Nirali’s SOS Speech
Recently, I had an opportunity to address an amazing audience at the Evening in India Event by Be the Cause
Following is a copy of the speech. During the entire speech there was a kind of silence that I have never experienced before. What was powerful was that every single person in that room who was listening made that feeling possible. They brought with them something so special to those moments… that I feel every word written below is dedicated to their attentive and inspiring spirit.
Hello Friendsâ€¦ I am no eminent speaker, nor do I have a slew of degrees behind my name. I have not won great awards nor have I started large organizations. I do not have any big idea to change the world; neither do I have any grand plans for my own future. I come from a small town in India, called Ahmedabad, and I represent an ordinary individual. So naturally today, the only thing I would like to talk to you about is what I know best. And those are Small ordinary things.
The service vacation affected my life in ways I may not fully understand. But when I reflect back, there were three important things that I feel I learnt. And today I would like to share them with you. I call it my SOS. A call for help if you may. Something that I know will come to my aid no matter where I am in life.
The First â€œSâ€ in the SOS stands for â€œSmall ideasâ€
Small â€“ is the most underrated word in our everyday life.
In a world of tall skyscrapers, expensive private jets, celebrity role-models and big money-spinning ventures, the small ideas are slowly going out of style. Dream Big. Think Big. Do Big. Our entire definition of success revolves around the Big.
But last December 16 people set out to challenge the big. The first question that comes to mind is, why do these people want to travel…across the globeâ€¦ to India…and that also, to toil, sweat and serve? Everyone is paying for his or her own tickets and expenses. Some of these people were working two jobs â€“ saving every dollar and dime to make this trip. Not to mention, giving up their vacation time. And all that, to work with the poorest of poor…under unfamiliar circumstances…and face unknown challenges?
I still remember those faces as they arrived at the airport with eyes glowing with shimmers of wonder and hearts pounding with excitement for what was to unfold! And then I saw some lives change in those 15 days. Something deep shifted within and many did not go back the same person as they had come.
Perhaps this trip affected their lives, but they have no clue how this trip has had a profound effect on the lives of the people they touched. In 15 days they did not implement any path-breaking strategies to change peoples lives. They ate food under the open sky with poor laborers. They picked up trash from some of the filthiest streets of India. They gave baths to kids who had not showered for months. They played cricket with the blind. They sang Christmas carols to the disabled. They danced. They laughed. And they cried.
All they had was a small idea. To embark on the most challenging journey of their own lives â€“ the one from the head to the heart. From striving to serving. From taking to giving. What they did not know was that for their every small act of compassion, a ripple was being created, into our lives, and spreading outward with no logical end.
The second thing I learnt was the â€œOâ€ from the SOS. The â€œOâ€ Stands for â€œOrdinary People.â€
You think you know people. But this trip challenged any preconceived image that one might have for people in oneâ€™s mind. There was not a single person in this group that did not surprise me. What surprised me was their undeterred determination to serve. Every time I turned to look at them, they were helping others in some way. This was through illness, through physical exhaustion, even through times of cultural vulnerability of being in a foreign place. I remember an incident. Once a toilet was clogged at dorms where the travelers were staying. Most people would think that the staff there would clean up the mess.
But this one traveler made sure to stay back and cleaned up all the toilets herself. This person always felt that the people in India, although from a different socio-economic background, were no less or more than anyone else. I think her washing the toilets was a beautiful message, not only to the local staff there, but to all of us â€“ â€˜that glory comes from serving others.â€™ Something surprised me in that moment. How many times do you come across a branch manager of an office that pulls in 15 million dollars each month, willing to squat on the floors of an Indian toilet to clean it?
This trip was intense and each traveler was going through a powerful transformation. It showed me that every ordinary person has a seed of becoming extraordinary. All we need to do is create the circumstances around us to push ourselves. To step out of our comfort zones and leap into the impossible. To not escape, but to fearlessly face all distractions, challenges and hardships that come with life. And that is when every journey becomes a Heroâ€™s Journey.
To me the real heroes are also the people in India who we worked with. People who live in the midst of calamities and unthinkable adversities and still manage to look at the bright side, and work hard to make every day of their life meaningful. There is nothing more heroic than that enduring human spirit. They do not always ask for help, but their incredible courage inspires us to work with them.
To me the real heroes are the ordinary people in America and around the world struggling every single month to pay their bills. Doing long hours of stressful work and yet wanting to give and somehow help their communities.
What I have learnt is that ordinary people are the true heroes of our times and next time I pass them on the street, I will look at them with the reverence they deserve.
The third thing is the last â€œSâ€ in the SOS. This â€œSâ€ stands for Simple things.
Now what I am about to say is a Four Letter word that might make some cringe. But I am going to say it anyways.
LOVE. Unconditional Love.
I feel that it is the simplest thing we have in our lives. And I will tell you why.
I heard of an incident recently that happened during the Service vacation and it deeply touched me. One day one of the travelers had gone to a nearby restaurant to buy food for some people. This is where Naresh spots her. Naresh, is one of the caretakers working at the dorms where they were staying. A truly remarkable human being. As soon as he sees her, he starts talking to the restaurant owner in the local language and hints him to not take any money from the traveler. She catches on and tells Naresh that the food is not even for them, but that she was buying it for some other people. However, in that moment, all Naresh wanted to do was somehow reach out to his sister who he had hardly known since 4 days and connect with her in the deepest human way â€“ by giving without any expectations. So he paid up the entire bill. What many of you do not know is that Naresh makes less than $40 a month. He is himself struggling hard each day to make ends meet. The traveler was completely overwhelmed by his generosity. It is hard to communicate how she felt. But nothing in her life had prepared her for something like this. She became engulfed by a profound emotion “a sense of universal connectedness.” She went to her room and cried for the next 2 hours. She had witnessed unconditional love and compassion in this little corner of the world. And after this simple incident, Her life would never be the same again. This simple incident has affected her in such a way that it has compelled her to make some serious changes in her choices of how she wants to live the rest of her life.
I donâ€™t know if words can communicate the energy that I witnessed in India. What struck me was that every single person involved felt that we were going through something unique. We did not really have any set plans. No agendas. No selections procedures as to who is allowed in the vacation. No qualifications. No rules or codes of conduct. And yet there was this indescribable magic that one experienced. And within no time the entire environment was charged up. And when I look back I realize that it was so because there was openness. There was a deep sense of gratitude and caring for others. And what emerged out of it was a simple miracle. And I wonder, why canâ€™t we have that magic in our lives all the time. A service vacation right here, right now without having to travel across the globe. For me the answer is simple. If I am in a space of genuine goodwill for others. A sincere sense of caring for others – I am truly happy. But when I am not in that space of love and compassion for others, I am stuck in my own maze of never-ending problems…and images of how things should be. I feel heavyâ€¦ I sense a kind of conflict inside meâ€¦almost like I am going against my true human nature. So what restricts me from being in a space of love all the time? Well, I feel that each one has to find our own answer to this question!
As for now, for me the SOS is
‘S’ for Small Ideas
‘O’ for Ordinary People
And the last ‘S’ for Simple Things like Love.
Small ideas by ordinary people moving towards a simple thing called love :)
Thank you and Namaste.