Sharing is caring. The Salvos trademarked it in 1950. It does make perfect sense, right? To care for someone, you’ll need to share whatever is precious to you, be it love, food, sharemarket tips, your best wine collection even!
In kindergarten and primary school playgrounds, young kids learn quickly that they need to share to make friends, gain an advantage (protection), be popular. The demands of evolution taught us to share, not so much to care for others, but to care for ourselves. The early hunter-gatherers realised that with their Stone Age weapons and inferior mode of transport, any success in winning a meal would require a group effort. Share the hunt and share the meal. Caring only came later, after the hunger was satisfied. Sharing often involves a selfish motive. Cavemen shared their caves for safety in numbers. Some shared their beds to have orgies. Spy networks and national security agencies share information to catch would-be terrorists. Sharing is indeed ultimately caring for our own well-being, it took some well-meaning person to make it sound magnanimous.
My father left home when he was nine. Home was in Shaoxing, some four hours away from Shanghai, the place of his apprentice indenture. There, he learned to gobble down food quickly or go hungry. There was never enough to share. He never learned the luxury of enjoying his food slowly and deliberately. The skinny lad went home penniless after two tough years of hard slog, sweat and tears. He never admitted to crying, but I imagine he did. His masters shared a little of their business knowledge and laundry skills with him, was that caring? Not long after he returned home, the reality of desperate poverty forced him to move to Malaya where greener pastures were painted for him. There, opportunities were aplenty, he even taught himself basic accounting and English. During the Japanese Occupation, he was arrested by the sadistic men from the Land of The Rising Sun, on suspicion of spying against them. Unknowingly, all he shared was a chess game by the roadside with a communist sympathiser. That was enough reason to capture and torture both men. My father shared a chess game with a man he hardly knew, but he did not have the predisposition to care whether the man survived in a Japanese war prison. His own survival was being challenged. He reckoned he only survived because a fellow cell-mate, a teacher, gave up the fight to live. The dying man shared his plain rice porridge with my father, but only because he did not care to live anymore. By the time I was born, my father had built a profitable laundry business which catered to the needs of European expats, tourists that flocked to the Pearl of the Orient and RAAF personnel who were based in Butterworth. By then he also owned some rubber plantations in Sungei Petani, and a factory that produced smoked rubber sheets from the latex. These business enterprises were not only his. He organised many relatives and clansmen from the San Kiang community to join him in these ventures. Many made comfortable livelihoods from the laundry operations that serviced the hotel industry in Penang. Many later made a small fortune from the land sold off after the rubber plantations were no longer productive. Why did he share his investment opportunities with them? Was that from caring? My mother surely believed it was from love and caring for her siblings and cousins. Yet, there were audible claims that he did it out of selfish motives. There was the case of an uncle who died almost immediately after his retirement. He never got to really enjoy the fruits of his hard work. Pa provided his brother-in-law with a solid business opportunity, the latter’s prosperity was assured so long as he worked hard at his own business. Did he work himself to death? I adored this uncle. My affinity for breeding fish can be directly linked to him. Could he have provided a similarly positive outcome for his family had my father not shared those opportunities with him? Some of his children grew up to become successful professionals with glittering international careers. One even became a Datuk recently, akin to a British knighthood. I am incredibly proud of this cousin brother, he’s the one and only from my clan to earn this title. Did their lives markedly improve from moving to Penang from their small town? Can we suggest that their move to better schools in a more competitive environment vastly improved their tertiary achievements? Would they have done as well if not better, had they not venture out to Penang? Sharing is caring, but you have to be daring. Best intentions do bring unintended consequences. We do not need to be praised for sharing. After all, the motive can be deemed to be a selfish one. But, do we need to be daring to share? Peoples’ expectations and circumstances cannot be managed, a well-meaning helping hand may turn out to be disappointing or insulting to the receiver.
There was also the case of another uncle who my father concluded was not able to operate a laundry business successfully. So, he was given a monthly stipend to help make ends meet. Well, a sinecure actually, since there was no work to be performed. The couple had thirteen children and needed all the help they could get. As far as my mother was concerned, that was her way of sharing and caring. Many years later, I learned from one of the children they felt their father was unfairly left out of the many opportunities that were available to the clan. They felt unfairly disadvantaged and forgotten. Maybe their father didn’t share the truth that he was helped along the way. Maybe they didn’t care about that. Sharing is caring, the benefactor will think, but will the beneficiary extol the virtue of the giver if the gift is viewed as paltry, or worse, contemptible? That’s too daring to contemplate.
My own history is littered with disappointments also. When I embarked on my quest to create a retail franchise system in Australia, I naively aspired to copy what I believed was my father’s greatest achievements. A business leader who helped pull many out from the villages and out of poverty. After the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit, the retail scene was a devastation after Lehman Brothers’ collapse triggered a panic in financial markets globally. Businesses were not able to borrow from the banks, the illiquidity was due to investors pulling their money out of the banking system which they no longer trusted. One by one, the franchise stores folded due to either high borrowing costs or zero borrowing capacity. Those who saw me as their business leader sharing with them brilliant business insights and a panache for great prosperity soon didn’t care much for my well-being after the collapse of their business. It would be daring for me to show my face to any of them now. Sorry folks, this urghhling only meant to share good things, he really cared. Sharing is caring, only for the daring.