Nipun Mehta, a friend and colleague in ServiceSpace community circles, recently returned from a four-month journey through India sharing Giftivism. He wrote an inspiring blog post sharing his travel stories about seven emergent questions that came up during his visit, and I’m sharing those questions and nuggets of wisdom here, together with an awesome, recent interview with Nipun about his trip (and life) at the end. Enjoy!
Where do we find Gandhi today?
“What rises up like a fountain, will return in the form of many distributed drops,” Vinoba used to say. That’s what we’re seeing today. We call it “Gandhi 3.0,” where Gandhi stands for the age-old principle of leading with inner transformation and 3.0 represents the many-to-many networks that are popularized by the modern-day Internet. It’s a bridge from the Internet to the Inner-Net.
Slowly they are building a new world, leading with the heart, but also engaging hands and head. They move to a different beat, with the common understanding that being the change, changes the being. This is the transformative force that can move worlds. The work is slow and meticulous, like the formation of mountains. That’s a good thing, because while we build the road, the road builds us.
How do we build a social network of “noble friendships”?
“Noble friendships isn’t half of the path, it is the entire path,” Buddha said. Living in a fast-paced world where “defriend” is a dictionary word, there’s a growing need for deeper ties. Our Facebook friends are loose ties, our movie buddies are deep ties, but it is our service kin who can be noble friends. Without sensitivity towards our inner resources, technology is blindly pushing us towards external, loose ties but many are now working to shift the center of gravity along that spectrum.
… [This network is] a field of gratitude and connection. It’s a foundation on which we can build. Post Hurricane Katrina, all man-made structures were annihilated but centuries old oak trees survived — because of their intricate network of inter-connected roots, sometimes for a hundred miles. That takes time and it’s slow. But it endures.
What does it mean to “lead with inner transformation”?
The crux of the matter is how sensitized we are to the connection between our internal transformation and external impact. That becomes clear through practices. Those practices often become a way of life.
The intersection of personal and collective practices is also an open exploration. Doing a prayer circle to start off a retreat or doing a group hug to close a circle is a collective practice. In January, for instance, almost two dozen of us went together for a 10-day meditation retreat. For many, even for those who had sat such courses before, the practice was significantly deeper because there was a sense of implicit encouragement from kin.
Similarly, volunteering together seems to have a multiplier effect on one’s inner transformation, too.
Conscious practices, in their thousand different varieties, help deepen one’s awareness and sensitize us to the profound connection between our inner and outer change.
What does transformation-led impact look like?
Such impact is emergent, not predictive. … It depends on the context. … The point, though, is not to grasp the outcome but to trust in the values embedded in the process. That subtle shift changes everything.
Once we get past the mild discomfort in not knowing the outcome, we arrive at the immense comfort in knowing that something is definitely emerging. Hermann Hesse wrote, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”
Wholesome values are generative. And like the seed, so the fruit.
Leading with transformation, particularly in a “Gandhi 3.0” era, requires many shifts from leadership to laddership, from center to edges, from big to decentralized. And from fast to slow, from shallow to deep, from efficiency to resiliency. It’s a significantly different path, but you still arrive at impact.
What does it take for everyone to be a change-maker?
Each of our five fingers are different, but together they create an incredibly useful hand. Many dream of a world where we can engage everyone’s diverse strengths and treat each as a change-maker. Alas, holding such a vision within the construct of hierarchical organizing is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It requires an ecosystem, which takes time.
… [S]ervice doesn’t start when you have something to give, but rather when you have nothing left to take. … While traditional hierarchies are biased to externalize costs, ecosystems require ladders who externalize benefit. Then, we have a field that can host everyone as a change-maker.
What is the shift from sympathy to empathy?
For many people, it’s unsettling to know Karma Kitchen isn’t set up to feed the hungry. We know that, as humanity, we produce enough food to ensure that no one goes hungry – but thousands still go hungry. Governments still dump grain in the ocean to protect the prices of their farmers.
The problem isn’t the food. It’s that we’ve become numb to the pain of others. That ever-widening gap between us and the others is the core of the issue. Sympathy is a noble feeling, but hasn’t been enough to solve the problems of our world. Where sympathy says, “I see your pain,” empathy says, “Your pain is my pain.” It is a much deeper response, and we need spaces to cultivate that empathy.
We cannot afford to create a world where financial incentives are our primary motivation. This goes for rich guys, poor guys and everyone in between. Boxing the rich as funders can handicap their capacity as givers and limit other ripples from blooming.
Empathy is not just about sharing pain. We also get to benefit from the merits of others, just as we share our smiles, joy, and compassion.
What is today’s “Charkha”?
Gandhi had the spinning wheel, the charkha, which symbolized so much of his thinking. In a distributed and decentralized “Gandhi 3.0″ model, is there a spinning wheel? Those are the kind of questions that Jayeshbhai and I ponder, in those rare moments of quiet that life grants us. “I think today’s charkha is maitri. What do you think?” he asked while sitting under a banyan tree once. I agreed. Maitri (or metta in Pali) is an internal vibration of love, that creates a field of deep connections, which then builds a matrix of inter connections where everyone’s offerings can flourish in a many-to-many gift ecology. It is the plumbing for Gandhi 3.0.
As we genuinely do small acts of selflessness, it begets “maitri.” People express gratitude and offer their blessings. Hundreds of times, people must have come to me in the last four months and thanked me for how “something ServiceSpace” served them in a meaningful way. When an offering is made without any strings attached, it begets blessings, which then allows you to pay it forward with even greater vigor. It creates a virtuous cycle.
All those little, and not so little, thank-you’s and many other silent ones which are only felt by the heart, is ultimately what sustains the movement.
That “maitri” creates the foundation for noble friendships. Falling into that field of security, detachment comes naturally. We then trust emergence. It’s that simple. Dr. V called it “village intelligence.”
Noble friendships connected in good deeds: that was the essence of the whole trip.
Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace (formerly CharityFocus). In 2001, at the age of 25, Nipun quit his job to become a “full time volunteer.” Since then, his work has reached millions, he has received many prestigious awards, and has tirelessly addressed hundreds of gatherings in person. In 2005, Nipun and Guri, his wife of six months, embarked on a walking pilgrimage in India to “use our hands to do acts of kindness, use our heads to profile inspiring people, and use our hearts to cultivate truth.” The 1000 kilometer walk radically deepened their commitment to service, and also was the subject of Nipun’s address at UPenn’s commencement in 2012. Nipun’s mission statement in life reads: “Bring smiles in the world and stillness in my heart.”
Listen to Conversation: On this wonderful Awakin Call, Nipun shares stories from his four month journey to India and his life. He also reflects upon the emergent theme of “Gandhi 3.0.”