Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category
Posted in Insight, Inspiration, Lok Darshan, Manav Sadhna, Technology, tagged Adam Yamaguchi, Aravind Eye Hospitals, arvind singhal, Avaaj Otalo, Bindeshwar Pathak, Current TV, Digital Green, Dr. Arvind Singhal, Environmental Sanitation Institute, Gram Vikas, IDE International, InSPIRE, Jack Sim, Jasoos Vijay, Joe Madiath, Lok Darshan, Madhusudan Agrawal, MaM Movies, Manav Sadhna, Meghna Banker, Planet Read, Sulabh International, Sweccha, Vanguard, Video Volunteers, Vimlendu Jha, World Toilet Organization, World's Toilet Crisis, Yamuna River on June 17, 2010| 2 Comments »
Its the title of a recent Current TV Vanguard episode that literally gets to the bottom of the 2.6 billion people worldwide who lack access to a toilet. The topic is covered in an authentic, bold, and balanced way that is informative, shocking, disgusting, even entertaining at times– a must watch for anyone curious about the daily reality of 40% of humanity.
Featured early on is long-time InSPIRE friend Vimlendu Jha, of Sweccha, who takes Adam Yamaguchi on a tour of the Yamuna river. Once sacred, its of course now a blackened, bubbling stew of sewage and industrial waste whose stench makes Adam lose his breakfast on its banks. Mixed in with the drama and cinematographic excellence, sanitation legends like Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International and the charismatic Jack Sim of the World Toilet Organization are also featured prominently, though their compassionate spirit do not quite transmit through the script and editing.
While I laud Current TV for leading with programs like this, I wonder how far the same resources would go on a very different target audience. Viewers in the West are edu-tained by such programs, but the impetus to act, if there is one at all, is dulled by a half-world’s distance from the problem and a lack of connections and savvy about how to engage with the issue.
Yet as a creative systems thinker, the program got my head and heart churning.
When we launched Lok Darshan in Gujarat’s largest slum, the very first program had an edu-taining segment on the need for toilets. Narrowcast simultaneously with Manav Sadhna and the Environment Sanitation Institute’s toilet-building campaign, we heard of a large increase in inquiries and requests for toilets. Though we did not have the bandwidth to actually measure our impact, it became immediately clear that the bottleneck in delivering on the demand was first limited organizational capacity & manpower, and then funding which came from both the NGO via the Gujarat Gov’t and a private donor from Singapore. However, it was clear that edu-taining media was quite powerful when well-designed and targeted.
Some time later when working on few films for Gram Vikas, Joe Madiath (the founder / executive director) and I discussed an idea inspired both by our success with Lok Darshan and with IDE’s success in marketing irrigation pumps across Bangladesh & N. India. Why not create a Bollywood-like film that could be broadcast on a mobile van where the storyline ultimately edu-tained villagers into collectively signing up for sanitation? After all, this is what Gram Vikas did anyways through countless meetings with village leaders across Orissa. Why not scale the messaging to move from supply-push to demand-pull?
Of course, Gram Vikas had no funding for the project and we did not have the expertise to make an appealing Oriya language film. In addition, their deep and narrow focus means that its unlikely that they would ever have the idea or initiative completely on their own.
Enter Arvind Singhal. He’s made a career of studying entertainment-education and social change. A friend recently introduced us to his work with a stack of books and an offer to connect us personally if we’re interested. The first chapter of one of his (long) books features Jasoos Vijay, a detective story with 125 million regular Doordarshan viewers in N. India that has successfully deconstructed social norms, values, and beliefs around HIV/AIDS. At the time of the study, 5% of the audience had reported a positive change in their sexual behavior as a result of the program such that the cost per behavior change was 5 cents. Like all change, I suspect that this first ripple has a much bigger actual impact that is perhaps immeasurable.
Examples now abound in media for social change at all ends of the spectrum. Video Volunteers has expanded and scaled their community video unit model into a people’s media channel. Lok Darshan lives on through the instrumentality of MaM founders Meghna Banker and Madhusudan Agrawal. Microsoft Research spun off Digital Green, a media-powered peer-to-peer farmer education network. Avaaj Otalo uses radio broadcasts and a voice-enabled system to allow farmers to access timely agricultural information and knowledge. Planet Read subtitles Bollywood songs in the same language to improve literacy. And these are just a few examples from the South Asian context. This phenomena is spreading all over the world, often funded by wealthy donors and agencies in the West.
So could this approach work for toilets? The answer is “maybe”.
The competency of building demand for toilets and sanitation is different than managing and constructing them well. One organization is unlikely to have both competencies because of the numerous social and financial obstacles to this enterprise, creating a familiar chicken & egg problem often seen in the developing world. You have to both create the demand for your service, and deliver it at market-creating price, similar to what Aravind Eye Hospitals did with cataract surgeries.
The strategy on paper, regardless of how difficult or seemingly impossible, can be worked out. Summoning the compassion and integrity to make it happen is the challenge. So often, those who have cultivated the spiritual foundation don’t go further toward the practical implementation processes of a legitimate social enterprise. And without rigorous internal processes, no strategy on paper really works.
And that stinks. Literally.
She wanted to buy our loft bed. The secret was that we were selling it for three times what we paid for it.
I knew that she was either recently divorced, or that she broke up a close relationship. She was buying this bed as a result of moving out of her prior home.
I knew her new home would be a 440 sq. ft studio. Quick mental math made me think that her ‘studio’ was actually a tiny 20′ x 22′ garage converted into living space in a house built in the 60’s or prior. The cheapest form of housing available.
I knew that she recycled cans and borrowed money from her mother to pull together the cash for this purchase. I knew that she drank too much Coca-Cola. She thinks she likes it, but its also just about cheapest form of calorie in the grocery store, especially when purchased by the case. And the cans you save from all that soda let you hide the fact that you actually collect many more to make ends meet.
She was a misfit. The kind of person who would have been at the bottom of the social hierarchy in high school. Neither beautiful, nor intelligent, nor athletic, nor musical, nor artistic, nor quirky, nor perky, nor funny, nor rebellious, nor much of anything else. Not really picked-on because she wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The kind who had one secret friend and skated by beneath the detection of both teachers and fellow students.
My wife instantly felt bad for selling the bed to her, and asked if we could lower the price in Gujarati. I replied that we’d see if she negotiated.
But as we were loading her vehicle, I was concerned that we had not yet discussed money, much less transferred its possession. I was resistant to helping.
The truth is that this woman made me feel uncomfortable. She was close to the end of her capacities–feeling lonely, lost, and hurt by the world– but not yet broken beyond the point where she lacked to ability to ask for help. She was struggling, barely above water in every dimension of life, afraid she might drown at any moment, and eager to grab on to anything that could keep her afloat.
She needed a friend–a break, and I was afraid to be either. I could not let her see how much I felt her pain because I was afraid that any display of compassion or kindness would lead her to latch on for dear life. And once she grabbed on, I would not have the heart to push her away despite how much of a burden she became.
I couldn’t be responsive because I was afraid of being responsible. I didn’t want the burden of doing what I knew to be right.
So I put on a disinterested expression, and loaded the car. I deflected conversation. I avoided eye contact. I tried to get her to do some of the lifting, but did much of it myself anyways.
And it worked. She gave us the full price we asked for. No negotiation, or even hint thereof. Though we were selling it for three-times of what we bought it for, it was still less than one-third of what a new one would cost. For all she knew, we were already doing her a favor.
According to the values of the market, everyone was winning in that moment. We were selling an item we had used for 9 months at a profit, and she was buying something she needed at a huge discount over retail price.
Yet according to the values of the heart, everyone was losing in that moment. I was causing my wife and I to suppress our instincts of kindness and compassion, and this woman who so desperately was in need of some kindness and compassion was walking away empty-handed and empty-hearted from two people who try to live those values.
As I type this, I’m trying to think of the proper way to make amends. I could find out her new address and anonymously get $20 to her. But she needs far more than money. I could invite her over for pizza with friends, but is it fair to disrupt this kind of social gathering with someone who is so deeply needy? I could resolve to not repeat such a mistake, but is it enough to be aware of my own failure without rectifying the current one?
More than that, I just don’t know what the “right” level of response is. On a subtle level, my ego tells me that I’m nothing like this woman. Yet when I pay close attention, I see that I’m just like her. We both want–we both need the same things to feel whole and complete. Pure air, water, food, friends, and work. To love and be loved.
And in my darkest hours, I hope to be worthy of the kindness and compassion of people who know that we’re all the same.
Its time to earn what I wish for…
As the soft yield of water cleaves obstinate stone,
So to yield with life solves the insoluble.
It is said, “There’s a way when there’s a will,”
But let life ripen, then fall,
Will is not the way at all:
Deny the way of life and you are dead.
Posted in Insight, Spirituality, tagged Ganesh Kartikeya race, Ganesh Murugan race, Ganesh Skanda race, muladhara chakra, mythology of ganesh, Parvati, philosophy of ganesh, power of small, Shiva, symbolism of ganesh, wisdom of ganesh on April 27, 2010| 2 Comments »
Elephants were the most powerful, unstoppable animals known to the ancient Indians so its no surprise that Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is one of the most worshiped deities of the Hindu pantheon. What is quite surprising is the genius with which the deity was conceived. While I do not possess a complete grasp of the epistemology, I’ll attempt to deconstruct several salient aspects of Lord Ganesh.
All Hindu deities are rich in mythology, philosophy, and symbolism. The mythology is most accessible to the masses, and conveys moralistic ideas meant to encourage behaviors for a stable and happy society. In the case of Lord Ganesh, one key moral conveyed through the mythology is respect for one’s parents. The lesson comes through a story where Ganesh triumphs over his younger brother, Kartikeya (aka Skanda aka Murugan, the god of war) in a ‘race around the world’ by circumambulating his parents and conveying that his parents are his world while Kartikeya tries to circumnavigate the globe.
The philosophy of the deities is accessible to the educated and intellectual class, and conveys psychological ideas or concepts meant to be contemplated or meditated upon to reveal the nature of the mind, mind-body complex, or beyond mind-body construct. Exploration of this dimension often necessitates navigating between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ experience, into and out of the uniquely personal and rational.
In yoga philosophy, Lord Ganesh is the ruler of the muladhara chakra at the base the cerebrospinal axis, and is the remover of obstacles in life and the spiritual path. To validate or appreciate this idea beyond blind acceptance as a (bizarre or unusual) religious belief requires submission to a specialized and specific discipline of internal investigation, usually through meditation.
The symbolism of a deity conveys wisdom, and relates to the processes the wise engage in to eradicate personal and collective suffering, and move towards liberation or enlightenment. These aspects of a deity are often the most subtle, and while the intellectual classes may be able to decode or interpret the symbolism, only those who have walked the path have the subjective experience of the truth or natural law being conveyed. One symbolic aspect of Lord Ganesh is his vehicle: a mouse. The whisper of wisdom behind this symbol hints that the largest, most powerful things depend on the smallest, most seemingly trivial things.
Put in another way, Ganesh is the juggernaut of a revolutionary event or phenomenon in black swan theory, while his mouse is all the little things we overlooked that brought us to toward the unexpected inevitability. The elephant power of Ganesh is the emergent properties arising from the interaction and interference of tiny things.
The wisdom of Ganesh is about the power of small as one of the most significant and overlooked forces for personal and collective evolution (or destruction). His mouse is a reminder to subdue the ego which seeks the grand and personal, and recognize that the unstoppable co-creation manifesting in small ways from moment to moment is a process for which no individual, no matter how brilliant or powerful (or diabolical), can take full credit. Simultaneously, this wisdom says that if you want this unstoppable ‘elephant power’ behind you, then the small and humble processes of the mouse are its vehicle.
There are many other symbols, philosophies, and mythologies concerning Ganesh and the degree to which even one deity can be explored is utterly staggering, further speaking to the genius of their conception. As with all Hindu deities, they are rich with microcosmic depth which reveals macrocosmic reality and open to a wide range of subjective and objective interpretation, so any exploration of the wisdom of Ganesh must necessarily be only the tip of the iceberg.