Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acts of Kindness and a competition.

“When you come upon a path that brings benefit and happiness to all, follow this course as the moon journeys through the stars.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama

Benefit and happiness to all! Hindu philosophy, I have been told, hinges on the concept of ‘Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu’ (May the whole world be happy). It even goes on to include living beings, other than humans. While I would like to believe that we are all working towards a goal of happiness for all that you see and hear in the news is rather discouraging.

I think partly because the media loves sensationalizing things…. and by its very definition ‘man bites dog’ is what will get more eyeballs (and activists) than ‘dog bites man’, and partly because we ourselves feel that nothing small counts. If it has to qualify as important it has to be on a big scale. Teaching one child who needs help is not important. For it to matter we feel, we have to open a school and who can do that?!

Recently, writing for a publication I had a free hand to write ‘positive stories’. Used as I was to the daily news feed, I was not sure if I would get any real stories to tell. What began as a rather skeptical exercise gained momentum very fast and soon I was seeing all the good people were doing. These were ordinary everyday people. Often they would be on a modest salary and would be doing something extraordinary that began small but made a huge difference to the world today. A railway employee who has set up an online blood donation portal and phone message and call service, that puts donors and receivers in touch instantly, in any part of India. A young woman with a three year old who is teaching blind people to braille visiting cards and encouraging entrepreneurship. She also has created a large library of online audio books in many Indian languages that can be accessed for free by anyone who wants to. There are many more such unsung heroes and maybe someday they will all find a place in a book.

Of course it is great if we can set up a school,and some of these people now run schools and hospitals on shoe strings, but teaching even one child does count. And most of the people I spoke with said that they started small. You have to start somewhere! They also learnt along the way what they should or should not do. The most important common thread that emerged was that they were practicing acts of kindness. They were not waiting for any agency to come and help or the government to step in. They extended a hand and someone grasped it.

My skepticism melted away at their kindness. I now believe that we must do what we feel like to help others. It may be just a random act of kindness, helping a person across a busy street or baby-sitting a neighbors child so they can have a bit of time off. It may sound insignificant but as Aesop, 550 BC, had said “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”

Post script - Inspired by all the people I write about, I have taken up a project which is keeping me engaged these days. We have made it the finals of an international competition on social good.  I am learning what fun it is when you can do something that combines social good with your everyday existence. You can read about it here. Or my previous post.

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