Thinking of volunteering? Why do not you start with a PON?

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I dream about a day when all citizens will freely stand up and decide to volunteer for the community in which they live, contributing to the establishment of what I called a “volunteering inspired society” where people do not simply complain but take action on their own.

But before striving for a “Volunteering for All” society, I have a better idea; why not start with a “Kindness for All” society?

Here is a little story on how I got to this idea.

Recently I was invited to speak to members of the Girls’ club in Manohara, one of the informal settlements in the outskirts of Kathmandu.

The club was set up with funds from the US Embassy’s Mini Engagement Grant 2014and administered through the International Visitors Alumni Association Nepal, IVAAN that gathers young Nepalese who were selected by the State Department for study tours in the USA, I was invited by my friend and colleague Amrita Gurung, the promoter of the club and an alumnus of IVAAN, to speak about my life mission: promotion of volunteerism.

First of all I was surprised to see how these girls, though not coming from the most affluent communities of the capital, are so smart and active. The settlement where they live lies in a precarious position very close to the airport’s runaway and along a dirty and polluted river.

When I asked them what they like most about their community, they replied that they love the fact that people know each other. Immediately my thought went to the concept of “social” capital that expresses a sense of unity and belonging among members of a community.

It is now common opinion that that less well-off communities are often more resilient and united than those living in areas with a higher per capita income. Probably this assumption holds true for Manohara too.

Through my interaction I wanted to give the clear message that volunteering is a well thought out and conscious act, a real responsibility and a true commitment that sometimes does not come easily. Volunteering indeed requires a deliberate and conscious decision.

After all when you decide to help someone in need or when you get involved in a particular cause, you invest your time and energies in doing something that you hope can bring an impact and makes a tiny positive contribution.

Some persons might have a natural and spontaneous inner inclination to get engaged in altruistic actions, some others, instead, might not have that kind of sensitivity but gradually, through a kind of awakening, come to realize how transformative and enriching volunteering can be. Some others might never feel the need to help others.

Those aware of the importance of helping others and those really committed to a cause also often realize how difficult and frustrating volunteering can turn out with bitter experiences challenging and questioning their motivation.

Knowing firsthand how difficult it is to motivate and retain volunteers I came to realize that a better way to advocate for the promotion of volunteerism is to propose a gradual path towards it. As I said before not all people have the same motivations and spirit of altruism and exactly for this reason, I feel that a first step towards a society that encourages and recognizes volunteerism is one which also promotes first and foremost kindness.

An act of kindness can be really anything. Here are some examples:

  • Helping someone crossing the road;
  • Smiling at your neighbors;
  • Offering some guidance to someone who has lost their way; and
  • Being polite to persons you think do not deserve your attention.

If everybody starts being kind to each other, society will surely benefit, becoming a better place to live, work and prosper. It is hard to forecast if any act of kindness will automatically get an “upgrade” in more elaborate forms of help but surely even if this is not happening, there is nothing to lose from spreading more kindness.

Coming back to my interactions with the Girls’ club I asked them to think about three acts of kindness that come to their minds. Most of them thought of helping elderly people or helping local children but several also mentioned a commitment to far worse issues plaguing the country like gender violence and uncontrolled drinking.

Surely promoting and proposing kindness has its own limitations and serious problems can hardly be solved through this but being empathetic to other’s problems, no matter how big, remains a cardinal value of being kind.

After each girl had the opportunity to present their Kindness List, I asked them to seriously think about what is really achievable and doable. After all an act of kindness should be something coming out spontaneously, something that does not require any special preparation.

My hope is that at least few of the members of the Manohara Girls Club will pick and implement one daily act of kindness and persuade other friends to do the same.

Here some suggestions on being kind to others:

  • Keep it simple;
  • Be realistic;
  • Make kindness a habit; and
  • Show respect.

It might take a while to implement the Kindness List but it is nothing insurmountable. Edward de Bono, the famous guru of creative thinking and the inventor of the concept of lateral thinking, published a book called the H+ Religion based on a new way of life centered around happiness, humor, help, hope and health.  

One of the cornerstones of the new “religion” is the concept of pon or positive action. De Bono defines a pon as a “positive sin:  just as a sin is something you are not supposed to do, so a pon is something you are supposed to do, you are encouraged to feel proud”.

Anyone can be a promoter of positive actions. Each of us can pick and choose one, no need for any prescription or training.

Follow your heart and you will probably know where you need to improve. By filling your daily life with little positive actions, we can positively influence and change the way the world is run. I know how rhetorical and naïve this might seem but let’s start by being kind, there is no harm. Let’s have as de Bono suggests a pon per day.

The girls from Manohara can set the example.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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