Humility: the Sole Force

A TEDx talk my friend Kate Otto recently gave about her upcoming book “Everyday Ambassadors” reminds me of wisdom Jayeshbhai (founder of Manav Sadhna – an exceptional non-profit in India that serves thousands of slumdwellers through 40 health, hygiene, employment, education, sanitation and empowerment projects) shared with me once, about the importance of cultivating personal relationships in service work…

“First, the relation, then logic, then the result may come.”

We are so conditioned to work the other way around, putting the result first, logic second and relationships last…the idea that a result ‘may’ come also leaves open the possibility that it may not. This is deeply rooted in the service ideal of Karma Yoga – that we have a right to work only, but never to its fruits. By focusing fully on the tasks we are doing, being completely present with what is in our own hands, we can greatly increase the quality of whatever we are doing, all the while cultivating the most important value I feel India has still today, which is humility.

Far from its frequent wrong associations with humiliation, true humility acknowledges that we are only instruments, in the hands of a larger power. The more I surrender to this higher power, which some call God, and can also be simply seen as the interconnected web of interdependent relationships that comprise the underlying reality of this entire universe, the more I can really connect with that amazing feeling of smallness, which washes over us whenever we stand beside the ocean. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the stress that comes with the normal sense that we are the “doer,” of our actions, an attitude of humility inspires a sense of satisfaction and gratitude that we even have the opportunity to be of service in the first place and helps redirect our energy towards creative new possibilities for giving.

Humility, to me, is that incredible feeling of smallness, which washes over us whenever we have the opportunity to stand beside the ocean.

Dean Sally Blount (former Stern Dean who is now Dean of Kellogg Business School at Northwestern) puts it this way, with a leadership recipe of “start with strong, inspired work, build relationships and foster dialogue.”

There has been a great emergence of competition in the social entrepreneurship space. Competition is so often connected with the ego and a mentality of fear and scarcity; collaboration, on the other end of the spectrum, transcends the ego while encouraging a feeling of love and unity, with love having a deep connection with creativity…and creativity being what makes all change possible. Courage is also an essential element of creativity, with bravery being a quality of the he(art).

To be part of any kind of social entrepreneurial effort is to say yes to the most beautiful invitation life has to offer, which is to serve. Visiting and volunteering in India has always taught me just how vast and endless a journey it is to serve. To really serve others, we must learn to transcend all the internal obstacles that arise in us: our negative reactions, our anger, our hatred, our resistances, our fears. Susan Davis once said to me, shortly after returning from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, during a time I was deeply troubled, with a lot of fear, that if I wished to bring peace to the world, I needed to find peace first within myself. To say yes to service, then, to me, is to accept one of the greatest journeys life has to offer, which is the inner journey.

Lao Tzu once said that “a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” The feet have long symbolized the soul’s purpose, and to walk a path of service, to me, is to find the real path to peace, which is to acknowledge and ‘arrive’ at the destination, our home, as not a physical place, but this inner space of harmony, in each step that we take.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “ahimsa [non-violence] is the soul force.” Humility, then, is the sole force.

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