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The final donation

The final donation

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When I first read the story that James Harrison, an Australian citizen nicknamed “the man with the golden arm,” has made a final blood plasma donation that up until then had saved over 2.4 million babies according to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, all I could whisper to myself was: what a great man and what an inspiration!

A little background will suffice here; James Harrison, has a rare antibody in his blood that is used to make a lifesaving medication called anti-D, given to mothers whose blood is at risk of developing rhesus D hemolytic disease (HDN), or antibodies that attack their unborn babies. “It’s a sad day for me. The end of a long run, I’d keep on going if they’d let me,” Harrison was quoted as saying. But unfortunately, he has surpassed the donour age limit. At 81, doctors’ advised that he has done his very best for mankind by donating his blood consistently for 51 years and needed to rest and enjoy the rest of his life.

There’s something about giving that defines our humanity and Harrison embodied that having donated blood plasma over 1,100 times through the Australian Red Cross which said more than 3 million doses of Anti-D containing James’ blood have been issued to Australian mothers with a negative blood type. Harrison was the first donour in a national Anti-D program that started in 1967. Prior to the creation of the program, HDN killed thousands of babies every year. He made the decision to donate after he underwent major chest surgery and depended on blood donations to save his life.

According to the Red Cross, all of Australia’s anti-D plasma comes from a small pool of 200 donours, but 17 percent of Australian women who become pregnant need the injections to keep their babies healthy.

As I reflect on the story – which I do often – I always come out with the conclusion that acts of kindness defines our humanity if only we can tap into the resources planted in our hearts by God. I recall the story of the late Joseph Blankson, the man who saved 13 people from drowning in Rivers State but eventually lost his life during the 14th attempt! It took a major outpouring of emotions and commendation on social media before the state government stepped in to offer his wife an automatic employment and his children scholarships.

In our highly materialistic society, it often appears that our capability to receive in whatever form or manner is measured by our capability to give based on our resources. If we don’t have anything to give, we have nothing to receive, plain and simple. We live, generally, in a “give and take” society, so when we stop giving we may also stop receiving. Our social lives, consciously or unconsciously, revolve around this principle: the less we have the less we receive; the fewer our resources the fewer our friends are.

This, to me, is the most common misconception of giving: a preconceived notion that it should be reciprocated in return. There is always that implicit condition that if an individual gives to someone, the latter is bound to return the same favour or kindness in any form or manner.   Consequently, giving becomes a meaningless act because of such distorted belief of paying back the supposedly generous deed by the giver. The receiver becomes, in turn, the giver to the selfish motive of the primary efficient cause of giving.

Individuals like Harrison and the late Blankson – I strongly believe – do not have such mindset. Harrison did not think twice when he was told his blood has the “magic” that can save unborn babies; he continued donating his blood regularly for 51 years until he was advised to stop for medical reasons. Blankson, on the other hand, saved a record 13 people before he eventually lost his life trying to save more. It is unfortunate that we in Nigeria search for “heroes” in the wrong places while some of our most heroic feats often go unnoticed.

In our day-to-day existence, we normally receive from our loved ones and friends that we trust and love, from a stranger that we don’t know, or from the people that we neither care nor love.  We may also receive from others as a reciprocal token of our benevolent act. And the cycle goes on.

Sometimes, we give because we are compelled to do so. We accept because we want to play by the rules even if we don’t appreciate the gesture or the act of kindness being bestowed upon us. At times, we sacrifice our own principle just to appease the majority. But what is the “majority” if every individual act according to what is morally acceptable in relation to the common good of the society.

I sometimes wonder: is it a privilege to give or to receive, or is it a duty of every individual to give or benefit from the act of benevolence?  For instance, when people choose or elect a political leader in organized societies, the latter is privileged to receive such honour with duty and responsibility to serve the same people rather than his or her personal gains or interests.  Political leaders owe no allegiance to anyone but to the people who put their dream, hope and trust on them to oversee and manage the equal distribution of national wealth and the general well-being of the society.

A business or corporate entity gives something to the society not because it is philanthropic, but it is bound by duty to return the “surplus” of its profits for socio-economic development on the same society where it establishes business with. A government, on the other hand, is expected to give to the society; not because it has a “surplus”, but it is bound by the very nature of its entity to govern, manage and distribute what is due to its constituents.

In this regard, there are two kinds of giving: conditional and unconditional. In “conditional giving,” the giver sets a condition for the recipient in order to continue giving; otherwise, if the condition is breached or violated the giver will stop giving. Here, the act of giving is provisional, a “give and take” agreement, which demands the active participation of both the giver and the recipient. Violation of such agreement will result to the cessation of the act of benevolence. It is tantamount to say: ‘I’ll give you something, but you have to give me also something in return so that I can continue giving.’

In “unconditional giving,” on the other hand, the munificent gesture is purely an act of freedom and charity by which the recipient is not required to return the favour (material or non-material). In other words, there is no moral and material obligation for the recipient to reciprocate what has been given because the act and the object of giving are bestowed with no given set of conditions whatsoever.

The recipient has a freedom to do what has been bestowed because it is the desire of the giver to seek what is good for the receiver in the context of freedom and charity. The recipient may or may not appreciate or reciprocate the object that is being bestowed, yet it is the munificent act in unconditional giving that is consequential rather than the object itself.

In essence, there is something in the act of benevolence which is more sublime than the material aspect of giving or receiving. In the case of Harrison, some Australian mothers may not have even heard of him, yet component of his blood saved their babies.

I have come to the conclusion that to lose something, which is part of the person, by giving is to find new meaning in another person who now possesses the object of the benevolent act. The giver may “lose” the presence of such valued possession but soon, he or she may find the relevance of the object in another person who needs it more than the giver does.

We should keep this in mind: everyone, rich or poor, can be a receiver or a giver of the act of munificence, but in every act there is always an equal responsibility for both the giver and the receiver to use such benevolence for the highest good of others and the society.

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