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[Op-Ed] Anonymous Donor

Posted December. 30, 2009 08:33,   


Economics views humans as selfish beings seeking to maximize their interests. Even so, they also share part of their wealth with the less fortunate. On the coexistence of egoism and altruism in human society, Matt Ridley said in his book “The Origins of Virtue” that both ants and bees act cooperatively and reciprocate manners for their mutual survival, and that humans are no exception.

The explanation of Amartya Kumar Sen, a Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, is more straightforward. He said humans are happy when they see others happy and feel pain when seeing others suffer. Sen also said someone’s act of compassion enhances his or her utility. Recent studies on the human brain back such claims. Good deeds or donating to charity are found to activate the part of the brain responsible for compensation, leading to a feeling of happiness. This means that while altruistic acts need high moral judgment, they are also linked to human instinct.

In Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, an anonymous donor has given money to charity for 10 consecutive years in the city’s Wansan district. The gift this year was almost 81 million won (69,200 U.S. dollars), which is equivalent to the combined sum the donor has given over the past nine years. Considering that piggy banks filled with coins were in a box he left, the donor must have given all he had. Nobody knows why the donor wants to remain anonymous, but perhaps he or she has a brain rich in endorphins.

Moses Maimonides, Spanish philosopher considered the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, listed eight steps in donation. The most valuable donation is helping people stand on their own feet and second is that donors and their recipients should not know each other. Maimonides stressed the need to respect the feelings of those who have been helped and urged donors to be humble. The late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan urged people to love each other in his will saying, “Thank you and love each other.” The anonymous benefactor is doing the same thing.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)