The Fire Gets in the Poker, Too
People are already doing an enormous amount of good every day. So how do we put the spotlight on it? How do we help scale and replicate it until we achieve a critical mass? My dream in the 1990s was to create a new TV channel, a kind of C- SPAN3 — back when there was only C- SPAN covering Congress and C- SPAN2 covering the Senate. So I put together a proposal to create C- SPAN3 to cover what nonprofits, NGOs, and volunteers were doing 24/7 so that service could become part of our everyday reality — as much a part of the business of the country as the doings of the House and the Senate and thus deserving of the same coverage. Well, my version of C- SPAN3 didn’t happen, but the Internet did. And at The Huffington Post we now have multiple sections — Impact, Good News, and What Is Working, among them — covering the moving stories of people reaching beyond themselves to help others, sometimes right next to them, sometimes at the other end of the world. Just as important, we have the go- givers themselves tell their stories in text, in pictures, and in video. The magic happens when people respond to the stories by getting involved — by being inspired to move from observers to givers.
The Reverend Henry Delaney spent a lifetime transforming crack houses in Savannah, Georgia. He said something to me that captures what happens with service. “I want to get people involved,” he said. “It’s like putting a poker in a fire; after a while the fire gets in the poker, too.” And that’s how we’re going to get to a critical mass.
To a physicist, a critical mass is the amount of radioactive material that must be present for a nuclear reaction to become self- sustaining. For the service movement, a critical mass is when the service habit hits enough people so that it can begin to spread spontaneously around the country and the world. Think of it as an outbreak of a positive infection, with everyone as a potential carrier.
“There are doors in space you look for,” a friend told me once, “and doors in time you wait for.” We are facing such a door in time right now — an opening for great possibilities. The modern equivalent of the pre- Copernican vision of the world as flat has been our secular view of man as an exclusively material being. This error has dominated how we live our lives and what we consider success. But today this is all changing. We have increasingly come to realize — partly due to the growing price we have been paying and partly due to new scientific findings — that there are other dimensions to living a truly successful life. And these dimensions, the four pillars of the Third Metric, impact everything we do and everything we are, from our health to our happiness. As a result, something as vast and epic as the destiny of humanity depends on something as intimate and personal as the shape of our individual lives — the way each one of us chooses to live, think, act, and give.
Transforming our narcissistic habits and awakening our giving nature — which is what both the world and we ourselves need — is the work of a lifetime. But once again, it starts with small daily steps. And once again our daily life is the ultimate training. If you told yourself that the goal is to write the great American novel, you might never begin. But you would be far more likely to begin if you told yourself to write one hundred words a day. It’s the same with transforming ourselves: 1. Make small gestures of kindness and giving a habit, and pay attention to how this affects your mind, your emotions, and your body. 2. During your day make a personal connection with people you might normally tend to pass by and take for granted: the checkout clerk, the cleaning crew at your office or your hotel, the barista in the coffee shop. See how this helps you feel more alive and reconnected to the moment. 3. Use a skill or talent you have — cooking, accounting, decorating — to help someone who could benefit from it. It’ll jump-start your transition from a go- getter to a go-giver, and reconnect you to the world and to the natural abundance in your own life.
Excerpt from Thrive pp. 256–258