In June 2020, AUDREY LIN from ServiceSpace spoke with PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN about the qualities needed to live a life of kindness, and the relationship between kindness and resilience. In part 2, Audrey continues by focusing on the Compassion Quotient, the concept of leading with inner transformation, and how easy it is to integrate simple acts of kindness into everyday life.
AL: You can’t draw an easy and clear line of cause and effect with compassion. It’s such a distributed, ethereal thing. It’s a quality that’s there. And we don’t really have metrics to measure it, so you might not notice because it’s not something we quantify. We don’t have a system in place to account for it, so I like the idea of the Compassion Quotient.
We focus so much on IQ, but what about the next generation? Will they be good neighbors? Will they be good citizens? How will they have meaningful lives and meaningful relationships? What’s the value of these things?
Will they get you a job? Maybe, maybe not. But, when you’re on your deathbed, will they lead you to smile, feeling like you lived in a meaningful way and you did what you could while you were here? It’s hard to say what matters more.
The Compassion Quotient is our capacity to offer ourselves, to respond with kindness again and again.
Q: Thank you Audrey. That reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote, “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Qualities like kindness, friendship, compassion and courage are the qualities that define who we are, as humans, and propel us toward what we ought to be in this world.
AL: Adding on to that, I’ve heard you use the phrase “lead with inner transformation.” What does it mean? And can you share a story from your own life?
It’s an interesting idea, because oftentimes we lead with impact or profit, or we’re motivated by changing some sort of structure in the world. And so inner transformation is like compassion, right? You can’t really measure it. You can’t copy and paste it, you can’t replicate it. It’s something that happens when the time is right and you’re in a space where the conditions have ripened for you to transform in a beautiful way and as a person.
How do you lead with that and why do you lead with that? That seems like such a personal thing. We all have those moments in our lives where we might feel like something shifted in a very deep way and we almost never tie it to anything we do for a living, or anything we do to move and shake the world. Often times we just think of it as this very personal thing that was really meaningful in our lives. But why is that not the center of what we do, and how we engage, and how we operate in the world? Why is that just a thing on the side?
So, in some of the projects we are exploring, that has become the central question. Like how do we lead within our transformation? How do we design in a way that engages these values of compassion, of generosity, of kindness, and what does that look like?
I think it requires a certain degree of operating from a space of emergence. And actually, it’s very relevant now during the coronavirus pandemic, because we don’t really know. There is so much uncertainty in the world. How do we design for an uncertain future?
In a way, our future has always been uncertain, right? We might have a five-year plan but it gets revised every month. Or we might develop a business plan with target goals, and of course the targets always move; they are uncertain. So, why don’t we just say we don’t know what will happen, and it is an uncertain future. And we are banking on that uncertainty actually.
And how do we lead from a space where we are anchored in values, and that’s all that really matters? Are you leading from a space where all the projects you do are an excuse for these values to take form in some way? So, there have been a lot of ways this has surfaced.
One of our platforms is called KindSpring. It’s a website where people can read and share stories of kindness that they have done or they have received. And everyone who writes there uses an anonymous alias. There is no “Look at what I did!” The cool thing is the way this website came about. One of the volunteers was having a conversation with his cousin about the phenomenon called hazing, which happens in fraternities or sororities at university. To get into one of those social clubs you go through this period of hazing, which is organized bullying. It’s like a rite of passage. You go through ridiculous situations where you need to endure silly things and make a fool of yourself. And at the end of that “rush week,” then you’re either accepted into the club or not.
So, this volunteer was talking with his cousin, who was studying in college, and it was hazing season. People were trying to get into these fraternities and sororities, so they were talking about bullying and pranks, and how usually when you’re doing a prank on someone you’re trying to make their day less convenient.
What would it look like if, instead, you did a prank that made someone’s day better? They thought of a little smile card that said, “Smile, you’ve been tagged. An experiment in anonymous and kindness is the name of the game. And now you’re hit.” So, the idea is to do a random act of kindness, anonymously, and leave the card behind to invite the recipient to pass it on. You could go through a toll booth, pay for the person behind you, and leave a card there to give to that person, just to make their day a little easier. Or you might pick flowers and leave them at your neighbor’s door with a smile card. When they open the door, they see a bouquet of flowers just for them. No reason attached to it. It’s just a nice act by someone anonymously.
Inner transformation is like compassion, right?
It’s not something you can really measure.
It’s something that happens when the time is right
and you’re in a space where the conditions have ripened for you
to transform in a beautiful way and as a person.
So, they thought of this idea as a way to counteract hazing, to counteract bullying. It wasn’t planned, it was just about, “How do we decrease instances of bullying?” because bullying is a big issue in schools. There is that element of, “What can we do to prevent bullying, and what can we do to decrease the incidents of bullying?” What are the statistics on it? That’s also important and very valid, but when we are talking about leading with inner transformation, it stems first from the relationship – from a cousin to his younger cousin, having an honest conversation about the dilemma he is experiencing at university of bullying and hazing. So naturally this idea just came up.
They printed up a bunch of smile cards and started doing random acts of kindness and leaving the smile cards behind. And then they thought, “Each card is going somewhere and it’s inviting some sort of experience for someone. And there is a story behind every card that goes out. So, what if we set up a website to capture some of those stories?” They put the name of the website on the card and said, “If you want to share the story of how you received this card, or what you did with it, you can post it here.” They set up this website to capture the harvest, all the stories.
And that became a portal on kindness. Typically, you’d think about the issue and how to plan and execute something to that end. In this case, it started from the relationship. It started from, “How can I help my cousin out? How can I make his day? And what might surface from that?” From there, impact naturally happened. It was focused on the transformation first. I guess that’s an example.
Q: Audrey, the mainstream media tends to broadcast sensational news that capitalizes on fear, anxiety, stress, scarcity and competition, rather than collaboration. In this context, how can we create cultural dialogues around kindness? How can we allow this culture of kindness to percolate into the civilization?
AL: That’s so important. We are the stories we believe in, to some extent. So much of what I see, so much of how I interpret the world, is a reflection, a mirror of what my own inner compass is in the world. So much of what’s inside me is projected outward. There are so many times where I have interpreted a situation based on my state of mind, and later on realized that I totally missed something at that time.
We are the stories we believe in, to some extent.
So much of what I see, so much of how I interpret the world,
is a reflection, a mirror of what my own inner compass is in the world.
So much of what’s inside me is projected outward.
We are so very much impacted by the media, by the stories and narratives we are bombarded with. This is the age of information, and especially right now, during the coronavirus, it is a virtual sphere of stories. It’s so present. How do we create a culture of kindness around that? It’s really a call for all of us to start sharing stories of the goodness we see. And not just sharing them, but seeing them.
We are so primed to operate in the world, looking for our end goal. Whatever we’re looking for we start to see around us. And how do we tap into a space where we start seeing the value everywhere? Where we see the value of even an argument we have, or something that’s a setback but ends up benefiting something else.
It’s a great question: How do we engage a greater culture of kindness in our media? One thing we have been doing in the last couple of months is the website called Karunavirus. “Karuna” means compassion in Sanskrit. In late March, with all the things happening around the world, it just seemed like there was so much fear, there was so much anxiety, there was so much stress because of unknowns, and everyone was sitting with all that. At the same time there was so much compassion flowing out into the world. There were so many stories of young people buying groceries for elder people. There were so many stories of people checking up on neighbors they hadn’t spoken to in years; stories of teachers delivering lunches to their students; stories of police officers forming a heart shape outside a hospital with their police cars to thank the healthcare workers.
It’s been an outpouring of such goodness of the humanity that’s rising up in the world. And so we thought: How can we share that? How can we bring more awareness that people are choosing love over fear? And what happens when we do that? We start to see a new possibility and engage in different ways. How does it affect our day? How does it affect the way that we think? How does it affect the actions that we are doing? It can be really powerful.
I’m not sure if I’m answering your question, but I think it’s been beautiful to see that flow. It is in our nature to want to be kind. It is in our nature to want to be compassionate. It is in our nature to want to support each other. And when that comes into our consciousness in a strong way, we start to see it everywhere. Even with coronavirus.
We started the website out of feeling the need for it, and a group of over twenty volunteers came together in less than two weeks to start working on it. We get the sweetest intentions. For example, someone wrote, “I am in my 60s and I can still learn. Give me your least-fulfilled volunteer opportunity and I’ll do it.” Wow! That is such a blessing to put out in the world.
In today’s age, where so much of the media is focused on sensational news, headlines and topics, how do we give rise to greater sincerity and humanity? I think that’s the beautiful thing in some of the stories we see. All the celebrities, and the congressman who gave out his phone number to everyone – he made his phone number public and said, “If you feel scared, feel free to call me and I’ll listen to you and talk with you.” And there is Miss England, who was working as a doctor before she became Miss England. She said, “I’m going to hang up my crown and re-enlist as a doctor, because that is the need right now.”
I think we have a culture that’s so focused on the extraordinary, the sensational, the things that are at a distance in the limelight. What about the extraordinariness of simple humanity and the simple moments of connection? It is the simple things that connect us all. I feel that it’s so important to create a culture of kindness in the stories that we tell, and I think it starts with being able to see those stories that are right in front of us, and see the beauty in them, see the gold in them.
Q: So poignant. One thing which has stood out in today’s conversation is the power of being the change we wish to see in the world. So, can these small acts make a difference?
AL: I invite whoever is interested to do an act of kindness during the week. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but just not something that is in your usual routine – an extra act of kindness. And tell us how it goes. We will have a follow-up conversation to share some reflections and experiences.
Q: Thank you, Audrey. Let’s see how small acts make a difference in all our lives and in the lives of the people who are the beneficiaries of this kindness.
To watch the full interview visit: https://youtu.be/UTYqYntJwFI
Interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNA
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Audrey calls herself a pilgrim of life. She has had an unconventional journey, starting with her non-violence studies at UC Berkeley, where she embarked on a walking pilgrimage in Silicon Valley. She’s also known for her work on the compassion quotient, and is the co-visionary behind the iconic 6-week laddership circles of ServiceSpace. Recently, with... Read more