Generosity – How kind acts could change the world

 

Last week I went to another brilliant lecture run by Action for Happiness. I listened to the hugely inspirational Nipun Mehta – founder of servicespace.org,  a volunteer run organisation based around generosity projects and a ‘gift economy’ whereby services are given for free with the trust that people will be so overwhelmed by the kindness that they will return everything you need. (Pretty mind-blowing faith in humanity I think you’ll agree!)

Disillusioned with the greed of the 1990’s in Silicon Valley, Nipun and his friends began volunteering and conducted generosity ‘experiments’ by providing their I.T skills free of charge to non-profit organisations. The venture went so well that by the age of 25 he’d given up his promising career to helping others full time. He even took a walking pilgrimage across India to test the boundaries of generosity and love.  (It was only 10 minutes into the talk and I was already in awe)

What started out as a grass-root community project has turned into a global movement with ‘radical generosity’ at its heart. Some of his initiatives include Karma Kitchen a volunteer run restaurant where each dish is given out for free because each person makes a donation for the next diner.

Now I know that there are those of a more capitalist perspective (including my boyf who I had big chats about this last night!) who say that to use the word ‘free’ is wrong because you’re still paying for the meal – all be it for someone else. So what’s the point? The point is the change in mentality – the idea that you’re getting something from someone else and passing it on to someone else. I think it’s a subtle but huge change in mindset and the possibilities if it became a more mainstream idea could create a whole different world.  I mean, what a cool concept!  This ‘generosity entrepreneurship’ turns our dominant economic paradigm on its head by shifting from ‘consumption’ to ‘contribution’ and ‘individuality’ to ‘community’. Ultimately it relies on the trust that people aren’t going to take advantage… pretty huge. There are those who argue that people who only ‘give’ will end up at the bottom of the pyramid but there are certainly people at the top who haven’t had to stand on anyone to get there.  

Servicespace has also created ‘Smile Cards’ which allow people to do anonymous small acts of kindness and then leave the card telling the person that they must pass it on. They’ve shipped out almost 1 million cards which is an incredible amount of good deeds. They have also developed a daily good news email bulletin because if we’re not exposed to good things how can anyone believe in them? I often wonder why only bad things count as ‘news.’

Nipun quote’s the Dalai Lama’s words ‘be selfish, be generous’ to support his idea that by giving away something we are not poorer but become richer in our own inner transformations.  He says that this transformation is a powerful tool for positive social change.

So what can we all do to foster this generosity?

As with every mindful venture I explore, it’s something you need to work on. But the more you develop your kindness the stronger it becomes.  It’s about looking for the collective good first and the personal good second. One of Nipun’s key principals is to think small. Small acts are no less worthy than big ones so just begin by doing what you can. He say to stay rooted in the ordinary and don’t worry about the whether you have a bigger picture.  Appreciate all that you receive and pay it forward, to cultivate networks of generosity and circles of kindness. Start to trust in goodness of people – I think that we are so accustomed to be wary of everyone in modern society that we selfishness is our natural mind-set.  Although sadly there are people who will take advantage of your generosity it’s important to rebound those negatives with stronger positives and believe in yourself.

When we arrived in the lecture we all got given a ‘gift’ – at the end we were allowed to open them and inside was a chocolate, a smile card and a pound coin. We were asked to use the coin in a small act of kindness.

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After the lecture I was discussing with my friend, who had also been to the lecture, what to do with our pound coin. We agonised over how little a pound gets you but eventually Charlotte decided she would buy a cup of tea for a man she sees sitting outside the same café every day on her way to work and I said that I would use it to contribute to buying a Big Issue magazine from the same homeless guy I see every day. However, on my way home I saw a homeless man sitting outside the nearest tube station and without really thinking about it I placed my coin into his cup. Why you may ask, did I give up my coin so easily? Because it occurred to me that normally I bypass anyone begging for money because it’s been programmed into me that by giving money it encourages dependence on hand outs. I remember once I gave a man who had come onto my train some money and was loudly tutted up by several other passengers.  The reason I put my money into that man’s cup then was simply because if I was so down on my luck that I had to sit outside with a cup for money someone would be kind enough to help me.

By following Nipun’s advice and not fixating about maximum impact I feel this small act made a positive ripple…and if we all made small ripples then it’d create a much bigger wave.

Let me know what you think.. do you think this idea of ‘passing on’ could work?

More soon.

Peace. x

For more info on any of this click on the links!

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How to be kind – An introduction.

I’m a bit behind with my blog entries at the moment eek! Sorry Readers. I went to this great event by Action for Happiness a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been meaning to tell you all about…

It was called ‘Kindness Behaviour Training (KBT) – How to live a more meaningful life’ (an interesting title from the off) and it was a lecture by Dr Paramabandhu Groves who is not only the founder of the technique but an experienced NHS consultant psychiatrist and mindfulness teacher.

KBT uses ancient Buddhist principals (fundamental practices in Buddhism are the development of mindfulness and the cultivation of kindness (also known as metta bhavana)) with practical modern science and evidence based techniques. As far as I was concerned, this mild mannered man at the front of the room was more than your average yogi offering – this is a man of Science.

(I felt it was apt that the stage he was on had the words ‘to thine own self be true’ written in gold calligraphy above it. No better stage for a bit of self- discovery then.)  

According to the literature – ‘Mindfulness and kindness have been practised by millions of people for over two and half millennia to create states of well-being, emotional resilience and inner freedom.’ I frequently lack any sort of emotional resilience so for that alone I was willing to give it a bash.

So what is Kindness Behaviour Training? (Sounds like it belongs in a Nintendo?!)

Although the basis of the technique is far deeper than what I learnt in the seminar – usually the course takes 8 weeks – the most basic principal is that all human beings (in fact all warm blooded animals) have the ability to care – it’s evolutionary. (Some animals eat their young, we are programmed to love, nurture and provide.) With this noted it is safe to say that everyone has the genetic ‘kit for kindness’ – we all have the ability to care for another being. KBT reinforces this ability/behaviour and builds it into all areas of your life.  

But what exactly is ‘kindness’? When I went along to this event I didn’t realise that it was such a loaded word for so many people – and that there are lots of negative connotations as well as positives such as pity, sentimentality and weakness which go along with it.

True kindness, we were taught that true kindness comes in three forms:

  1. Emotional kindness – shown through sympathy, (different from sentimentality which is often the rights noises without true depth of feeling or action) and empathy.  
  2. Wisdom – kindness does not mean blindly being nice to everyone or being a doormat and saying yes to everything. It’s about intelligently understanding what is going on and have the courage to act on that understanding.
  3. Action – this includes concern for our own and others well-being – It’s not about being a martyr. More though, it’s a willingness to act on the concern for ourselves and others – if you can make a positive action you should.

Yes I know it’s all very well and good knowing we should be kinder to our fellow man… but it’s different when you’re pressed up against said fellow man on your daily commute – or listening to your fellow women whinge on and on in a meeting. Putting kindness into action takes work. It ain’t called training for nothing – it takes practice.

Part of this practice comes through meditation – we did a couple of exercises together in the room – imagining breathing out kindness is harder than you think! But choosing a friend and sending kindness to them was a genuinely lovely experience which made me appreciate the people in my life. (The poor guy sitting next to me fell totally asleep though and woke up just as we were told to share our feelings with the person you were sitting next to. We had a giggle as his main experience was ‘that is was very relaxing’)

So, the big question. How do we start putting kindness into action?

  • Practice being content in your life. (This is one I should probably practice the most!)
  • Take a genuine interest – when was the last time you were on the phone ‘listening’ to your friend while actually watching TV or being online? Or your colleague is telling you about their weekend when all you can think about is what you’re going to have for lunch. We’re all guilty of it.
  • Put kindness into what you say – were you actually a bit harsh in that last email?
  • Be less judgemental – We all have stuff going on in our lives. Even that guy at work who tried to make every day more annoying than the last. Or that young chap on the bus who likes to play his music out his phone (ooo, that’s a tough one not to want to punch isn’t it?!) We were told to imagine that most people are doing the best they can. Try to remember this.
  • Do a kind act. Dr. Groves made us all think of something we could do after the talk and the audience fed back. People’s answered ranged from buying flowers for their wife, buying a sandwich for a homeless person – but the biggest round of applause went to the girl who said she’d take out the wet washing for which ever housemate had left it in the machine in her shared house. See, it’s the small things in life!

If we cultivate this kindness then the effects are enviable: self- acceptance, positive empathy for others, having a kinder internal voice (ladies, this is particularly for you as we are often our own worst enemy) and an increased interest for others.

What it comes down to is the idea that if we are ‘kinder’ then we become less rigid in our expectations of others and have a wider perspective of people. We appreciate our universality. In each person there is so much more than what we see. (Yes probably even that guy on the bus) And by taking this outlook – it makes life easier!

Who doesn’t want an easier life?!

After the lecture I text my friend Lydia to say I’d dedicated my meditation to her because she was one of my dearest friends…. and she text back saying I had made her day. It took 5 seconds to send that text and I had made someone else feel good.

What could you do today or this week in an act of kindness?

Try it and let me know how it goes!

More soon! (Last night I went to an awesome drumming circle which I can’t wait to tell you about!)

Peace

Pinkbananashoes.

x

To learn more about Kindness Behaviour Training at Breathing Space (a centre which teaches Mindfulness Based Approaches to help people look after their mental health) – click here

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