari);
  • they were to cease to carry weapons; and
  • marriages were only to be performed in the evenings (as the Hindus do).

He then gave shelter to the refugees and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely.

Lord Bilimoria discusses the Zoroastrian Parsis in India:

Bilimoria points out that despite their small number, Parsees have achieved international acclaim in almost every field. Among the best known are the conductor Zubin Mehta, Ratan Tata (who turned the Tata Group into a global business), former cricketer Farokh Engineer and the Indian war hero Field Marshal Manekshaw. Parsees excel in the arts too – not many people realise that Freddie Mercury was a Parsee. Bilimoria himself is best known for starting the Cobra beer company, but his first entrepreneurial venture involved supplying Indian-made polo sticks to British outlets, including the exclusive department store Harrods.

He attributes the community’s success to the way Parsees are raised. “You are brought up in this principled way. You see the charitable work that’s being done, the way Parsees not only look after each other but put back into the wider community,” he says. “You just have to go to Bombay, where my father’s family are from, and see the number of Parsee charitable buildings and communities, hospitals, schools – you can’t help but notice it and it’s been done over the generations.”



Who is to say that those who now throw themselves on the mercy of the West would not similarly sweeten our nations were we to welcome them in?

‘Favourite Heroes and Holy People’ edited by Deborah Cassidi

Heroes 001

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning

Extract chosen by Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, who explains his reason for choosing this passage:

‘For me, one of the heroes of the human spirit was Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps, and helped others to survive. On the basis of his experiences he founded a new school of psychotherapy – he called it Logotherapy – the central idea of which is summed up in the title of his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl rescued people from despair by helping them find a reason to live: a task not yet completed, work still to be done. That sense of a mission not yet fulfilled gave people the strength to carry on. In the quotation I chose he bore witness to the courage of others. He also wrote of how, exhausted, starved and on the brink of death, he brought himself back to life by thinking of his beloved, his wife:

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words,’The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.

I am lost in admiration for a man who saved the lives of others by giving them hope, and who found a path to heaven at the very gates of hell.’

And I am as lost in admiration for Lord Sacks as many of his other Christian admirers. He broadcasts frequently, and there are many pieces I could offer you from You Tube. Perhaps this one?

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them…

Maybe it takes a child to make us all pull together.
One, two, three: ‘All for one, one for all…’
That’s all.

Beware! The Golden Rule May Have Unintended Consequences

The Golden Rule
‘One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself‘. Its corollary, ‘One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated‘ is sometimes called the Silver Rule. Both were part of the religions and philosophies of ancient Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Judaea and Persia. There are three well-known passages in which Jesus preaches the rule:
Matthew 7.12In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Luke 6.31Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

Luke 10.25-28 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The passage continues with Jesus answering the question, “Who is my neighbour?”, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, indicating that “your neighbour” is anyone in need.

So far, so uncontroversial. But I want to inject a cautionary note at this point, along the lines of:

‘All that you’re liable to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so!’

Before you complain that I am being disrespectful to the bible, consider St Paul’s advice to the Ephesians (4.26), ‘let not the sun go down upon your wrath’. I have already suggested on this blog that you might do better to sleep on it and this view has been endorsed by Penelopepiscopal , and Will Cookson, both priests. We of course agree with the general point that one should not let anger harden in one’s heart, but in practical terms a short ‘cooling off’ period overnight may help the healing process.

The Golden Rule, in my view, comes into this category. The first – and main – problem was identified by George Bernard Shaw:

Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.’

In the case of the Good Samaritan, he was presumably pretty sure that his help would be welcome. In Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ (see diagram below), the needs that he was seeking to meet were basic physiological and safety needs.

As you move up the pyramid into psychological and self-fulfilment needs, it is much less certain that outside involvement would be welcome; indeed it may be perceived as unwarranted meddling. As most of us know to our cost, this does not seem to prevent some of our most well-meaning friends from jumping in to give good advice because in our place they would like to receive it.

Foreign aid is an example of good intentions occasionally having unfortunate unintended consequences,  as set out in this paper, which – though simplistic – nevertheless has some good points.  I will take Tanganyika/Tanzania as an example, as I lived there from 1993-97 with my husband who, as British Council director, had oversight of several British government aid programmes. I hasten to add that the micro-projects in health and education in which he was involved were all very well-managed but  in 1951 the then Attlee government introduced the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, a macro-plan to cultivate large tracts of what is now Tanzania with peanuts.  It was soon abandoned because:
“ground nuts require at least 500 mm of rainfall per year; the area chosen was subject to drought”. 
In 1967, Presiden Nyerere introduced ‘Ujamaa’, a macro-policy which was in many ways disastrous.
In 1969, the brilliant economist, Bevan Waide:

‘advised on Tanzania’s second five-year plan, during the turbulent years when Julius Nyerere was consolidating his country’s socialist stance to development, and the World Bank was less concerned than today about nationalisation and substantial state expenditure…

From 1984 to 1988, he was chief of the [World] bank’s resident mission in India.
He left the bank to become a partner in the management and economic consulting firm of Coopers and Lybrand in London, specialising in privatisation and public enterprise restructuring work in developing countries…
From 1993 to 1996, Waide was seconded to the government of Tanzania, this time as lead adviser on privatisation… and played a crucial part in unwinding some of the excesses of the earlier socialist period.’

He, more than anyone, relished the irony of being the foreign expert put in charge of nationalisation when it was the fashion in the 1960s, and then privatisation when it became the vogue policy in the 1990s. 

I do not know what the present mood is amongst Tanzanians, but they are entitled to feel a certain cynical world-weariness and perhaps a wish that, however kindly meant, large-scale macro-economic projects be shelved in order to allow the country to find its own salvation (albeit with help at the local, micro-level).

So, if you wake up tomorrow morning with a burning desire to do good to your neighbour, may I respectfully suggest that you consider ‘this above all, primum non nocere, ‘first do no harm’.

Postscript: Ivor Stolliday just tweeted President Reagan’s famous line: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

1. The illustraton of ‘The Good Samaritan’ by Vincent Van Gogh is via wikipedia.
2. The YouTube version of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ from Porgy and Bess is by the Ranot Vocal Ensemble uploaded by eldadindustrialmovie on Jun 20, 2010 
3. The diagram is of Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’
4. The quotation from George Bernard Shaw is from ‘Man and Superman’ (1903) 
5. The description of Bevan Waide’s role in Tanzania is an extract from the Guardian obituary by Roger Cooke of 22 May 2003 (follow hyperlink). I wrote a book about Dar es Salaam with his wife, Uma.

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