Sustaining Volunteering-Dispassionate Attachment

Once again this is a collection of my tweets in a fairly verbose manner since this doesn’t have limtations of number of characters like on Twitter

सक्ता: कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत |
कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् ||

saktāḥ karmaṇyavidvānso yathā kurvanti bhārata
kuryād vidvāns tathāsaktaśh chikīrṣhur loka-saṅgraham
Bhagavad Gita 3:25

As ignorant people perform their duties with attachment to the results, O scion of Bharat, so should the wise act without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path
Source of translation : https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/

In context of Volunteering for the Fight against Covid19 Pandemic, what was initially thought as a short term battle, got extended wave after wave and as I write this we are already at the end of Year 2 and battling the 3rd wave (thankfully not so harsh like the 2nd wave). Original mobilisation was for just 2 months and it never seem to get over.

In an online talk to a collection of Civil Society, where I suggested a free-flowing Q&A model instead of a Lecture and then follow up questions. The first question I received was a interesting one. The participant wanted me to describe in a phrase (don’t know why this limit)- what can prevent Volunteering Fatigue, that would be natural due to unexpected extension of time devoted to a passionate cause, as against paid volunteering – My answer phrase was “Disapassionate Attachment” which is the essence of that particular verse from Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Everything else is subordinated to the Cause.

More often than not, especially in the current round of Volunteering, Young, energetic and passionate volunteers never needed any motivation as they are already inspired and self-fired. But those get fatigued are those who want to deliver perfection and fail.

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम् |
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्त: समाचरन्

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
joṣhayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācharan
Bhagavad Gita 3:25

The wise should not create discord in the intellects of ignorant people, who are attached to fruitive actions, by inducing them to stop work. Rather, by performing their duties in an enlightened manner, they should inspire the ignorant also to do their prescribed duties.

Whenever these inspirational gems talk to me about how to avoid failure in the task – I only request them not to aim for delivering perfect service, but aim to deliver acceptable service. Because what the beneficiary needs simply is unpredictable (COVID19 context)

Not all our stories ended up like in a fairy tale – but consolation is that it was not due to lack of effort. Not to let one setback paralyse because we then are letting down so many others waiting. Agreed we are not machines, but there is no choice but to move on.

Working in various verticals of my current efforts, establishing the basic framework and hand it over to the successor who can definitely do a better job than us to innovate and grow the vertical better to serve more people. Here, a mistake most leaders commit has to be discussed. Their inability to let go and trust the successor to do it better (there could be other reasons, but keeping it positive). Since it was conceptualised and executed first time by me, I always feel no one else can do that task as well as me (leave alone better). More often than not, a good capable leader is lost in the process because he/she is not available for any other task and occupied in something so mundane or routine by now, that anyone else could have done. As Chandan, one of the volunteers said, Once you weather the storm, leave it to someone to manage in calm waters. I have found some of them get fatigued in this situation. They assume they are in control of everything and get mentally tormented that in reality they are not in control of that situation. Fight against COVID19 was a cascading situation of this nature, even today. Letting go is an important achievement when you are in dispassionate attachment and helps avoid volunteering fatigue

I draw from my personal experience when I adopted this practice. Withdraw from the vertical once the assigned role of establishing framework is over (Dispassionate Attachment). In almost each Veriticals, my successor grew it in unimaginable scale (to be honest, I could not have done it at all)

The last round of volunteering was totally different model and found it was more enchanting. Zero Budget operation, Amorphous bunch of citizens coming together for a single cause – BeatTheVirus & slogan being WeWillWin, it came with horde of challenges. Navigating through unfriendly official system to deliver using the same system. Being amorphous itself brought some amount of unpredictability, with no formal organisation structure, one that emerged on its own during the course of operation (Swayambhu in action) and various pushes and pulls in different directions. But in the end DELIVERED

During the horrendous 2nd wave, it may not have ended well for some families but visible gratitude of people whom we touched, only reinforced the feeling that they did not give up on the world. When they say, Thanks for being besides us & making us realise not everything in this world is bad. It was personally very different this time. Losses were kind of certain – lost many of them known to me very well too, we were able to help some who emerged successfully from the havoc to come back and work with us.

With self fired young and enthusiastic Volunteers, only facilitative leadership works and best form in my opinion is Servant leadership. Transactional leadership is sure prescription for disenchantment. Show-how works better than know-how. Officialdom and bureacracy would well take note of the popular saying in QMS context, “Never end up having a system for documentation instead of a documented system”. One big mistake we do in the process of chasing a system it to create so much of documentation, most of them totally avoidable, that instead of working we had a team spending most of the time creating presentations and records. It is not about discipline or credit-chasing (young ones are smart they see it right away), look for method in madness especially in Unpredictable situation.

To add an important thing here- to avoid Volunteering Fatigue, consider Volunteering as a privilege not a favor we do to others. Reason why I had serious apprehensions about using the words like CoronaSainika or CoronaWarriors etc (though I plead guilty of using it many time myself)

In the context, Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar ji in 5 words said – “We Are Not The Doers“. What a lovely way to remain detached while remaining committed to the cause. Designations, hierarchy, results, even the organisation – nothing would matter once in this mode.

Thoughts of a fellow volunteer on org: I think this is the general phase of how it happens. Be it economy or any other thing, there is a phase of really good unselfish work, followed by growth, then peaks and due to vices and ego taking over, the downfall.

Signing off saying, Letting Go is not Giving Up, it is smart way to remain objectively detached (accepting that we are not the Doers) from outcomes, but ensuring there is no lack of effort.

Happy Volunteering

We are not the Doers – What it really means

“We are not the Doers! If not you, someone else would have done”
Thus spake an elderly man to me, along with a long wound story to prove this point. All fine but No boss! This Gyan from Bhagavad Gita doesn’t work the way you projected. (Your logic works only when you have absolute power over the situation and position which itself is a myth, and when you want to deny someone the credit :-P)
My understanding and flaws of such thinking in organizational context” If wrongly understood and applied, this Gyan has following pitfalls. Hence it is absolutely essential that we understand the knowledge well and then apply before we supply.
Improper understanding of “We are not the Doers” has the following perils:
  1. It lulls many into inaction. Since I am not the Doer anyway, I get attached to Non-Doer ship. Let Divine make it happen
  2. That urge to “Do it well” is lost because anyway you become already detached from “Do”ing. You end up being mediocre or not doing it at all.
  3. You will not work to acquire that Skill to “Do”. Since you are not the Doer, why to hone the skill or even possess it.
These are the essential dangers of wrong application.
The essence of this in Bhagavad Gita is Vairagya (or dispassion). How and why it works in two specific circumstances. One, when we have done a good job and Two, when we have failed. In both the cases, Do’er ship has its pitfalls.
When we are successful and we feel a Doer ship, it ends up as Ego-booster which throws us off balance. Ego blinds us to facts and slowly results in arrogance which is detrimental. We get  feeling of indispensability  (and invincibility) which is not good situation to be in (in fact it is dangerous). Realizing that we are not the Doers in this case, sets the reality (there are lot of contributory factors, a single one failing would have not helped us get the successful result). It helps us to get out of the complacence and perpetual celebratory state and move on.
When we are not successful and we feel a Doer ship, it ends up in despondence. We condemn ourselves as worthless which again it lulls us into inaction. Our thinking would be that anything that unlucky me “Do”es goes wrong. Realizing we are not the Doers, we did the best would help us get out of the mire at the earliest and move on.
In both of the above situations, practicing Vairagya, dispassion (not indifference) helps us be alert and move on in life and not get bogged down by a “Success” or by a “Failure” We do our best and leave the result to the Divine.
In organization context and as leaders, we should also realize – Not anyone can “Do” it. It requires skill and tact. We are not the Doers… But someone has to Do it… And Doing it require Skill… and Commitment
Looking back and considering what is happening today – I am laughing my bottoms off.

Accountable or Responsible

What we don’t let go, we carry as a burden. A few weeks back, I was at cross roads of my career, especially that as a leader. While a couple of seductive options (materially) laid bare before me, it was a painstaking to take a call on the way forward. One evening on my regular journey in the e-World, I chanced about my favorite  “The Fable of the Bridge” by Rabbi Friedman that threw gave me a whole lot of lessons as well as direction to the path I should take. (Received via Yahoo group mail – yes it was very popular those days) Read on…. (reproducing it for the benefit of those who haven’t read it before)

It is a moonlit night and alone in his thoughts he starts crossing a bridge. The man sees out of the corner of his eye a stranger dressed much like himself coming towards him. He thinks the man approaching is putting his hand out to greet him. However, the stranger has the end of a rope in his hand with the other end entwined around him.

The stranger asks the man to hold the end of the rope. Whilst perplexed the man complies.

The stranger asks the man to hold on tight with two hands and then promptly jumps off the bridge toward the swift running deep river below. “Hold on” the stranger cries. The free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope’s length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. He held tight despite being almost pulled over the side of the bridge.

Peering down at the stranger who was close to oblivion, the man yelled, “What are you trying to do?”

“Just hold tight,” said the other.

The man tried to haul the stranger in but he could not. He could not get enough leverage. His strength was almost perfectly counterbalanced by the other man’s weight.

“Why did you do this?” the man called out. “Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.” “But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried. “I am your responsibility,” said the other. “Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said. “If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.

The man looked around for help, tried to invent solutions but could not think of any that would work. He waited for someone to come and help pull the stranger up, but no one came. Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.

“Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?” “Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”

Time passed and a decision needed to be made. The man could not hold on much longer.

A thought occurred to him. If the stranger hauled himself up and he kept the end steady and pulled a bit, together they could get the stranger back to safety. But the other wasn’t interested.

“You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.” “You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I die.” The point of decision arrived. The man said to the other, “Listen to me. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life, I hereby give back to you.”

“What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid. “I mean, simply, it’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will help you if you help yourself.”

“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me.”

He waited a moment. There was no change i the tension of the rope. “I accept your choice,” the man said, at last, and freed his hands.

This was the Eureka Moment for me too. I was clinging on to something that I should have let go. There was no way I could lead or help others by doing things for them. I realized that while I am accountable for others, I was not responsible for them.

unlocking-power-accountability-employees

Definitely it was not for me to be tied up like this man in the fable to others’ needs and happiness alone. It was about choices and not perfection of the solutions. I had to take a call and make my choice. It wasn’t easy to let go of something that was a passion for many months – a shared passion with the team. And Lo!

I found the solution again. What was I clinging on to? Was in a role – did the best and move on.

A man was running for his life to escape a hungry tiger.
He came to the edge of a cliff, stepped over and held onto a vine. The tiger couldn’t reach him, but there was no way up again.
Looking down he saw another tiger at the bottom waiting for him to let go and fall.
A rat appeared and began gnawing at the vine.
The man noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff.
He held the vine with one hand and with the other grabbed the strawberry and ate it. How sweet it tasted!

The choices that were offered by life was too sweet to be missed anymore. Decision was clear and action too – I MOVED ON. No sense of doership or ownership, just like the flowing water below the bridge. Instruments in place for carrying out the bidding of the Divine. Enjoyed the journey, met a lot of co-passengers – most of them friends for life.