Not About the Numbers
An elderly women, her gray-streaked hair pulled back tightly in a bun, sits on the floor, hunched over an intricate quilt, patiently and slowly embroidering a light green thread into the detailed cloth, one stitch at a time. A younger lady sits cross-legged beside her, a small, sleeping child on one knee and a spool of thread and cloth on the other. She too works steadily and calmly, occasionally pausing to reposition the child or stretch her fingers. The two women, along with several others, sit under a covered patio dotted with fans, potted plants, and small pieces of artwork. As I watch the women go about their work in the Manav Sadhna community center, I can't help but be amazed at the way Manav Sadhna and Gramshree have changed the lives of these women. They now have a secure and consistent income and are able to be a part of a meaningful community to which they can turn to for security and support. As I walk through the sari library (a set-up which allows women from these underprivileged communities to borrow finer saris for weddings and other special occasions) I marvel at the comprehensive way in which these organizations have approached improving the lives of the people in such communities. But after every additional thing I see at the community center, a sense of unrest grows inside of me. As I look at the five or six women going about their work, I can't help but think about the hundreds of women and children we passed as we made our way through the slum towards the community center. As I observe how clean and peaceful the space is, I can't help but think about how small the community center is, and how utterly huge the slum is. I find myself losing sight of all the beautiful things Manav Sadhna and Gramshree are helping create and all the acts of love are being performed (on all sides of the relationships) and getting caught up in quantitive results and numbers. But is that what is important? Does it matter if you help 10,000 people or is it the love that you put in that is important?
I soon realized that my obsession with results and goals goes far beyond the walls of Manav Sadhna. Even at Andover, everything seems to be about results. It's about getting that 6 on a paper--but not giving a single thought as to what we gain from the process of writing the paper, a process completely independent of the grade we receive, even though we truly gain the most from that very process. Even in regards to service, we always keep track of exactly how many people we've worked with or how much money we've raised--but never the love we put in for people or for the cause.
But then I came across Manav Sadhna, whose core ideals are so different from the way of thinking I am accustomed to. Despite the phenomenal work they do, they never make any calculations. If you were to ask them how many children they feed as a part of their preschool meal program, they would make a general estimate and not dwell on it. When they were first telling us about their organization, I found myself clinging to the numbers. 4,000 preschoolers. 79 community centers. I was judging the value of their service efforts by such results.They, however, don't take their impressive numbers and slap them on a brochure to fundraise or impress. They don't boast of the number of lives they're changing, partly out of humility, and I think partly because I don't think that's what they find important. Their motto is "Love all, serve all." They go into communities, talk to the people, determine what the people need most, and do everything they can to help build and provide what is needed--but all with humility and deep love. And they don't seem to get caught up in results.
It seems that this mindset would not only be liberating, as it would relieve the pressure we put on ourselves when we judge the worth of our actions by concrete results, but it would also allow us to see our actions, intentions, and efforts as valuable in themselves (and that ultimately would lead to greater results). I (like most people) have always wanted to change the world. But this is the first time that I've started to think that maybe it's about doing something because you believe in the good of your actions--not in the promise and satisfaction of the results.