Hi there! Still in India here, traveling, exploring, and growing.
One thing I have been learning is the power of service. Service means something different to everyone, and it looks as different on the outside as it does on the inside. Recently, I had a chance to get closer to my understanding of service.
15 people, including myself, from all walks of life decided to journey together through the Baruch area of Gujurat without any plans of where we would stay or eat. It was a spontaneous voyage, with just a few essentials and some drinking water.
On the second day, we had walked for about 25 kilometers and were making our way toward an ashram. Someone suggested we pair up and I was lucky enough to be paired with an 87 year old man named Gopal Dada (who we call “Dada”).
He carried with him a blue and pink printed bag full of a dozen items or so and a wooden cane. He was a skinny as a skeleton, weighing only about 75 pounds. Turns out Dada has walked across 1000 villages in India and was part of the freedom movement with Gandhi – so I figured I could learn a lot from him.
As we walked along, I began to ask him questions about the secrets to a long life. He began telling me stories and sharing his wisdom, when all of a sudden he bent down in the middle of the vacant road and picked up a rock and chucked it. I didn’t think much of it the first time. Actually, I thought about how old men tend to have strange habits which die hard. And we continued pacing along, when again, he bent down and picked up a rock the size of his hand and threw it to the side.
Finally, I began to notice rocks, and contemplated bending down and doing it for him, since it took him some time to bend all the way down and stand back up. But to be honest, I was tired! And had been carrying my sweaty backpack for hours. Those rocks seem like eons away from me.
After some quiet observation, I decided to ask him – why on Earth are you doing this? Maybe he had some OCD, and wanted the roads to be completely cleared. Or maybe it was that he was very religious, and these acts were some kind of penance. My mind searched for answers.
He brushed his arm back and then uttered in his fine English “motorbikes, slippery road.” He was clearing rocks so that someone else, who he doesn’t know, doesn’t slip and break their neck.
WOW. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like I truly understood the simplicity and humility behind service. Besides a baby doing something incredibly endearing, is there anything more sweet than this old man bending down to pick up these rocks? If you can think of one, please send it directly to me email@example.com.
Later my friend Siddarth, an MBA from one of the best Universities in India, and I began talking about the experience. He explained that if Dada wanted to raise money for a rock-clearing social venture, he would have to do his impact assessment or social return on investment (SROI) – a popular term coined by social entrepreneurs. We would measure how many kilometers he’s walked in his life and then calculate an average of rocks per kilometer. Then we would come up with a basic assumption of how many motorbikes pass by in a given hour/kilometer, and thus how many people lives he’s saved. Our impact assessment would be, something along the lines of Dada has saved about 54 people’s lives in the last 57 years since he’s been walking (these numbers are made up to illustrate the example).
What are we missing?
We are missing the people he has directly inspired! We are missing the hundreds to thousands of people who have walked alongside him. On a deeper level, we are overlooking the power of simple and small acts of service to completely transform individual consciousness.
How do you measure that?
You can’t. Who knows what this experience will spawn me to do or be in the future…
You can’t measure the magnitude of this but you can definitely share stories, which I hope to do here.
Do you have any stories of small and simple acts of kindness, generosity, or service? Share it! Sharing is the best way to keep the act full of its vibrant power to transform others. Email to me firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post it.
Or maybe you have stories of big acts of kindness with very basic and simple intentions behind them. Share those too!
Take this stanza from a poem called “Courage” by Anne Sexton:
“If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.”