This week, our 9-week Summer Youth Internship
kicked off with two remarkable high school interns, Saheli and Jacob! Together with a “mentors” crew of Pranidhi
, Audrey, and myself, we are gearing up for an exciting summer, and have hit-the-ground running with some remarkable insights on our Week 1 theme: “Generosity”. :)
Over the last week, all of us completed a week-long homework assignment and many nuggets of insight graced our computer screens as we shared our pre-reflections with each other online.
When prompted, “Why do you give?” Jacob responded, “I give because I believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at happiness. No one should feel lonely or forgotten, and I try to make sure everyone feels accepted, loved, and included whenever I can do so. Sometimes, this can be difficult due to various reasons, such as external influences like money, time, etc., …However, I make do with what I have, and I try to still evoke as much of an impact as possible using the resources that I have!”
And to the question of “What does generosity mean to you?” Saheli wrote, “I really believe that the small things do count. As a young girl, my mom's friend used to go around our neighborhood and offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless. These acts of generosity do not seem like anything to us, but to the other end, ones receiving it, it feels like the whole world.”
Then, last night, we circled up for our first video conference call and collectively dove into our experiences, thoughts, and questions around our “generosity” theme. Here are some insights that emerged…
Reflections From Taking Action (And Non-Action :))
In our initial circle of check-ins, both Saheli and Jacob noted how the daily action of sitting in stillness for 5 minutes each morning and evening really helped bring a greater lens of intentionality throughout the days. “At first it was hard, because the computer was right there and phone were right here,” Saheli observed, but after awhile, it got easier and really made a difference.
Another one of our “action assignments” this week was to do a random act of kindness each day. Pranidhi created a thoughtful book of compiled well wishes for her colleague (who’s birthday was yesterday). While the process of crafting the book took several days, she noted how much she enjoyed the process. And she noticed, “When I give gifts, I enjoy every moment of procuring and/or creating them. It doesn't feel like work.” This made her wonder what's different about that than other forms of 'work' and how to “cultivate that sense of joy in all work, so that work itself becomes a gift.”
What’s In It For We?
In our reading, 5 Reasons to Serve
, Saheli was inspired by the notion of making a transition from ‘me’ to ‘we’. She observed how as a camp counselor this summer, she is developing skills for her resume that will help her get into college, but ultimately, it’s “what’s inside us that counts” and when we focus on giving, we shift our mindset from me to we.
With those words, an internship slogan was born: “What’s in it for we?” :)
Along those lines, we also discussed research experiments on Altruism in Children
, where young toddlers consistently go out of their way to help someone who dropped a pen, is having difficulty opening a door, etc.
“Everybody Can Be Great Because Everyone Can Serve”
Generosity shows up in all shapes and sizes, and another theme that cropped up in the conversation was the power of small, extra-“ordinary” acts. While in summer camp counselor training that afternoon, Jacob held the door open for one of the campers and explained, “It wasn’t a big deal, but it just felt great!” This reminded him of an Oscar Wilde quote, “The smallest act of kindness can line up with our initial intentions.”
Similarly, stories of giving to the homeless emerged, and Pranidhi recalled a vivid memory of receiving from a homeless man. One day, several years ago, she was driving and had pulled up to a parking spot only to realize she didn’t have enough change to pay her meter. Spontaneously, a homeless man nearby noticed this and paid for her meter! She was so moved by the gesture and it has stuck with her ever since. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said
, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve… You only need a heart full of grace.”
What Happens When Our Giving Is Rejected?
Another theme that emerged was instances when our generosity is not received. Saheli noted how people respond to this situation in different ways, and Jacob recalled how sometimes in his family, he may be trying to help, but he ends up hurting someone instead. I recalled
a time on a hot day when I was taking a break from work and saw several policemen outside. I decided to buy bottles of Gatorade for them, but when I offered them the bottles, for one reason or another they refused. As I noticed myself feel disappointed, I realized that I was focusing on the outcome, and that, in the practice of generosity, so much of the ripples are spread invisibly (we never fully know the impact of our actions) as well as within ourselves.
Jacob remarked how we often focus on the outcome, and when it fails to have a positive impact, it’s so easy to want to retreat into our shells. So, he pointed out, it’s nice to remember the importance to keep striving to give, no matter what the external result seems to be.
This also got us thinking about how sometimes it can be skillful to create a context for people (and particularly strangers) to be receptive to our generosity. Audrey noted how when she does random acts of kindness for strangers and finds a lot of people saying “no” to her offering, she realizes that perhaps she needs to explain more about her intentions behind the giving. For example, instead of just blurting, “I’m making a kindness video, can you share something about kindness?” she can introduce herself first and saying, “Hi, my name is Audrey. A group of friends and I are making a video that captures stories of kindness to surprise our friend for his birthday. Would you be willing to share an experience of kindness for it?” In another example, following my Gatorade experience, when I saw the cops outside again that winter, I had a thought to buy them warm coffee. Remembering my experiences from before, I thought they’d be more receptive to gift cards to a local café, so I got that for them instead, and they readily accepted. :)
5 Golden Nuggets
As we dove deeper into the nuances of giving, Audrey remembered a statistic
of how you need 5 positive stories to balance out the effect of 1 negative story on your psyche. Coincidentally, Jacob had just learned this ideal praise-to-criticism ratio
in his camp counselor training! In a talk, they used the prop of 5 golden nuggets, which represented positive reinforcement that counselors give to campers. Then, to visualize the weight of a counselor’s negative comment or reprimand, they gave a heavy backpack. The 5 golden nuggets are light and easy to give and carry, whereas the bulky backpack weighs you down.
The Joy of Giving
In addition to acts of kindness to strangers, we also discussed simple, everyday acts of kindness with friends and family. Jacob noted how “I’m not super extroverted, but I just try to do what I can, like help my brother make his bed. Or this weekend, I’m making dinner for my family.” And Saheli remarked how she enjoys cooking and sometimes will cook for her mom.
This prompted us to compare volunteering to build one’s resume vs. volunteering for the simple joy of it. Jacob noted how service doesn’t have to be a big and how a lot of kids at his school volunteer just to fulfill their volunteer hours-- but they view it as an extra chore, and often their acts of service end up being projects or events that they don’t enjoy. Whereas when we genuinely serve with no strings attached, it evokes a deeper kind of joy and sense of gratitude-- one that is regenerative, and that deepens our own wellbeing.
As we closed out the call, the general sentiment was both gratitude for the stories and presence shared in our 90-minutes together as well as being pumped up for our Week 2 theme of "Moral Action" and getting started on individual projects in the coming weeks! With so many gems shared in our first week already, we are delighted to both engage and be witness to such an unfolding of inner and outer journeys this summer! :)
More About Our Inspired Interns
For Saheli Shah, "service means helping someone in need without expecting anything in return." And it can be applied in all corners of life-- whether with "people feeling lonely in the age of internet; serving a meal to someone hungry; cleaning a room or anything that helps make the world a better place." Saheli believes in being and doing from the good in one's heart. At the age of 10, she met and was inspired by a rap star's journey with 16 slum kids. She's served with local temples and community centers, as well as with low-income communities. Saheli is a talented artist, dancer (her Indian dance team recently won 2nd place!) and nurture of animals at the Humane Society, where's she's excited to work as a camp counselor one week this summer.
Jacob Cramer is no stranger to the power of generosity and gratitude. While volunteering at nursing homes, he witnessed the isolation of the elderly and knew he had to act. Armed with the intention to spread smiles and joy, he began writing and sending them letters. Soon, others were inspired to join, and in 2013, he launched Love for the Elderly, a nonprofit that facilitates letter-writing, intergenerational pen-pal programs, and educational awareness (including giving two powerful TEDxTalks)! His efforts have attracted letters from 51 countries across 6 continents. Wrapping up his sophomore year in high school, he spent his spring break hand-delivering letters at a nursing facility in California. This summer, in addition to interning with ServiceSpace, he's looking forward to working as a camp counselor.