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Giving up vs letting go, my own case study

February 17, 2012

‘Letting go’ is a great concept that many Buddhists nurture from a young age,
admire and apply on an everyday basis. In the western world ‘forget and let go’ is a
commonly used phrase where one encourages the other to give
up when facing a difficult  situation. This brings me to the big question – Is there an
unthought-of distinction between ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’?

Immediately it would seem that there is no dissimilarity between the two
words, for letting go is surely due to relinquish. However, on searching for the
definition of these correlated words, the answer becomes more apparent. To ‘give up’
means to quit or abandon. We give up on certain habits or actions after being
strongly convinced that this is the correct act to pursue. We give up smoking in
order to preserve a healthier lifestyle. We abandon projects due to the pressure of
circumstances. We may even give up on certain people in order to please others.

Letting go, on the other hand, is an entirely different concept. An initiative
directly connected to the underlying fundamentals of Buddhism – craving (Lobha),
aversion (Dhosha) and illusion (Moha).

Following is an example where I found the fine line between ‘giving up’
and ‘letting go’:

My own case study

My team and I, we submitted a project proposal to the EU office, in which the
Fusion team in Sri Lanka, together with some experts in eNovation4D UK, spent
innumerable hours and days creating the final piece, even enduring sleepless nights
to meet the deadline. The value of the proposal being worth several
millions, it could have done wonders to our charitable work in Sri Lanka.

Yet the heartbreaking providence was that, within two weeks, EU would
confirm its inability to accept our proposal merely due to our failure of attaching a
single paper (a portion of the document). It seemed absurd that such an imperative
proposal was dropped on the lack of one diminutive document! My mind
instantaneously began questioning the reasons for this trivial error. How unjustified
is this situation? As any customary human being would have been, I was helpless and
distraught due to this unfortunate final outcome, and enclosed with fury towards my
diligent member of staff due to his unintended lack of attention to the final
submission. The result was so scandalous that some members of staff took leave due
to illness and incapability to withstand the sudden pressure mounted on them by this
ill-fated circumstance. One argued that ‘we may need a miracle’, this petty comment
increasing my well concealed rage and I argued otherwise, attempting to convince
him that he may be wrong.

Not ready to give up!

What misery had I been presented with? I was overwhelmed by aggravation,
anxiety, desperation and moreover, extreme melancholy. Why was this so? I was
severely engulfed by the idea of ‘winning’ the EU proposal, and I wanted to be so
until I was certain that I had endeavoured every possible route to success.

Hence, convinced that I could persuade the EU to reconsider our proposal, I
took urgent actions believing that we had reasons to justify. A number of emails were
sent back and forth and a number of experts were consulted to identify justifications
as well as to build convincing arguments. We needed an efficient machine in action
to build a case to persuade the EU, but it was only once I had ventured every
prospect that I commenced my unwinding process.

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will
have a lot of peace.” – Ajahn Chah

Imaginary journey: 4 years forward fast track in 1 second

I had overlooked the reality of the process, instead constructing the inevitable
through my imagination, in duration of a second I had envisioned and lived four
years of my life (of winning the proposal). Within this minuscule time I had already won the project, signed the
agreements with EU and spent days with Fusion to develop an implementation plan.
In this brief journey of mindfulness, we are visiting rural communities, delivering
project activities, even celebrating success of some, fighting to avoid failure of
activities, negotiating, struggling, completing tasks, writing progress reports,
presenting at conferences and being recognised as success stories. All this was only a
dream I possessed. A trick of mind. Before me, suddenly they were fading away,
disappearing… into history. I had seen the project’s finality
which I fought to embark on.

It was then that I ascertained a new dawn of peace in my mind.

Analysis

Did I give up? I believe not. If I had abandoned the effort halfway I would say it is ‘giving up’. Yet I had eliminated all
possible methods of victory, inputting all my effort in attempting to accomplish a
joyful result. And so I will return to my original question. There is a fine distinction
between ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’, where giving up would be abandoning a task due
to intolerance or lack of effort. On the other hand, letting go can only be achieved by
carrying out this task through difficult measures and only when nothing else can be
done to modify the final outcome should one let go. It may be difficult to separate
yourself from your emotional bonds and determined hopes, but at one point in our
lives, we must all, as I have discovered, learn to let go.

(Original blog was co-edited by Devni Liyanage).

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Happiness Matrix – a tool for empowering Fusion team

January 12, 2012

It all began as a response to the negative symptoms: staff falling sick, losing team work, irregular attendance! (see my early blog post).

Back in Sri Lanka – (on July 2011), we decided to organize a retreat to avoid this. We went to a scenic training facility (Sarvodaya- Education center at Bandaragama) and spent two full days reflecting – criticizing – and ultimately engaging to recognize our common aspirations: how to remain happy as a team while serving the poor communities (e-Empowerment)?

Our awakening process began. The problems are within ourselves: our perspective – our thought process!

We went back to the drawing board: the teaching of Lord Buddha – ‘Arya Ashtangika Magga‘  – (Eight fold noble path of virtue).

1. Correct perspective (Samma Ditti)

2. Correct thoughts (Samma sankappa)

3. Correct words (Samma vacha)

4. Correct action (Samma kammantha)

5. Correct livelihood (Samma ajiva)

6. Correct effort (Samma wayama)

7. Correct concentration (Samma sathi)

8. Correct peace and happiness (Samma samadhi)

We have managed to develop a matrix – one that combined two interpretations of both Correct (Samma) and Wrong (Mitya). For instance, our Fusion Education programme offers ICT education packages through rural telecentres. A package is offered for a fee (47% cheaper than average price in the market) and over 1000 rural youth and children sign up for this programme annually. As a Fusion team member how do we interpret that action?

One interpretation – Fusion Education contributes to a charitable cause (provision of education to needy). – Samma Ditthi (Correct perspective)

One also can argue – Fusion Education as a business to generate money (children has to pay a fee – it is not free). – Mithya Ditthi (Wrong perspective). (from a social enterprise and sustainability perspective).

Well – ‘Happiness Matrix’ is still a beta version, and lot of improvements were needed to replicate it. And for some it is overly academic. Yet, we have found Happiness Matrix provides a tool – for our team members to review and reassess ones own action against our own ethical and moral fiber. That tremendously empowered each member in their own judgement into their action!

(If you are interested to learn more about the Happiness Matrix – please drop us an e-mail: harsha@fusion.lk. We are happy to share our learning resources).

Sophisticated and Simple – Demands of the Post-modern human

August 31, 2010

Sophistication has become a ‘need’ of Post-modern humans. Technology & globalisation generate this urge for sophistication.

Maslow’s Law recognises basic needs – food, water, shelter, sex & clothes. Entertainment and self-esteem are identified as secondary and tertiary levels respectively.  Yet, looking at the way of life of the young generation (10 – 20 yrs of age) and their manner of peer networking, one may question whether technology is qualifying to be a basic need. Of course, Twitter is not oxygen, but I could not believe it when I saw teens in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia enjoy SMS texting whilst tolerating hunger. This is mobile phone penetration at the bottom of the Pyramid and 90% of usage is for communication (i.e. security and gossip). A significant portion of these consumers live below the poverty line (<2$ a day) and their communication costs are eating into their food budget.

Such urges are rooted in the spoiled West. Twitter, Facebook are thriving due to the urge of teens to share their gossip, ego and self-esteem. By buying a David Beckham t-shirt, (with £15 from Dad) one teen generates a chain of gossip between a whole classroom full of grammar school girls. The Paparazzi feed the BBC’s, CNN’s and Times and the tabloids keep their spy networks to watch the hit counts. The adults suddenly recognize they are out of the loop and are thus compelled to know anything and everything happening at every second, from Afghanistan to Somalia, Brasil to China.

This complex mind cannot live only with food, oxygen and clothes. It needs mobiles with one million applications, radios with hundreds of channels, companions who can talk different languages, teachers who can create drama in the classroom to teach the subject material. Food must be tasty but should be wrapped with designer material, but also served in a modern techy environment.

Yet, there is a line of simplicity within this sophistication – simplicity in terms of maintaining the sophistication within the limits of ones control. Sky provides 300+ channels. But viewers can choose them simply by manoeuvring 9 digits on the small remote control. Mobile phones have only a handful of buttons, yet users can use these few buttons to complete many tasks; conversations, reading MSN news, texting a message, calculating the budget.

Is it only the controllability? (i.e. keeping everything within the limits one can manage?). Well, yes and no.

Such an intrinsic urge for simplicity is a result of the urge for inner peace. The writing of the Dalai Lama, Thich Naart Haan, Ajan Sumedho – the modern day Buddhist ambassadors – emphasize the peaceful nature of the inner mind. (One can experience this state by experiencing ‘Samadhi’ in meditation). The Human mind is peaceful at birth, and it is subjected to increased sophistication and complexity over time and with education and maturity. Yet internally, all humans silently seek that peacefulness.

Post-modern humans are individuals struggling within this dilemma of sophistication and simpleness. Microsoft managed to add sophistication through Windows and MS-Office and we all became fast consumers of that sophistication. This enabled us to reach the ‘simplicity’ of multi-tasking, (Excel accounts, Word typing, PowerPoint presentations and Outlook emailing all at once). But, when the working space got cluttered, Google ‘search’ has provided a new way to reach the next level of simplicity. Yet, today, people are beginning to complain about the growing clutter within the Google applications. The frustration emerges, challenges build up, and the journey continues to find the balancing point between sophistication and simplicity!

For profits vs Not-for profits (Greed vs Scale)

September 11, 2009

Following is an extract from a recent research publication from Stanford University;

“It is interesting to note that there were several funding models …. One possible model was nonprofits supported by earned-income ventures distinct and separate from their core mission-related activities. Another possible model was nonprofits that operated on a strictly fee-for-service model…, without important supplementary fundraising …. Although there are some nonprofits supporting themselves with such funding approaches, they were not present among the large nonprofits that we studied. It is our belief that these types of approaches do not lend themselves to large-scale, sustained nonprofit advantage over for-profit entities. (Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2009 Spring).

Above statement tend to shock my deep belief, that fuels the Social enterprise ambition behind Fusion. Why?

We follow Non-profit models, but closely adopting for-profit strategies such as ‘Fee for service’ approach in a niche market (ICT skill demands of rural Sri Lanka) to generate scalable revenues (profits) to support core operation.

How is it Not-for Profit?

1. at our pricing we tend to be in favor of customer, (and closely follow Low cost value chains to cut down cost)

2. no share holders to extract the profit (out of the enterprise) thus, it is ploughed back to expansion and improvements.

Why dont we go into For-profit model?

Simply to avoid cultivating (& promoting) bad human attitudes that tend to be granted in normal profit oriented enterprise practice such as;

  • unethical practices (killing, intoxication)
  • promotion of greed (aversion and aggression)
  • support competition (that kills the spirit of sharing, peace and happiness).

How perfect are we in our exercise?

This is the question I ask from myself every morning and evening, (and also promote my key staff to follow). It is a question of honesty and integrity to nobody but one’s own belief system (myself).

How do I do this?

Meditation – meditation – meditation.

Vipassana meditation (for about 1 – 1.5 hrs) helps me to go deeper and establish my own clarity. And every day I realize, I am better human today than yesterday. And every evening I convince myself that;

  • I did not support killing of any life forms (non-violence)
  • I did not steal or help stealing (no  malpractices)
  • I did not lie (no untrue statements)
  • I promote cultivation of aversion (avoid anger, hatred)
  • I promote ahimsa (help my well-being, help others well-being)

Can this ensure that Fusion expand to the desired scale?

I am not sure. But I do believe, there is a destiny for everything. The moment we learn to follow such destiny we can be less aggressive, more peaceful and can still contribute to some scale. (It is a personal challange to adjust our ‘desired scale’ to the ‘feasible scale’).

Social enterprising – controling greed?!?!

October 25, 2008

When the Wall-street stumbles, ‘greed’ has become a discussion point. ‘Endless Greed’ of big entrepreneurs lead to this economic crisis! – Presidential candidates (of US elections) pointing fingers, while many join to nod the heads. Yet, in August Times magazine, when Bill Gates writes about ‘Creative Capitalism’, he still does not acknowledge a problem of ‘excessive greed’, instead explore the ways to define creative (business?) models to work with ‘greed’; instead of ‘controling’, he tends to connect ‘inclusivity (of bottom of the pyramid)’ with some ‘passion’ to distribute (& share?) the prosperity.

Connecting the worlds’ 4 billion people living under 2$ a day income, to the capitalist market system, in order to improve their livelihood is a demonstration of passion to an entrepreneur. Yet in the same time,  it can also be projected as systematic exploitation of the untapped markets of poor communities, from the point of view of charity workers. When the models like CIC – Community Interest Company, tend to define the ground rules of the Social Enterprising landscape, charity workers (like us) would begin to recognize a common ground between the ‘Creative Capitalism’ and ‘Compassion in Action!’.

Fusion – of Sarvodaya is designed to test this ground, working along fine lines between corporate ‘greed’ and charity ‘greed’ (never ending desire to serve the poor). Corporate greed helps to invest multiple disciplines of skill, money handling and creativity to generate prosperity and development. But the target group is mostly ‘able’ people. Charity greed helps to employ the disciplines of human skill, donations and creativity to distribute the prosperity and development, mostly targeting the ‘less-able’ people. Charity ‘greed’ seems to be less toxic, comparing to the corporate ‘greed’ thus not even recognized as a ‘greed’.

From the perspective of Buddhism, ‘Greed’ – ‘thanha’ is the root cause of the existence (samsara), thus need to eradicate. Donation (dana) is one key tool to alleviate ‘greed’. Thus we promote ‘sharing’. Yet, in the realistic world of development, ‘sharing’ tend to scare the ‘compassion’ of corporate people, who tend to recognize it as a contradiction to the fundamentals (tools & disciplines) of capital (wealth) building. Interestingly, recent trends of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), climate change & (perhaps) credit crunch, push the global entrepreneurs to tread the path of ‘sharing’ beyond where they are now.

As we sit with multiple corporate partners who tend to partner with Fusion, we tend to see both opportunity and challenge. Opportunities are quite clear and easy to define. Challenges are not! Sometimes very scary.

Recently we visited an interesting rural village in Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka), where 100s of farmers who reached reasonable standards of entrepreneurial capacity to connect with high-end markets. They reached this point, as a result of micro-credit and social empowerment supports of Sarvodaya over the years. Now, our visit was aimed to connect them through mobile phone and ICT technologies (at telecentres) to expand their bargaining power and up-market outreach.

The people visited with us, were partly members coming from corporate world. They spent substantial time, their intellectual resources and reasonable finances to reach this point of face to face interaction with farmers. Major drive for the visit was their desire to help the rural farmers.

The interaction was perfectly healthy and promising. Farmers recognized the potential benefits, and they saw a dream coming their way. On the other hand, corporate team found the ground is perfectly set for technology introduction and market connection. Return trip was full of excitement.

Nevertheless, immediate mail communication was – unfortunately scary!

‘to move to the next step – we need 51% of ownership of the project!’ – compassion and greed begun to clash in front of the opportunity!

At this moment, Fusion struggle to formulate the appropriate communication models and perhaps negotiation models to work through these humanly challenges.