By Vanessa Chen || Staff Writer
This week’s Common Hour speaker Nipun Mehta brought us his talk, “Being the Change Changes the Being: Acting on Instincts of Altruism and Compassion.” Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace–an organization run by volunteers that provide not only technical services to non-profits but also encourage everyday people to do small acts of kindness. ServiceSpace believes in people’s ability for kindness, generosity, and selfless service. ServiceSpace’s goal is to bring as many people as possible to engage in generosity-driven services that connect them to themselves and the community around them.
Mehta is also the founder of Karma Kitchen–one project among many that ServiceSpace supports. Karma Kitchen is a chain of restaurants across the globe that doesn’t bill its customers for their meals. Instead, they inform the customers that their meals had been paid for by the customers before them, and they are encouraged to pay for the next customer. The restaurants are also staffed wholly by volunteers. The restaurants don’t transact in money, but instead in generosity, trust, and relationships. Transaction in money is vertical and terminal, the customer pays the restaurant, and they are done with each other. But transaction in trust is circular and rippling, not only is trust, generosity, and kindness fostered between Karma kitchen and its customers, but the customers may take the positive feelings they felt at Karma Kitchen, and spread it to other people in their lives by doing small acts of kindness.
Mehta talks about his first inspiration for starting ServiceSpace and Karma Kitchen. He told us a personal story of when he was in college, he encountered a man late at night in a dark alley, who seemed to be holding a weapon under a newspaper. Mehta says he felt scared at first, but his mindset quickly changed when he thought what if this man is my brother, that I will give anything to help him without him ever having to ask, or take it from me. With this change of mindset, Mehta smiled at the man, the man smiled back, and they went their seperate ways.
Mehta firmly believes in the idea that “you are enough” – which means that you don’t need to be a millionaire to give, as long as you are willing to give, any form of service no matter how big or how small is worthwhile to do.
He also believes that serving others creates inner stillness. Inner stillness is created when we are reconnected to ourselves, to the part of ourselves that is compassionate, and to the part of ourselves that find fulfillment in helping others instead of external measures of success. So doing small acts of kindness not only has an external ripple effect, but also an internal ripple effect in that it changes the way we view ourselves and how we see the world.
One of Mehta’s most crucial points of his talk is that we shouldn’t see every interaction with people as what they can do for me, but as what I can do for them. Similarly, this narrative can apply to the institutional level – companies shouldn’t use their workers in a transactional way, extracting every penny of profit out of them. If companies foster relationships with their workers and seek to provide for the workers, the workers will also reciprocate. If we apply the narrative of giving instead of taking to every interaction in the world, the world will be a kinder, happier place.
Junior Vanessa Chen is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.