I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
Growing up, seva (which loosely translates to “service” in Sanskrit) was a large part of my life. For as long as I can remember, my family led by example to demonstrate that it was always possible to give back, no matter how little we had ourselves. If money wasn’t an option, then we could give back by sharing our food and clothing with others in need. By the time I was in middle school, I quickly learned that service to others also meant giving my time. Sure, I collected volunteer hours to add to my academic credentials. But I quickly caught the volunteerism bug and gained joy from giving my time. It’s something that I still practice to this day by volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen whenever possible.
The layers of seva
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve realized that seva is a little more nuanced than just giving money, goods, or time. It can also include service to oneself, such as avoiding negative thoughts about yourself or giving your body enough time to rest. Protecting the earth and our natural resources is another form of seva. So are small acts of kindness to strangers. Underpinning all of this is the idea of selflessness. That is, not expecting something in return when we give of ourselves. Yes, it’s great to get “credit” when we volunteer in school. There’s also no better feeling when someone says “thank you” for our generosity. But that’s not the point. If we give and not expect anything in return, we are truly giving of ourselves.
The idea that we shouldn’t expect anything in return brings me to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Simply put, CSR is idea that for-profit companies “give back” by starting social, economic, or environmental improvements projects in areas often related to their work. It’s an idea that I’ve loved and hated. On one hand, it makes me so happy to see that companies are considering how they can and should give back in a variety of ways. Whether it’s West Elm’s commitment to Fair Trade or Ann Taylor’s feature on women entrepreneurs or Unilever’s Project Shakti, it’s great that more and more companies are finally recognizing that doing business with the global good in mind is the right way to go. On the other hand, I know that most of these companies are still more interested in their bottom line. Hence, their “service” is hardly selfless because they still expect that their CSR is good for their profits. In addition, having a CSR office means that the company views its “doing good” efforts as being separate from the rest of the company’s work. There is little integration. I also fear that there is a misconception that a company needs to be large enough to have a CSR office to commit to these principles. That’s simply not true.
Powerful consumers = powerful results
For me, the idea of corporate social responsibility has to be more than just lip service. In order to reflect the ideas on seva
I outlined above, CSR has to be built into a company’s business model as much as possible. That’s why I really admire companies like LXMI
. They go above and beyond to think about the environmental and social impact of their work. For me, this kind of behavior from a company really is seva because they realize that a business decision really isn’t good for their bottom line if it’s not also good for the earth and the people on it.
This brings me to the other end of the equation – what we as consumers can do. Far too often, I think that we have high expectations from companies, but don’t always consider how our
purchases affect the global economy. I know this must sound strange, but we can use our purchasing power as a form of service. As consumers, our power comes from having ability to purchase – not based on trends or what’s cheapest – but what’s right for ourselves, our families, and the planet. We have the power to make a difference in our own neighborhoods. Eventually, those actions can reach an unprecedented scale globally! I’m serious. Consider this: in 1985, a young man named Mkhuseli Jack began organizing boycotts of white-owned businesses in Port Elizabeth, South Africa to protest the government’s Apartheid
policies. This small action was so powerful
that the government declared a state of emergency. It also crippled the local economy. These same behaviors were repeated globally
until consumers were successful in achieving the end of Apartheid. Amazing, no? This is a clear demonstration of how we can express our opinions and literally “be the change we wish to see the in world” through our purchasing choices.
With my purchasing power in mind, I placed an order for cleaning products with the Grove Collaborative. I was tried of buying cleaning products whose ingredients were potentially toxic. I was in search of a company that actually upheld the principles I outlined above and stumbled upon Grove. They curate and sell household products that are safe and envionmentally sustainable. In fact, they are a Certified B Corporation
, meaning that they meet the world’s most rigorous standards for businesses supporting social, environmental, and community well being. Just so you know how elite this group is, there are only 1,700 companies like this in the world! Many of the products that Grove sells are from B Corp. companies, as well. So, when you shop from Grove, you know that the products you’re purchasing are safe and effective for your household. The company operates on a subscription basis (meaning that they can re-order your favorite products for you at intervals of your choosing). That said, you don’t need to subscribe to anything if you don’t want to. What I also love about this company is that they price match if you are a VIP member (which you can try out for free for 60 days).
In my first order, I received a number of items completely free due to a promotion Grove was running. They included a bamboo cutting board, 2 walnut sponges (made from actual walnuts, so the scrubbers won’t scratch your dishes!), three Mrs. Meyers products (dish soap, multi-purpose cleaner, and hand soap), a large dish towels and a cleaning caddy! To go along with all of these free products, I ordered their Complete Concentrate Cleaning Kit, which is kind of DIY cleaning kit consisting of the brand’s cleaning concentrates, three reusable glass bottles, and three microfiber towels. The concentrates are essentially a concentrated amount of cleaning product, which can be added to the glass bottle to make 16 ounces of a cleaner. There is one concentrate for bath & tile, one for glass surfaces, and one all purpose cleaner. I tried out the bath and tile product and actually LOVED it more than my normal cleaning products. I was so inspired by how easy it was to clean my tub and how CLEAN it actually looked that I filled a bath to relax in it. If you’re interested in giving the Grove Collaborative a try, you can do so with $10 off your first order by clicking here.
As you can tell, I take seva seriously – even when it comes to my purchasing habits. I really hope that I’ve given you some food for thought, especially in light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. There are so many ways that we can be of service to ourselves, others, and the planet. Thanks so much for considering some of them and putting them into action!