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Weekly Blog

Monday, February 8, 2010

Deeper Reflection

Kranthi Kode, who was one of the facilitators in our Beyond Borders event last week, sent in this amazing reflection:

I felt that the film and the event evoked different responses from the attendees. If there is anything common in all these responses, I think it is the profundity.

One of the attendees I talked to apparently came to the event with a mindset of winning the 'debate' with his instigating remarks about the other country. The movie had mellowed him so much that he never got to talk in the tone he hoped to speak, rather, he reflected upon the problem deeply and in fact, offered a possible way of creating harmony between the two countries by the end of the event.

Another person came to the event with an arsenal of statistics and quotes from various articles and hoped to contribute to the discussion in a big way. After watching the movie, he was still hoping to touch up on all the factors he thought were complicating the issue. But, after listening to others' take on the problem during the discussion, he was convinced that all those factors were trivial and solution lies in somehow losing the identity itself as the movie seems to be implying.

These are an indication to me that an event like this can have a profound effect on all of us and as someone suggested, if we can have such events at as many places as possible we can see some real change. I left the event with a sense of hope for rapprochement between the two countries and better yet, felt that we might be closer than we think.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Beyond Borders, Beyond Identity

On Jan 29, 2010, Pakistanis, Indians, Muslims, Hindus and South-Asian Americans came together to watch Shabnam Virmani's powerful film, "Had-Anhad: Bounded Boundless; Journeys with Ram and Kabir." After watching the film, the audience broke up into smaller groups to reflect on what their own identities. Thereafter, we came together as a larger group, to share reflections. Here is a video capturing some of the reflections.

A big part of our intent was to encourage our community to be the change. In this spirit, here are two people who stepped up. Ali Kapadia writes,
if I can be given some help in getting in touch with some great thinkers/writers/personalities of the south asian community for interviews, and sharing ideas in a documentary, it will be a very good motivation for me to start a documentary in this direction to address the issue from the Pakistani side of the situation (i do film stuff as a hobby).
Amjad Noorani has a radical idea. He wants to take Indians on a trip to Pakistan, showing them beautiful (and safe) parts of the country, doing hiking trips. In fact, he has already done this with one Indian friend and wants to offer this to others who are interested. Both Amjad and Ali are on the Sarvodaya mailing list - all you have to do is indicate your interest, and they will get in touch with you.

We also asked folks to share their personal reflections after the event, and got several responses. Here are some portions of their personal reflections:
Abhinav Agrawal: One of the singers hailing from Karachi (Fariduddin Ayaz) gave a hint in terms of the path to realizing one's true potential, meaning and purpose in life. He suggested that one would only be able to find Kabir when one loses himself in the pursuit, to the extent that he forgets about who he is and in the process stops identifying himself with his ego. I see a parallel between this pursuit of finding Kabir and my everyday life. I remember faint moments when I am pursuing an activity of deep interest to me and I loose awareness of everything around me except that one activity that I am involved in. Looking back, those activities are the ones that have been most satisfying too. If I am to find more meaning and pleasure in my life, I need to make those faint moments last longer by identifying the activity that prompts me into that state of selflessness and then pursuing those activities with dedication. That I think would be the path to finding my Kabir :)
Kapeesh Saraf: From the movie - the story about the moth and the fly at the end. Also loved how the movie used Kabir as a metaphor to talk about identity.
Parul Raj Lodha (also our impromptu cameraman): Follow your passion, everything else falls in place. :-)
Suraj Pradhan: I feel the only way to eliminate the divide between hindus and muslims, or india-pakistan, or any other hostile groups is to increase interaction and exchange of dialogue between the two groups, because really we are all the same at heart.

3 simple steps you can take to help the cause:
1. Make a new friend who identifies with the opposing group.
2. Keep in touch with that person.
3. Tell others to do the same.
Michael Zeligs: I was inspired by our coming together. What was most interesting was a point that was well-described in the film--that often ego attachment to identity gets in the way of cooperative understanding. In our reflections we, like many people today, were very apt to introduce the "other". What was going on between our countries was obviously caused by someone else. And if we could only get that person to change.

What is the much more subtle response is to accept personal responsibility immediately. Not to have to defend, not to have to be right. Only then can we have a constructive conversation, one of encounter rather than conflict.

I think overall we achieved at least a new look on the role of spirituality in conflict. That in order to become one community, we must burn down everything, give up having to "be ourselves".

We have a choice. To, in every aspect of our lives, begin dismantling the cycles of violence and revenge and regret that proliferate everything from bombings to long standing resentments. And the only way to do that is to fully surrender responsibility, even if we didn't start it, even if it would comment somehow on this identity that we are so vehemently attached to. Then we will begin to heal, then we will begin to listen.
Miriam Ellora Marks: My deepest take-away from the film and reflection sessions was the power of art/music to bridge deep religious divides.
Piyush Shanker: Education is not a measure of wisdom. The people who the film is centered on are not essentially educated in the sense of the term that is commonly associated with today. They are wise and have learned from their personal experiences. They are wiser than most educated people on this planet today and show no animosity towards other people or their religion. Experience and self-realization are the true teachers.

The main theme of the movie was to be limitless or boundless. In other words, not to live for recognition by certain groups of people or organization. By striving to learn more from books and religious texts, one is only trying to become a part of the so called academic elite or the religious elite.
Somik Raha: Toward the end of the reflection session, suggestions were made about business being important to normalizing ties between India and Pakistan. To an extent, this might help, but as one can see in the Indian Premier League fiasco, owners of teams chose not to buy players from Pakistan as it wasn't a good business decision for them. That did little for the feelings of Pakistanis, who felt insulted. It didn't help that the government jumped into the fray. There is something deeper beyond business that tells us that what happened was not right, and we don't know what to call that feeling (just like Mukhtiar Ali points out - the heart is our true north). It is a sense of brotherhood, a sense of connection, and I think we should honor it by recognizing it.

I was amazed at how many organizations came forward to help with the event - everyone wants peace and friendship, and yet, the loud voices we hear are those of politicians. In this day and age, the internet allows us to reach out directly and connect with people like ourselves. Perhaps we can put in a little effort to make such connections. What about a mailing list to discuss a South Asian Union (which received the highest votes in attitudes survey sent out prior to the event)? There is a facebook group already devoted to this, for those who are interested.
Kranthi Kode: I felt that the film and the event evoked different responses from the attendees. If there is anything common in all these responses, I think it is the profundity.

One of the attendees I talked to apparently came to the event with a mindset of winning the 'debate' with his instigating remarks about the other country. The movie had mellowed him so much that he never got to talk in the tone he hoped to speak, rather, he reflected upon the problem deeply and in fact, offered a possible way of creating harmony between the two countries by the end of the event.

Another person came to the event with an arsenal of statistics and quotes from various articles and hoped to contribute to the discussion in a big way. After watching the movie, he was still hoping to touch up on all the factors he thought were complicating the issue. But, after listening to others' take on the problem during the discussion, he was convinced that all those factors were trivial and solution lies in somehow losing the identity itself as the movie seems to be implying.

These are an indication to me that an event like this can have a profound effect on all of us and as someone suggested, if we can have such events at as many places as possible we can see some real change. I left the event with a sense of hope for rapprochement between the two countries and better yet, felt that we might be closer than we think.
Finally, those who want to watch the remaining Kabir films (or Had-Anhad if you missed the event), all four films are available in the Green Library (thanks to Linda Hess). For those who want to purchase the films and the lovely music, follow this link.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mass of Truth and Truth of Mass

Prof. Ronald Howard spoke at the Social-M Challenge's inaugural event (Converge 2010) in a panel discussion with Prof. Stan Christensen. Prof. Howard was brought to the panel by Sarvodaya. The discussion captures some deep-rooted wisdom for self-development. If you're seeing this in an email, click here to watch the video.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tales from Karma Kitchen

Last Sunday, a team of 9 Stanford students headed to serve at the magical Karma Kitchen in Berkeley. Pavi Mehta, lead coordinator of Karma Kitchen that week, wrote in the following:
There were nine of you, fired up and ready to go when Viral and I arrived just after nine on Sunday. The largest set-up crew we've ever had, arguably the most sincere and most definitely the only crew that's arrived carrying its own meditation cushions :) We zipped through readying the space and settled into a circle of silence --- still strangers at this point (we hadn't done intros yet), but when we opened our eyes at the end of that period, a quiet bond had already been forged.

Susan set the tone for the day, sharing the story of her eighty-something year old mother in Alaska, who without a moments hesitation had gifted a small fortune so that a man on the street with frostbite could save his leg. Connecting that spirit of unconditional giving with Karma Kitchen she gave gratitude for the space. Over the next six hours we would each attempt to keep that flame of generosity burning bright.

Incidentally we broke an interesting KK record this Sunday --- for the highest number of Stanford grad students serving tables, washing dishes, busing tables and plating food :) You guys rocked! And the stories that came from the day were special.

The Nicest Person I Meet
Gopal who saw a guest "doodling" on a piece of paper at her table, later discovered that doodle to be a flawless piece of art that she gifted to him. He decided to pay-it-forward, to a nine-year-old boy who was scribbling an uncomplimentary note at his table :) "Look what he's writing," says his mother, "are you sure you want to give him this?" Replies Gopal, "I was just given this picture and decided I would give it away to the nicest person I met today. And yes I'd still like to give it to him." The child received the gift, quickly discarded his not-nice-note and substituted it with the more benign drawing of a ship :)

Pudding of Heaven
Earlier in the circle MJ talked of the power of transformation that comes alive at Karma Kitchen --- those moments come in surprisingly humble ways -- like Chinmay's experience with a guest who had repeatedly refused his offer of rice pudding and then shared with him the story of a saint in the marketplace who was handing out flowers to passerbys. As the story goes, people hurried past him, either too suspicious, arrogant or preoccupied to receive his offering. And as the story goes, if any man or woman had stopped that day to receive the unconditional gift in front of them, he or she would have entered the gates of heaven. "Your offers of pudding and my refusals remind me of this story," says the guest laughing. And now the Pudding of Heaven might just be the new name of our dessert and a great lesson in learning how to truly receive :)

The Tipping Point
So many other stories from the day. A table of four who come for the first time and are touched to discover that you can't tip your server at Karma Kitchen. Volunteers who slip into whatever role is needed of them, including making the naan (thank you MJ and Jazz!). Offerings of homemade Sauerkraut, homegrown oranges and a giant persimmon that appear on the Kindness Table, the serendipity of a volunteer who finds herself serving her grown up daughter's grade school music teacher, the unexpected delightof a first-time plater (Kranthi) who served up a steady stream of dishes to reflect smilingly at the resulting feeling of glowing satisfaction, "as if I'd cooked the entire meal myself!" ...

Thank you all for your presence at Karma Kitchen this Sunday. It was a real joy to serve together and we hope to have you with us again on a future week. Sign up for volunteering will be online as usual. Attached is the crew photo. Snippets from the notes people shared will be posted later this week on the story section of the Karma Kitchen website.

Some more volunteer reflections:

Chinmay: The first thing that came to my mind about volunteering in Karma Kitchen was - "free food". I'm certainly not proud of this, but its an honest fact about the expectations of a typical grad student. As it turns out, there's something better than excellent, Indian free food that I brought home with me that day.

After the stressful midterms this day came like a savior. It was an early Sunday morning when we headed down to Berkely (No affinity intended, Beat Cal !!!). The atmosphere at Karma kitchen was exciting. I am grateful for the opportunity to meditate before we started working. I found it calming but instilling this positive energy in you at the same time. Everyone settled immediately into their volunteer roles with an amazing sense of coordination, thanks to our inspiring leaders Viral and Pavi and the KK veterans - MJ, Jazz and "gentle Susan" (I hope I got the spelling right). Viral and Pavi I must say did an excellent job in turning a bunch of amateurs into a seemingly well organized crew.

Then came the customers ! I could recall each one of the faces I saw on that day. I couldn't tell when it stopped being a restaurant and started to feel more like somebody's living room as Viral accurately described (during orientation). I was taken aback by the courtesy that these people were showing me. I was like - isn't that my job ! Serendipity was in the air. You could notice the twinkle in people's eyes when they saw the gifts being given to them. I think the "pay it forward" thing went from being a concept to realization in a matter of hours. (If only this applied to my experiments ! damn). I actually saw people forget that delicious food, which is very difficult to do and share stuff, stories (pudding of heaven), fruits, drawings with people they've just met.

If only karma kitchen served the world!

It was a genuinely happy experience for me. I loved working with all the guys volunteering there. I absolutely adore Viral and Pavi for this unconditional act of generosity that they perform so tirelessly. I think I've received a greater sense of satisfaction as compared to the efforts that I put in. I am definitely game for another day at the Karma Kitchen.
Somik: I am grateful for the opportunity to serve at KK. By meditating in a group for 20 minutes before we started, things had really slowed down for me, and although a lot of activity was going on around, I felt relaxed. Seeing a smile on the lips of patrons was special. There was one elderly gentleman who sat at a table intently poring over his book. As I walked over to give him his check, he looked up and asked if I knew that we are free. I nodded (and wished that I could be more aware of it). He asked me if my grandmother had told me that. I nodded again. And he cracked up with a big smile as he talked about the value of grandparents. And right there, in that moment, he felt like my grandfather. He told me about his life, how he'd drive taxis in Alaska for some part of the year, and study metaphysics in Berkeley for the other part, and how he didn't think it was worth the trouble to rent an apartment like other people. He lived in his van, and took his showers in the public restrooms, happy and free, studying metaphysics. And there he was at Karma Kitchen, starting a metaphysical conversation with great love!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dr. Ariyaratne's talk

On Thursday, Oct 15, 2009, we had a deeply inspiring talk given by a man who has spent six decades in active service and meditation. The talk was featured prominently by the Stanford Daily.

Dr. Ariyaratne started off by sharing the secret of meditation - that of becoming a scientist of the mind. By observing what goes on in the mind, we can go toward developing equanimity. He warned us against reacting - it is always better to respond after contemplation from a space of silence than to react from a space of anxiety and confusion.

He shared the incredible story of Swami Vivekananda and Rockefeller in his own special style and reiterated Swami Vivekananda's message of trusteeship of wealth, not ownership. As he spoke about the foundation of Sarvodaya, Dr. Ari lay emphasis on spirituality and morality. This brought an excellent question from the audience - "What is the difference between spirituality and morality?" Dr. Ari said that spirituality is the space where all distinctions and labels ceased to exist. That is where we just are. Morality is a much lower idea than spirituality, where distinctions do come in. It just has been seen that those who pursue spirituality naturally follow the rules of morality. For example, a spiritual person would find it very hard to tell a lie or deceive others. His idea of morality seemed to be much larger than the dictums of any creed - they were based on universal ideas of "truth-telling" and "right action."

He made a clarion call toward developing "purushatva" or personality (or strength of character). People with a strong character and willpower can do a lot of good for themselves and society, and therefore, Sarvodaya's aim is to help develop such character and willpower.

Next, here are a few reflections that have been shared by some of those who attended the talk.
"I can relate to Dr. Ari's comment that learning doesn't happen in the universities, it happens when you're out in the field trying to put things into practice. Some of my biggest life lessons I learned from a bunch of 7 year olds as I was trying to teach them to play soccer. The 45 minute meditation was tough and totally awesome ..."
"I am very thankful for a once in a lifetime experience of meeting such a spiritual person, a true Karma Yogi, a person who took spiritual and moral principles with a deep conviction and empowered people through service and kindness. My main take away from Dr. Ariyaratne's talk is inspiration - inspiration to pursue noble silence, inspiration to follow the path that I feel is right, inspiration to pursue service with the realization that "self-belief" is very important in such endeavors - this self or I should not be limited to the physical me but should be ever expanded to include more and more people and living beings into the "I".

Dr. Ariyaratne's description of the fundamental ideas on which Sarvodaya are based provides an excellent, proven, and working model for how grassroots-level community development can occur with the right spiritual and moral focus. The existence and functioning of such an organization provides a lot of hope for the future. At the same time, I realized during the talk that I need to become actively part of such a change. I should not limit such ideas to just thoughts but convert it into action. This was another take away that I got from the wonderful talk."
"He started his talk quoting a phrase from the Dhammachakkapawattana sutta which was the Buddha's first sermon-"Chakkung udapadi----"- meaning "Vision arose, knowledge arose, wisdom arose, science arose, and light arose in me". Dr. Ari said (something like) he was inspired by these five (attributes?) of the Buddha.
He said that he would call the meditation we did at the beginning "Noble silence" because during that time we were free from the things we were accustomed to do with our six senses. Instead we were either just looking or trying to look at the constant process of breathing in and out which were are doing since our birth, or thinking of well being of others if we were doing something like loving kindness meditation.
He said that "Love is love" and there are no barriers from religion, race, etc., meaning that it is universal.
On his basic principles, he mentioned that he has adopted the gradual development at six phases-self awakening, family awakening, village awakening, city awakening, country awakening, and the world awakening - throughout his Sarvodaya movement. They all lead to the next, seems very logical."

Thanks to Christine for taking photos (note the art in the background - that was Project Love's contribution). If anyone else has photos, please do share them with us. You can also check some thought-provoking questions on Michael's blog.

Looking at the gifts that were left in the Gift Room at the end of the day, it was awesome that all the meditation handbooks are gone. We should get more at the next event. The Art Room raised some interesting questions, and Michael should be sharing the resulting art soon.

Here is the video of Dr. Ari's talk:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What is your 1000-year plan?

Imagine a speaker who starts off with the question, "What is your 1000-year plan?" This was Prof. Anil Gupta, a man who has stretched the boundaries of intellectual property rights to bring it to rural innovators, who are normally ignored by mainstream society.

Speaking to a diverse group in the Summer Quarter (Aug 2, 2009), Prof. Gupta shared the story of Shankaracharya, a young monk who started four centers of dharma in the four corners of India with a 1000-year plan of providing a beacon of guidance to humanity. These institutions still exist, a thousand years after they were founded, and inspire society with its adherence to truth and service. A more recent manifestation of this service is in the Shankar Netralaya hospital, known for its excellence in eye-care service in South India. Prof. Gupta made the point that in modern society, we are able to take out a whole town or city with a bomb. In ancient society, wherever an enlightened teacher arrived, even if it was in a forest, a new township and direction for life would emerge.

Prof. Gupta encouraged the audience to think for humanity with a horizon that reaches far beyond our lifetimes. Such a mindset would help us give priority to long-term benefits over short-term benefits, and we will find ourselves invariably thinking about what we value at our core.

He then shared his hypothesis - that innovation happens in an environment of scarcity, not abundance. Therefore, there are many innovation stories waiting to be told in the poorest communities of society, and they have much to give us in terms of creativity. To prove this, Prof. Gupta embarked on a journey across South Asia, criss-crossing village communities and becoming an observer of innovation. He became an expert on such innovations and one day, he realized that he'd made money with the knowledge imparted to him by rural innovators, and yet, his income tax return did not show any money that had gone to them. Bothered by this inequity, he decided to create a mechanism to encourage and support rural innovators.

The result is the HoneyBee Network, a massive database of innovation that takes our breath away with its expanse and creativity. The name is significant - a honeybee takes nectar from every flower and supports the flower's interest by pollinating it. It is symbolic of the symbiotic relationship we have with all beings in the universe. The network aims at catalyzing such a relationship between innovators and entrepreneurs. Prof. Gupta is perhaps the first to focus on Microventure formation (different from Microfinance, which focuses on proven businesses). Microventures are about innovations which are not yet in the market.

Here are some inspiring videos that have been produced by the network for Discovery Channel.

It was fascinating to hear that the tree-climbing apparatus in the video above was used by an east-coast professor to facilitate research on birds (yes, such researchers do need to climb trees) and to learn that tree-climbing was an unsolved problem until Appachan came along. Prof. Gupta remarked that we normally exercise on cycling machines but don't produce anything useful. Remya, the innovator behind the cycling washing machine, had managed to connect an opportunity for exercise with the need to wash clothes.

Over the course of the evening, we saw several other innovations, like the bicycle with a spring which speeds up, instead of slowing down, when going over bumps (by converting the bump into useful energy). Then, there was the man who would grind wheat on his two-wheeler. We heard about the farmers of Bangladesh, which faces famine and flood in the same year. They plant banana crops surrounded by other crops. When there is a flood, the banana crop absorbs most of the water. Later, when there is a famine, it releases this water to surrounding crops. What an ingenious discovery!

We saw the picture of a house in Kashmir, where the walls still look fresh with paint, after more than a decade. It turns out that jute powder was mixed with the paint. Jute has the property of being antibacterial, and is much cheaper than other chemicals used in hospitals to kill germs. This could revolutionize the construction of hospitals in any developing country if it were known more widely.

Finally, Prof. Gupta opined that the farmer suicides in India were preventable if the farmers had access to the innovation network. They wouldn't need to go to the market to get fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and turn their farming process into the unsustainable endeavor that it has become today. Honeybee has documented several combinations of plants that support and protect each other naturally. All of Honeybee's database is freely available to all and many of the innovations are patented, so that innovators can share in the prosperity that comes from productizing their creation, which Prof. Gupta felt would happen in the traditional markets which had such mechanisms. It was an interesting observation that innovation happens in the fringes of society, far from the markets, but to bring it to regular people, we have to get back to the mainstream markets.

Prof. Gupta is on our mentor blog, and one of these days, we will hear from him. Here is a little group photograph with some of the attendees at the end of the event (thanks to Sachi for all the photographs).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Different Activity Fair

We took a table at the Stanford Activities Fair in White Plaza last Friday, from 12-4 PM. This time, it was a different activity fair for us. Our focus was to find ways of serving the community, and two voluntary activities that took place in this spirit were the distribution of an orientation document (Mental Muscle) and wisdom scrolls.

Wisdom scrolls have their genesis in Wednesdays, and are a really cool gift to pass out. They are inspirational quotes printed artistically, without any organization name on it. A mail to Viral and Pavi (from CharityFocus) and we received the entire set of quotes without any questions asked. Hafiz (from CharityFocus) shared his experience with the logistics of printing it. Varun and Sundar gifted their time to obtain funding and print out the orientation document and the scrolls. As an aside, it turns out that Sarvodaya is the first group to have requested for funding for an activity in the Activity Fair :).

On Friday, when the scrolls finally arrived at the table, it turned out that we didn't have enough time to roll all of them. Sundar hit upon a brilliant idea - we could give people the opportunity to roll scrolls as a way to pay-it-forward to the next person who visits our table. The first four to do this were MS&E Phd students. When management science meets compassion, impressive results follow. One of the Phd students (Lauren) gave us the gift of her attention to efficiency and pointed out that we should cut all the ribbons in advance so people can quickly tie up the scrolls. It made sense - and we started cutting. She then led the others in rolling enough scrolls to fill up our box!

As people started stopping by, we realized that we didn't want to talk about Sarvodaya, and yet, we had a sign-up sheet on the table. At one point, we thought we had to step it up. So we turned the sign-up sheet upside down, and made a decision not to mention signups at all, unless our visitor asked for it explicitly. The moment we made this decision, there was so much relief to be felt - we could focus on just giving.

Many stories emerged. An elderly lady stopped to give us a gift. We tagged her back with a scroll, and described the idea as "doing small things with great heart." She was so touched by it that she nodded, "that's what really counts," and left in tears.

Just when the sun couldn't shine any brighter, Audrey showed up with a pack of 6 chilled bottles of water so we could quench our thirst. We weren't expecting it - and were thrilled! We consumed two, and decided to gift the rest.

The afternoon was also an afternoon of discovery. We were placed in the community service section, and we proceeded to tag the people at the tables around us with wisdom scrolls, offering to support their activities whenever they needed help. Michael discovered a group called Project Love, which has a mission similar to ours. We tagged them of course, and have asked them to count on us for help.

Here are some thoughts shared by Sarvodaya volunteers at the table.

Sundar Chandrasekaran:
Setting up the Sarvodaya table representing “Gandhi and King’s Community” on campus is one of the beautiful instances that I will always remember, whenever I flip through the pages of my life at Stanford. Handing out wisdom scrolls and the orientation document to the new incoming students was really wonderful. What was more fulfilling to me was to see these simple gifts bring a smile on their face and touch their hearts’. Many appreciated the concept of “Pay it Forward” and jumped at the opportunity to participate by rolling up these wisdom scrolls and putting them in the box, to be received by some stranger they may never meet!

When Somik told me that there was an elderly women who started crying after experiencing the whole package of “Random Acts of Kindness” at our table, I was stunned to see the phenomenal impact of reaching directly to a person’s soul. I got to experience this myself when I was visiting other tables, randomly tagging people with our gifts. I came across some other group’s table where a girl from China was standing all alone. I went near her and said “I have a gift for you! It has no organization's name on it and it is just a random act of kindness!!”. She asked me if she could open it, and after reading the inspiring thought was so overwhelmed that she was choking and could not express her feelings. I’m sure that moment made her day and in-turn it made mine too. This got her interested in knowing about what organization I belonged to and what my group did. I could really see the pull of such simple acts of kindness! That day, I even got an opportunity to have my lunch while serving people in this manner and my food tasted better! The activities fair had a truly profound impact on me…

Kapeesh Saraf:
When I reached the activity fair, I met Sundar who was glowing from performing simple act of kindness - distributing the "Wisdom scrolls" to random strangers. He seemed to be reveling in a sense of fulfilment from the service he was performing. I was a little surprised by this. I was aware how good these simple kindnesses and gifts can make one feel, but maybe because I hadn't done something like that myself in a while, I couldn't quite get it.

After a while, I picked up a couple of water bottles (at Somik's insistence) and decided to look for people who looked thirsty. I found a couple of people sitting at a table in the activities fair with empty bottles in front of them. I walked up, told them what I was doing and gave them the water bottles. They were pleasantly surprised by this, and it was cool to see them smile and appreciate the gesture. In that sense, the power of random acts of kindness did dawn upon me.

On a more philosophical note, living in India for so long has inured me to not being too nice to random people. The concept of just doing small acts of goodness and letting the message spread does seem like a beautiful one. I don't (yet) believe that this is the only or best way to create value or change in the world. On the contrary, these small acts of kindness sometimes make us feel that we are doing more than our fair share of goodness and keep us from engaging more intensely in helping those in need.

That said, it sure as hell is good to just be nice!

Michael Zeligs:
Read Michael's inspiring post here and feel free to respond on our mailing list.