Secret Service: A Compassion Gang

Dec 13, 2005

"Nipunbhai, can we meet tomorrow? We've got lots of stories to tell you," the sixteen year old voice on the phone tells me. "Yes, of course. Come by at 8AM tomorrow morning," I reply.

It's a call from the compassion gang, an experiment inspired by Viral and Pavi's marriage. It's a simple scheme to create brandless tornadoes of love -- our "secret service" agents walk around the city and befriend those in need; when they find a genuine case of need, they inform another teammate to anonymously drop off an in-kind gift; and a week or so later, a third teammate would visit the same person and ask him about his experiences with kindness to reiterate the value of goodness. Each story is then written and retold by compassion agents to someone else they don't know.

Sure enough, at 8AM the next morning, four youngsters are seated around a coffee table. After a couple minutes of meditation, we start sharing stories.

RG, the sixteen year old, starts first. "Standing on the streets, I overheard two fifty-something men talking. One of them was a buttermilk seller and he was saying how there is no business in the winter months for buttermilk. Both of them were really poor and one of them says, 'I hope God keeps me warm this winter.' I immediately ran to find two blankets from our stock; when I came back, I handed it to them ... and you should've seen the look on their faces! They said they saw God work through my hands." It's obvious that RG is himself deeply moved.

Incidentally, RG's brother later remarked: "You should see these guys. All they see now-a-days are service opportunities. Everywhere they go, they're sharing stories of kindness and looking for a chance to make someone's day."

The young "secret service" agents had religiously written down each of their compelling stories in a red, spiral notebook. "The stories are getting more and more compelling," VJ says as the coordinator of this four-some group.

Almost with tears in his eyes, HT chimes in with another story: "PT and I were walking down the streets the other day and we saw a really old man sleeping on a torn cloth bag, with a thin shawl covering his body. PT befriended him at first, and when I went up to him to give him an extra blanket, he tells me, 'Son, give this to someone who needs it more. I am cold, but at least, I have this one shawl.' I couldn't believe it. After speaking to him for a while, I was so moved that I asked him if he would give me the chance to give him some food. So I ate dinner with him that night."

When I was young, I would buy the most expensive gifts from stores and give it out to people for no particular occasion. I would buy my brother a gift every time I met him. If I was on a restaurant table, there was no way that any of my friends would even dare to pay. It wasn't that I had a lot of money but I just truly, genuinely loved to knock people out with love.

Over time, though, I stumbled upon a subtler gift, a gift that kept on giving -- an act of service. A simple act of service opens a window of opportunities for love to enter your heart. It sprouts a fountain of joy that knows no end. So now, when I want to give, I create an act of service that creates an act of service that creates another act of service. Everyone gives, everyone wins.

Most "secret service" acts are done in small groups, where each member naturally takes on different roles. "We went to the Civil Hospital rather randomly to look for acts of service," VJ says with a sneaky smile on his face. "Initially we didn't find anyone and it was difficult, but then on the way out, we ran into someone we knew. Then, we learned of a kid from very dire circumstances, who had lost one of his feet and he was in the hospital to get his other leg chopped off. When we went into his room, you should have seen the depression on his gloomy face; he was just staring out at the ceiling. And then we just went in as his long, lost friends and we had a random, third guy deliver a small gift for him. That third guy was so moved, he told us, 'You need anything, any help, in this area, you call me anytime.'"

"How does it to feel to do this?" I ask them, to keep the focus on their internal change.

"On the streets, the other day, all these diggers were working hard all day. At night, we passed by again on our way home and saw that they sleep right on their piles of dirt, without anything to cover themselves. So we got someone else to anonymously drop off some jackets. And now, whenever we go by, morning or nighttime, we see them with those jackets on. It feels so satisfying, there are no words for it," PT says. PT is a very smart twenty-two year old and is blown away by the joy of service.

"We are thinking of going and painting this guy's house in the slums, what do you think?" couple of them ask me as they proceed to explain their detailed plan. "Yeah, go for it. Everyone will ask you who you are with, or who bought you the paint, or which organization is behind it. You gotta be sure you don't start rotating in the stories. Our stories are for kindness and not our ego." They immediately respond, "Yeah, yeah, for sure."

Through their attempts to create smiles, they find many frowns that they don't feel equipped to transform. We talk about an abused child whose hurt hands took an hour to eat a simple meal; we talk about an old lady who tells 'em, 'I'm tired of eating other people's waste food. Today, it's my son's birthday and I am going to feed my son fresh vegetables.' Directly, we talk about human suffering and indirectly, we connect with its source in our own hearts.

After doing anonymous acts, the youngsters start noticing so many different things around them. "You know, this one group always tries to push their own name a lot," HT explains, "and I don't really know what they get out of that." An elder, who had spontaneously joined our story-sharing session, confidently expounds his wisdom: "Some people are in first grade, some in second standard, some in third. But you guys, you guys are going straight to the fifth standard. Your hands are doing meritorious work, without your name, without any credit. You don't know how fortunate you are."

Actually, these guys do know how fortunate they are. And they're not ready to stop anytime soon.

"We've finished all the boxes of our inventory," VJ tells me. "Can we get some more?" "Let's see what the universe has in store for us. Can you guys go on a full day trip, day after tomorrow. We'll explore some options," I propose. "Yeah, let's go," all of them enthusiastically respond.

An anonymous donation funded the initial couple of boxes. Most people thought this is too ludicrous a "business model" to last past the highlight reels. But an inspired lady connected us to a company which has donated a truck, an inspired uncle has given space to store everything in his local godown, and six of us are heading out to get what we need from an organization that sells stuff at a token price. Resources are easy to come by, when the heart is overflowing.

"Before we go, though, I want everyone to come up with two new ideas to make someone's day. Every single person. Tell all the others," I challenge them. "Let's rock the bus, let's rock the city, let's rock ourselves with kindness we've never seen before."

Just as I finish the sentence, RG jumps in: "I have an idea. When we take the bus, day after tomorrow, let's all go with only a t-shirt. We have seen so many shivering people on the streets; let's experience what they feel."

Day after tomorrow, we start at the break of dawn. We don't know what will happen, but we will explore our interconnectedness and "experience what they feel."

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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."