January 28, 2008

My Inspiration.

I wrote this narrative for English at 4:30 in the morning. I was really unaware of what I was writing, but it kinda described why I do some of the things I do pretty well. It mentions what inspired me to start this blog and whatever, so check it out (and yes, I'm corny. I talk to my teacher in my essay):

Someone I know taught me once that the rhetoric involved in conveying an idea determines, more than anything else, how hard it hits home (coughYOUcough, and it’s funny because I just coughed my lungs out while typing that). Sometimes, an idea doesn’t even need much rhetoric to get across because the idea gets itself across. Sadly, some ideas that any normal person would declare completely obvious are the ones that the fewest people actually incorporate into their daily lifestyles.

In July, I reluctantly agreed to endure a two-hour journey to Edison, New Jersey for a Jain convention to, in my father’s words, “learn [my] country and be a better Jain,” for “[I] have no respect for [my] blessings.” What I was soon to learn was that there was little religion being preached at this convention. Surprisingly, the organizers of the convention understood my point-of-view. Instead of teaching me prayers, instead of making me feel guilty for my sins, instead of assuming my goal in life was to reach moksha (liberation), the organizers of the convention invited people of all different cultures who represented Jain ideals to speak about their experiences practicing these various ideals.

Nipun Mehta was one of these speakers. Here I was introduced to a man unlike any other I had ever met in my life – one who dedicated his life and soul to spreading happiness and the wealth of kindness. It took me a whole 15 years and 11 months – 5,812 days – but it was on this day that I finally learned the true value of altruism. The session was called “Paying It Forward,” and I was convinced that it would be some speaker talking about how to thrive in the business world while maintaining Jain principles. I was barely interested in that, but I had nothing better to do.

“Paying it forward” was really a simple concept that by spreading kindness from one person to the next, a ripple effect will be produced; it was certainly not an economic theory to make millions of dollars. Nipun started his presentation by counting the 50 people in the room and putting this ripple effect into perspective: if the first person in the room received a giant piece of paper and folded it in half and every subsequent person did the same with that sheet of paper just once, the paper would be thick enough to reach the moon (that is, if paper could be folded that many times).

I was still thinking superficially by that point. Obviously, people should be nice to each other. I don’t need some weird analogy to tell me that much.

I listened anyway to hear him share his insight on the idea of spreading smiles by referring to an anecdote about a rickshaw driver in India. The driver looked like a bum just out to get whatever money he could; according to Nipun, his “teeth were tobacco-ridden, and he seemed like the kind of guy that would spend on his money on alcohol.” He probably would buy cigarettes and alcohol, I thought. For some reason, though, Nipun decided he was trustworthy, and he told his story.

“How much money do you make a day, doing this [driving a rickshaw]?”

“Usually about 240 rupees. Why?” the driver responded, beginning to hold onto his pockets in defense.

He opens his wallet and takes out all the money he has and tells the driver, “Here’s 250 rupees. Now I want you to do two things. Give free rides to anyone that rides in your rickshaw, and use this money for someone else.”

“But sir, you can’t trust me. For all you know, I’ll charge all my rides tonight, and I’ll use all the money on cigarettes. Don’t give me so much money.”

“No. I’ve already entrusted you with this money. I cannot take it back. I have faith that you’ll do the right thing. Goodbye.”

“Wait, sir. Please, let me just take your e-mail address or something. I want you to know what I will have done with this money.”

“There’s no need. Just promise me that you’ll make your best effort to continue to commit various acts of kindness.”

From that point on, the story is completely up in the air; the sincerity of the taxi driver may have only lasted for that day, or it may have continued for weeks, months, or even years. We’ll never know, but we can probably bet that he paid Nipun’s kindness forward in some way. What is certain is how hard Nipun hit me with the point he was making in the story, not to go out and give all the taxi drivers I can find their daily wages, but instead, to trust in the naturally positive nature of humans. Hearing the love in his voice just talking about his day-to-day actions gave me the kind of shivers down my spine that I’d get while hearing a national anthem in a large crowd just because that sense of unity among so many people isn’t frequent nowadays. Just the same, people like him are not so frequent nowadays.

Now, people might call Nipun crazy for “wasting” his money on this rickshaw driver. They might call me crazy for even believing that Nipun makes sense in his actions. I think that his focus lies in the virtue of selflessness, however. It doesn’t matter whether our actions ever come back around, and it doesn’t matter if people treat us the same way we treat them because our behavior should not be at all connected to our expectations of others. In fact, we shouldn’t even expect anything of anyone else. When spreading kindness, we should get rid of this inevitable thought of “What am I getting out of this?” and rather start thinking “Imagine the smile I’m bringing on the opposite end. That smile is enough to keep me doing what I’m doing.”

This may even be hypocritical, for within a few hours of hearing Nipun speak, I was complimenting a girl I met at the convention, hoping maybe I could walk away with a number, or even more valuable in today’s day, her AIM screen name. It was later that night before bed, when I was reflecting on my day that I realized my hypocrisy. I walked out of that room earlier that day feeling like a new person. I felt virtuous just hearing Nipun talk about kindness. But that wasn’t enough. At that point, I had only taken the first step: becoming aware of the selfishness of a lot of my acts. I had admitted to myself that I had a problem, and I had also realized that that’s further than most people get in their entire lives. So rarely do we find people that reflect on life in the same perspective as Nipun. He assumes the mentality that his happiness is inevitable when bringing the same to others’ lives. Typically, people assume the mentality that their happiness is achieved when others return the favors that the originally kind person delivered.

Now, it’s been five months since I heard Nipun speak. Am I selfless? Can I say that my best effort is put into making others smile? Have I really achieved this level of virtue that I so admired in Nipun? No, no, and again, no. Am I more selfless than the 15 year, 11 month old who reluctantly went to the convention? Can I say that I put a very strong effort into making others smile? Have I achieved a higher level of virtue than I had five months ago? Yes, yes, and again, yes.

Five months ago, I’d turn on my computer, log onto AIM, talk to whomever I needed to about things specific to me, and sign off. Then, I’d log into facebook, check out all my new wall posts, messages and all the flattering comments on my photo, and sign off. Within the last five months, I’ve presented myself in a new light to the people around me. I’ve opened this almost-24-hour-a-day shop for people to come to at any time in stressful times. I leave my AIM account at all times with an away message, but everyone knows I don’t do anything but sit in front of my computer all day, so I’m waiting for people to instant message me asking for help with their introductions for whatever English paper they have due the next day (and I probably end up making others’ introductions more solid than the ones in my own papers). I’m waiting for Sally to message me looking for comfort after some guy just cheated on her. I’m waiting for Tom to come to me looking for the answer to number 32 on the AP Bio homework, but we all know I won’t give it to him; I’ll direct him towards the page in the textbook he could read up on it for himself though. On facebook, I got rid of my wall to make people more comfortable approaching me via personal messages instead of on a public page where everyone can see our conversations. I created a blog where I share my oh-so-brilliant insight on the world today, my thoughts on social systems around me, and my values and morals. In making these things public, I allow anyone to learn how I feel about a lot of things, so they can check it out even if I’m not available for them at the given moment.

Obviously, I’m not completely selfless. I do plenty of things for myself, but more than anything, I find satisfaction in smoothening the bumps in the lives of the people around me. I have learned to rely less on what other people will do for me because I really could care less. I will need the people around me every so often, but I know that, without fail, there will always be someone willing to help. Even if that’s not why I do what I do, it is a given outcome, and most certainly a favorable one.

Hope y'all enjoyed. Much love.

UPDATE (1/28/08, 7:31 PM): I shared this post with Nipun, and in his reply, he sent me the link to his story of the rickshaw driver. My retelling of it really does the full story no justice, so if you enjoyed my sub-par clip of the story, definitely check his version out at http://nipun.charityfocus.org/blog/ar/pilgrimpost/000945.html.


Anonymous said...

pretty much your best post yet. you're gonna do bigggg things kid

Partholemew said...

awesome ankit...to see humanity in each human and put faith in that humanity is a constant struggle and it's blogs like yours that fuels the fire of inspiration :-).

Anonymous said...

This was really great. Oh ankit if only we had more people in the world who think the way you do

Anonymous said...

As terrible as it may seem, I still don't buy it. I sense too much of a self interest in your idea of trying to be a better person and helping others. I think this blog itself shows the main fault that I am speaking of. If you really wish to commit such great acts and change yourself so dramatically as a person, why do you need a blog to tell everyone? It's like a little kid jumping up and down saying look at me and what I have done. While a lot of things you have done or plan to do may be admirable, the intentions behind it still seem cloudy and muddied. The ideas are there but the sincerity behind the actions are questionable. If you want to be such a great person stop showing off the fact and just let it happen naturally. Narcissism helps no one. Try letting go of the attachment you have to the causes and let it flow more naturally. If you truly believe in this enlightened sense or enlightened state, then let it come naturally, do not force it upon yourself.

Ankit said...

i'm a human, so i'll admit that there is obviously a tad bit of self interest. receiving positive feedback obviously makes me feel good about myself. you are wrong in some ways, however.

part of my goal is to help others gain new perspective and realize things that they wouldn't have thought of themselves. i'm not forcing them to adopt my value system or my morals, but i put things in a light most people don't consider themselves. i've been blessed to meet certain people who have influenced me in such a way that i've been able to find this new perspective that i've adopted in the last half year or so.

i have plenty of things to do with my time, and wasting time being fake certainly isn't one of them. i'm not trying to be a great person, but i'm simply trying to make myself a better person than i was yesterday. isn't that what we all strive for?

we are all narcissistic. if we weren't, we'd have extremely low self-esteem and no confidence in ourselves, and that would be a piteous state. it's all a matter of how narcissistic we are. i appreciate what i have and who i am, and hopefully you appreciate that about yourself as well, but i'm not trying to publicize my accomplishments or my "greatness." if i were, this blog would follow a completely different direction, and that would be very evident through my writing style.

Sophia said...

To this 'anonymous' critic,

I feel forced to intervene here and enlighten you to the fact that Ankit's blog is overtly directed to the public. It is not a personal introspective with the sole goal of contemplation, nor is it simply heaping self-praise upon self-praise: it is an announcement of his imperfections and his successes in changing things, be they large or small. Ankit is simply one of the masses, making his attempts to better himself public in order to potentially benefit somebody else. Secrecy in itself does not constitute sincerity, and Ankit's conviction is apparent in his every word. Do not condemn my friend for not being self-deprecating, and do not denounce him for having found a purpose -- simple sense of self is not necessarily negative nor narcissistic. There are subtleties to his self-analysis that you may not have caught on to.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you Sophia. I believe this blog is way of saying look at me, I am so deep, I am such an amazing person, be more like me because I am amazing. It comes off that way for a reason, because the person writing it has those feelings and thoughts. It would be a different story if he was actually sincere because the message and writing would come off differently. I am not saying you can't tell anyone, I am just saying you don't need to tell everyone. It doesn't need to be shoved into their faces. Rather it should be brought up in conversation, but it should be thrown out there onto a blog that was created for people to respond to. His attempts are not to inspire others to be better people, rather the attempt is to inspire people to think he is a better person. I don't think all hope is lost just yet. I think he needs to to mature and grow and realize that he is on the wrong path.

Ankit said...

i don't intend on having the readers be more like me, but i appreciate people who consider a different outlook. maintain your individualism, but stay open-minded.

i won't bother responding to the idea that i'm not sincere and that my intentions are what you claim them to be because that's absurd. if you've spoken to me personally recently, you'd probably wake up.

also, having the blog on the internet isn't shoving my thoughts in their faces. you don't have to visit the site, but if you enjoy criticizing me, feel free.

i don't think of it as inspiration; however, i definitely do intend on having people consider my views. you don't have to think i'm a better person, but i'm doing what i can to be a better person in my eyes and positive impact the people around me. obviously this won't work for everyone, but you can choose to ignore me, or you can choose to continue bashing me.

keep smiling.