Working At The Speed Of Love

Apr 13, 2020

At some point after mid-March, we quickly launched a new website: Our about-us page read: “Our intent is to amplify the voice of our collective compassion, by featuring news of everyday people choosing love over fear. We feel that the acts of courageous kindness we're seeing all over the world will far outlive the virus, and if enough of us keep it front and center of our consciousness, it could well bring new possibilities for our future.”

Initially, we figured to be posting a couple of stories a day. Just a few days later, though, Audrey had galvanized a whole gang of volunteers -- good news scouts, screeners, writers, editors -- cranking out more than 10 stories per day. Each story would go through an approval process, then a writer would couple it with a 4-5 sentence summary, we would add a photo to it, mark it with keywords, and publish it with social-media friendly tools. By the end of the first week, we had already launched a weekly newsletter, but to keep all the volunteers tuned in, we issued a daily digest of yesterday’s inspiring stories. Just casually, we opened it up and hundreds of folks started signing up for that “Gimme, all your got” newsletter.

By the end of the third week, KarunaVirus was home to 300+ inspiring stories, 50 thousand unique visitors, a word-of-mouth spread (and some celebrity mentions too!), and a team of 31 active volunteers. Many volunteers were from around the United States -- Cem in Portland, Anne in Salt Lake City, Elana in New York, Eileen in Mississippi, Andy in Seattle. But many were from around the globe -- Khang would look for good news while being quarantined in Vietnam just like Olivier in France, while Lynn would be editing stories from Australia, just like Marian in Turkey. Meghna would whip up graphics from India while Sudipto created technology from the heart of Silicon Valley. On our first team call, Anne spoke for everyone when she said, “It’s hard to figure out if we’re giving or receiving.”

Almost every day, we would see really touching notes:

Subject: A Million Thanks
Thank you for reminding me that this pandemic has brought out the best in humans. It brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart to read the Karuna newsletter. Whenever I am "down", I watch and listen to the stories you have gathered and it gives me the strength to face another day. Thank you, merci, gracias, grazie, kheili motshakeram. Kathy

What’s particularly noteworthy is the pace of this emergence.

All this in just a couple weeks?!? That’s unheard of, even if you had a ton of staff. “Speed of love,” Audrey reminded us with her emblematic smile.

When we consider that phrase, speed of love, we subconsciously emphasize speed over love. Research shows how post-disaster productivity of volunteers is sky-high, until the mechanistic systems of the Red Cross come in. Yet, that productivity logic barely skims the surface of intrinsic motivation. Twenty years of ServiceSpace teaches us to consider the “love” part of the phrase.

What unfolds with ServiceSpace designs are virtuous loops across a fluid engagement spectrum which self-organize along an inner transformation arc that bends towards compassion. That’s a mouthful, but worthy of unpacking. :)

First, virtuous loops. “People helping people,” as one twitter fan of KarunaVirus put it. If people do acts that are regenerative, they feel like doing more. That’s the foundational pillar. Gillian is a health-care executive by day, and helps tag stories with keywords to make online search easy for users. “Something inspiring to do during my breaks,” she initially joked about what some could view as “grunt work”. But she loved doing it and wanted to keep doing more. After going through hundreds of stories, she raised an alarm: “What happens when I finish the queue?” Leading with an intention of serving others is regenerative. In such an ecology, the reward for service is more service. :)

Second, fluid engagement spectrum. On KarunaVirus, we support a website surfer who wants inspiring content in that moment, a newsletter subscriber who wants continued connection, a member who signs on to build a deeper affinity with our values, a daily user who uses various tools (like building your own favorites list!) to amplify our lens, a volunteer who wants to move from being a consumer to being a creator, and a team of anchors who are consistent contributors. Moreover, we design for our tasks in micro-roles, with sufficient redundancy, so people can slide up and down that spectrum based on their present moment context. That’s not only more inclusive, but helps lay the foundation for the next layer of value creation.

Third, self organizing inner transformation in the direction of compassion. Communities can be formed around infinite organizing principles, and for us, it is around a heart of service. That other-centered-ness not only liberates us from our exhausting me-centered foibles, but it creates a web of deep bonds with remarkable tensile strength. Such a web affords us incredible resiliency, which then allows us to be patient and wait for emergence. By the virtue of how nature has wired us, such kind of emergence necessarily bends towards greater good.

Speed of love, then, is activated with an intention of service, adaptive engagement, and trust in emergence. Being volunteer-run doubles down on the intention of service, smart technical designs help us cast the widest field of engagement, and the resulting community of deep relationships allows nature to do its magic.

The net result is not a product, it is an alive ecosystem.

One recent volunteer application read, "I just recovered from Covid. I am ready to give back." Jasky and Olivier have put together a team of 10 volunteers to launch a French version of the website, as has Meghna in India and Kirk in Japan. Inspired by Air Hugs photo and interfaith photo, Andy is taking photos in his Seattle neighborhood, and it is collectively blossoming into "KarunaPhotos". We've already integrated relevant DailyGood stories, ServiceSpace blogs -- and KarmaTube videos maybe next. Perhaps this might become the publishing engine for ServiceSpace down the road. When Helen spoke of how she was shaken up by photos of a public burial site, it invited creative ideas on how our site can be anchored in compassion over empathy. Sudipto made the best use of his lockdown time to launch the AI-driven “compassion bot”, which will now invisibly scour the web for positive stories -- and much more down the road.

Thomas Berry famously said, "The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” KarunaVirus ecosystem feels like a communion of that vibrant compassion.

Thank you so much for your uplifting and inspiring publications. Since the end of January I have been mainly staying home with my sweet stubborn Paul who has been diagnosed with everything from kidney blockage to a pelvic mass the VA in Asheville NC does not want to risk surgery and we are supposed to go to Wake Forest next week for a second opinion - To see this once strong man lose 40 pounds in 6 weeks, get chills and sweats and not have an appetite has been challenging - I wouldn't change a thing - this has been a gift and publications like yours help when I am looking down the rabbit hole. Thank you for all you are doing. --MB

That KarunaVirus is operating at the speed of love implies that its greatest impact won’t be its repository of stories, or the number of website visitors, or the diversity of its volunteers, or its technology innovations. All that maybe there, but its deepest impact will be its emergence. Just as twenty years of ServiceSpace created this unexpected micro-miracle, this will parlay into the next unimagined emergence that will follow next. Stay tuned. :)

We don’t just embrace uncertainty, we design for it.

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

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