Crossing Boundaries From Kentucky To Guernsey

Oct 17, 2015

Last month, Alfred quit Google: "I need to shift from 'Don't do evil' to 'Do good'." But how exactly can we create good in the world?

It's hard question to hold because all levers of social change have their side-effects, and you end up creating many new problems in trying to solve old ones. Alfred knows this all too well, as a high-level exec at Google and former CEO of Lycos search engine. Six months back, as he considered his exit, he shared some exciting ideas. But I encouraged him to go even further: "End game with traditional projects is financial sustainability and growth. You know where the growth rat-race and the monetary system leads us." He did know, but "What other option do we have?"

I pressed further and suggested, "We need your gifts in the voluntary sector. Your labor, or its impact, doesn't need price tags. Let it be sustained by nature's capacity for inner transformation, and our innate propensity towards inter-connection. With today's consumerism rhetoric, we've lost faith in that power -- and yet this is how Gandhi's of the world changed the world." For someone who has led budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, this can be a very hard to pill to swallow. Yet Alfred took it, and is running with it.

He launched a conference in Stockholm, something he had been intending to do, to start this kind of conversation in various communities he's part of.

"Would you come speak?" he asked. Without a second thought, I agreed. Opening talk was on Gross National Happiness, the one after was around the fallacy of GDP, then a MD humorously spoke about the art of kindness, and then I rounded out the conversation with practical examples. He clearly put his values up front, and it lit up the crowd.

In the last two weeks, I have journeyed from Kentucky to Virginia to Washington, DC to Sweden to Ireland to London to Guernsey Island. Interactions happened in big circles and small, ideas were shared in public forums and 1-on-1 conversations. And this is not an unusual trip. On a previous trip, I remember going from a Church service in Ventura to TEDsters in North Dakota to panel with fundraisers at Santa Clara Convention Center to meditators at a local monastery -- all in the span of a few days.

The hunger for our message seems to cut across all kinds of boundaries. In Virginia, a religious community for whom English wasn't a first language, eagerly mobilized a local "humanity" campaign. In Kentucky, famous for its Tea Party resonance, we were asked to keynote in a prime slot at the Ideas Festival. In Sweden, a Karma Kitchen has already been piloted -- in a village that is struggling to define it's relationship to incoming refugees. In Ireland, the chancellor of National University of Ireland, is going to start doing a minute of silence before all his meetings, en route to a vision of "Mindful University". A French magazine wants to model themselves after works & conversations. On Guernsey Island, a tax-haven and subsequently world's richest country, organizers said they were "gobsmacked" to see the community resonance. Smile Cards are all the rage there. After a remarkable one-day retreat in London, a 22-year-old goes home and asks his Dad (also at the retreat), "Does it make sense to short-change our staff, just so we can put more money in our pockets?" They are now doing a 21-day Kindness Challenge together.

Yet, it's not just the intellectual message that is doing the magic. We live it, through every part of the process. For one, we never seek any speaking engagements. If organizers invite us and can cover the travel costs, one of us will show up and serve. True to our principles, we go where the wind blows -- or more accurately, we trust nature to guide our sails. If that means holding a small circle, great. If that means, getting a call from Obama to offer suggestions for addressing poverty and inequality, that's great. If that means, oscillating between all kinds of variants, great. It's all great. We just play the part, in a many to many context, while being the change we wish to see. That is the invisible silence in between the notes that is creating our symphony.

The change that we are collectively being is very much needed in our world. In interacting with tens of thousands of people every year, in person, I see that the power of love has been trivialized. Some think it's an emotion; other point to dopamine and oxytocin release as a way to define it. That's not love. Everyone intuitively knows it, but they are waiting for an invitation to reclaim that profound sense of compassion, that shift from leadership to laddership, that design for inner transformation. Our work provides that invitation -- and people are happily accepting that invitation.

On a bus ride with South African economist, Lorenzo Fiormanti, we unexpectedly got into a deep dive. For a long time, he's been an anti-GDP activist through his many books and compelling research. "I point at what's broken, and now everyone is listening, but how exactly do we create non-market solutions? It's a really hard problem to solve, and ServiceSpace is the first in-depth example I've seen that is tackling this. It's the black swan." I agree. :)

Thank you for your labor of love. It's lighting up the world, in more ways than you might imagine.  

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."