LonePack Conversations – Nirmala Mehendale & Kindness Unlimited

A quote by Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher says, ‘Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.’

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AishwaryaWelcome to LonePack Conversations. I’m Aishwarya, and I’ll be hosting the session today. And with me, I have Ms Nirmala Mehendale, the founder of Kindness Unlimited, an Indian non-profit aiming to create a movement that unifies the nation with kindness. Welcome, Nirmala!

Nirmala: Hi Aishwarya! I’m excited to be on this show.

Aishwarya: Yeah, I’m so excited as well. So, let’s begin with an introduction. 

We see that you’re a Postgraduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, serving for over three decades in the HR industry. And then you co-founded ‘Kindness Unlimited’, along with working with your HR firm, Mind Movers. Now, you spend more time and efforts in Kindness Unlimited, your non-profit organization. So what made you shift from a corporate working-for-profit world, to an NGO that is not for profit?

Nirmala: That’s a good question, and Aishwarya honestly, it happened very naturally for me.

Aishwarya: Mm-hmm?

Nirmala: I started Kindness Unlimited in 2005. At that time, I was in the thick of my professional work, but I could see the overlap between what I was doing professionally, that was in HR, and the philosophy that, I’ll say ‘KU’ for short for Kindness Unlimited, okay, so the philosophy that KU was promoting. And the philosophy and the definition of kindness was, ‘…balancing self-interest with the common good…’. Now, this philosophy really really appealed to me and I tried to do the little bit that I could, but as you know when you’re absolutely busy, working, you have less time to put into it. But it was always in the back of my mind that someday, I should make that shift to putting more time into this, the trust that we formed. So that’s the way, you know, it came and I won’t say suddenly it came and naturally, and I’m really happy to have made the plunge and spend more time with the movement now. 

Aishwarya: That’s so interesting! So, why do you think empathy, kindness and mental wellbeing are very important in today’s society? What makes you think that?

Nirmala: Oh, every single day I’m reminded, you know, honestly, how important this is because I keep meeting so many who somehow open up and really acknowledge, not to everybody else, but you know, to some of us that they are actually lonely, looking for validation, acceptance. And most of us are searching for compassion and love. 

Aishwarya: Yeah.

Nirmala: So, kindness is an act in compassion that helps us to show someone that we care. And so, it’s such an important role that I can’t even, you know, mention to people, somehow the word, ‘kind’ doesn’t come off very often; it has a very different connotations, but when you actually think of the number of times each of us has received kindness, given kindness, how – what an impact it makes in a small, small way. But it can really make someone’s day, someone’s moment, and help all of us live a little more joyfully in today’s world, which is so fast-paced and so digital, right? We just seem to lose that human connect.

Aishwarya: That is so true because, you know, sometimes kindness need not be outrightly shown; it’s something very subtle, actually, you receive it and you give it back in a very subtle manner, without you realising that you are doing it. 

Nirmala: Yeah, yeah, you’re right and it can become a habit, and that’s what, when I talked to educators and others, I say, it can become a habit because, like any other thing, the more we do it the more fulfilled we feel; we kind of do more of it. 

Aishwarya: Yeah.

Nirmala: Sometimes it’s unconscious, but if you make it conscious because you understand the joy that it brings to you and to the other. 

Aishwarya: Exactly, that’s so true. In fact, it transforms you and gives you, like, a channel or a platform to transform somebody else’s life as well. 

Nirmala: So that giving and receiving, right, so in a minute, I can become a receiver, and this is something most people don’t see. Like, I think, ‘Oh, maybe I’m this big giver’ but suppose I’m crossing the road and I have an accident. In that split second, with all the money and education I might have, I become a receiver because I’m dependent on other people to lift me up, to take me to a doctor, to treat me; it’s all strangers who then, you know, come up to my aid. We don’t realise how vulnerable we are; each of us, we’re givers, we’re receivers, givers, receivers. 

Aishwarya: Absolutely, yeah, that’s so nice to hear. 

So, Kindness Unlimited, you know, in short, ‘KU’; that’s a wonderful and a positive name. When and how did this organization, you know, come into action, and what was the motive behind it when you started?

Nirmala: So. Somewhere, in the mid 2000’s, you know, there was the late Mr Vasant Kalbag. He was a scientist; he had a great scientific temperament, and he deep-dived into the philosophy and the practical application of being kind. So he researched a lot about it, right from Darwin’s evolution of man, how cooperation and collaboration can actually help humans innovate and to prosper. I happened to find Mr. Kalbag and his loving wife, Shanti Kalbag, by pure chance. 

Aishwarya: Okay.

Nirmala: And, I never looked back. So, it was that— the conversations that I keep having with him, I mean, a total stranger met this person, and I took to the philosophy. It was he who suggested the name, and I thought it was beautiful, and then we decided, ‘Let’s formalize it.’ After many, many months of meeting and discussing, and so we are on the founding team. There’s another Trustee called Lopa Vyas, and that’s where, you know, in a small way, Kindness Unlimited—we said we’d all do our own little thing, in our own little way, but let’s kind of jump on. So that’s it! Today the vision is to make India a kinder nation. And, the platform we’re looking for is a platform that can enable interconnectedness among citizens, by encouraging acts of kindness and trying to build a supportive network.  

Aishwarya: Oh, so good. I mean, I just absolutely love the motive behind this, because it seems simple, but it takes so much effort and so much thinking from each of us to actually show that kindness out to people. It’s a very, very nice initiative, and congrats on that. 

Nirmala: Thank you.

Aishwarya: So, you’ve been working for empowering people with kindness and public interest, for about 15 years now. 

Nirmala: Yeah.

Aishwarya: So, did any specific, you know, life incident help you shift focus on spreading kindness and shattering the predominance of selfishness?

Nirmala: It’s a great thought, and I’ve been dwelling on this, myself. So maybe I’ll share one incident; it would be a couple of incidents, but I’ll surely share one. 

Aishwarya: Sure.

Nirmala: So, Aishwarya, as you know my work is with people, right? So I come from a domain which deals with people. And I used to see so many unhappy professionals. They just seemed to be outwardly happy, but inwardly they seemed to be stuck in jobs, and they just didn’t seem to be passionate about whatever role they had, and they just, you know, somehow were stuck.  

So I realised at that time, we all seem to be in a race; a kind of competition to reach somewhere. Heaven knows where! And in that mad race, rightly called a ‘rat race’, some of us have to sacrifice fulfilment for what the world and others perceive will give us a better life. While I was dwelling on this, I went through my own existential questions and dilemmas. As I was watching others, I was looking inwards, myself. And around that time, I lost three very close family members. And it was their passing away that hit me and made me-forced me to acknowledge that what I remember about them was everything good that they did to me and the joy they brought to me, right. Because when someone leaves you, you’re left with just memories, no? 

And it was that that said, “Oh god, in all this race and everything, hardly anyone remembers your gold medals and the million-dollar deals that you cracked and whatever else, right.” What people remember is how nice someone was to me, and that’s when I said, I think, you know, this is something I’d like to give more time for; it became a personal vision, and I tried to put a timeline in place when I would spend far more time in growing the organization. And building KU and taking this mission forward. And, you know, the work – in this movement I made many friends on the table, too. It was a very supportive environment when you realise there were other people in the world, and you were not alone like you really believed in.

Aishwarya: Yes. And you know, personally, though I am very sorry for the loss, I’m so glad that you were able to connect with like-minded people; with people who want to take this mission up with that positivity and happiness through kindness. I’m so glad that KU came into existence with a network and a community of such like-minded people. 

And it’s so positive to hear about the whole story.

Nirmala: Yeah, yeah.

Aishwarya: And the other point you mentioned about mental health, that’s very important; in fact, that’s exactly what LonePack works for, as well. People just run behind this rat’s race, and they are just there, fastened with a lot of things going on, with a lot of thoughts going on. But finally, what you said is so true; what matters, in the end, is, how did we treat each other, how were we to each other, and how good we were to each other, and the memories all lineup. 

Nirmala: Sure, sure, sure. And unfortunately, it’s pain that makes most of us reflect; it’s very ironical. It’s very, very ironical. 

Aishwarya: It is very ironic. In the end, you know, there has to be some inflicting pain that makes us count on all the blessings that we have. But I’m glad that somehow, somewhere, we get the chance to recount on all our happy moments, our memories, our blessings. 

Nirmala: And channelizing it in a positive manner, right.

Aishwarya: Yes

Nirmala: So, using that pain as learning to actually do some good, yeah. 

Aishwarya: True. Not getting very stagnant at that point and sticking to the pain, but going beyond that and trying to overcome that and achieving bigger things. 

Nirmala: I agree. 

Aishwarya: So according to you, what’s the impact of kindness, kinship and goodness on mental health?

Nirmala: So, we keep talking of the word, ‘well-being’ in our day-to-day lives, right? And so well-being is physical and it’s our mental well-being, no? So when I’ve been looking at the kindness philosophy, I’ve realised it’s so important to take care of ourselves first, and being kind to ourselves is the first step. And I remember this example, and I keep repeating it all the time; it’s the aeroplane example. So in times of turbulence, we’ve been told to take the oxygen masks, right, and we’ve always been told to take the mask first before we help children and seniors. So with that example, I share that once we accept and we become more forgiving, less harsh to ourselves; begin accepting the kindness of others. It’s not easy to accept the kindness of others, as well, okay. And this then can be very liberating, and the cycle of giving and receiving will happen. And it’s a great cycle of giving and receiving if we can acknowledge graciously that right through life, we bother givers and receivers. And in mental wellbeing, especially, you know,  a lot of people have said even one friend or one person can make a difference. And I see that happening, that those who have at least that one person accepting them for who they are, make such an impact. 

And, I’ll always remember the story of a young boy walking on a bridge across the sea, in the US, and contemplating jumping and ending his life. And this boy, as he was running on the bridge, was stopped by a couple who requested him to take their picture. And while they were requesting him to do that, they had a conversation with him. And later on, this boy says that if it were not that human connection on that day, he would have probably ended his life. 

Aishwarya: So true. I think it’s just being there for each other so that you can make a better world together.

Nirmala: Yeah, yeah. As I said earlier, Aishwarya, unless my glasses are at least half full, I cannot give to others, right?

Aishwarya: Exactly, exactly. It’s not like you are treating yourself very harsh, you go around and preach to others about how to be happy, because you have to practise it yourself first. Your glass has to be at least half full for you to think from there, and give it to others. 

And actually, I have to mention about this self-care point because over the last couple of months, you know, to whoever I speak to, especially people from the mental health background; all of them consider self-care to be a very important tool. So it’s not selfish to want self-care, and self-care is definitely not just about getting things for you, or doing something calming, no, it’s actually more than that. It’s fighting around challenges and trying to accept the person that you are, with all the flaws and imperfections. 

Nirmala: I agree, and a lot of people think, you know, that ‘I am such a giver’ and so, but they get burnt out, and they can’t then sustain that giving, right, because to give I must receive, accept that I am human and as you very rightly said, accept my flaws, and you know, and then feel that ‘I am now feeling a little fulfilled, so I can go out there and help others’. 

Aishwarya: So true, yes. It’s like, it has to be a cycle; it’s giving and taking back, and that continues in a loop. When you don’t have anything in your basket, you really can’t take something out and give it out to others, so I think it’s such a valid point that you stated. 

And so…just moving on to a little more about you, what were some hurdles and challenges that you had initially faced by running a non-profit?

Nirmala: So the biggest challenge is, Aishwarya, though we are a registered NGO, we actually function as a movement. 

Aishwarya: Okay.

Nirmala: So none of us get paid so far, and all of us are givers and volunteers, right. So everything is done through the pro bono methodology, and it is honestly miraculous, that’s the only word I can say. Because every time we have a project and then somebody comes and helps and people give up their time, talent and  I’m always amazed, because it takes me back to the barter system, and I remember debating, you know, the joys of possibly the barter system, and it does have its own role. But having said that, you know, I think the time has come now for us to slightly work on a structure, to create an organization so that we can spread faster, wider, and at the same time, be very mindful of attaining the beauty of an inclusive transparent and a very giving movement.

Aishwarya: I think that’s so true, because it’s like hearing me out, because that’s exactly the kind of thought we had with LonePack. Initially, we were also a pro bono society, and it was an important hurdle that we had, starting out; to have a structure and to impact more people in our journey. So I think it’s like hearing it out from me.

So, Kindness Unlimited is an executive member of the World Kindness Movement, a global body for kindness, with representations from 28 countries across the world. And that’s really big!

So, what impact does this create, and how do you all, as global leaders, work together, work for a common mission?

Nirmala: So, the World Kindness Movement plays the role of supporting and encouraging their members to keep spreading good, in their own corner of the world. So they’re not really very structured about ‘what’ because each country focuses on different areas, right. But today, and I would say, unfortunately, it’s terror, violence and hate that’s creeping its head and that’s something that the World Kindness family is seeing across all countries, right.

Aishwarya: Yes.

Nirmala: And so we’re strengthened in our belief that its love and kindness that will ultimately triumph. In many incidents, we’ve seen hate creates more hate, so we’re slowly building traction to enable us to put kindness on the global agenda, move to the UN and formalize things, so that’s the role and the route the World Kindness Movement sees itself playing. When we look at mission statements and agendas across corporations everywhere, we don’t see the word, ‘kind’ being there. So honestly, it is to put the word ‘kind’ and the act of kindness on the agenda for individuals, families, societies, schools, communities,  countries. 

Aishwarya: Perfect. So I think this is such a good initiative, and as you mentioned, it is those tiny little initiatives that each of us take as our own leaders; each of us from different nationalities takes and together, how we impact the wider world. 

So, a major part of what you do is related to the youth as a society, with the aim of spreading kindness among children, young adults in schools, colleges and institutions. So LonePack, also is a non-governmental organisation working for your mental health awareness and wellness. We share a common thread here.

So, what’s your reasoning behind working for the betterment of today’s youth?

Nirmala: So, as I mentioned earlier, when you have fast resources, it makes sense to invest your energies in the country’s future. 

Aishwarya: Yes.

Nirmala: And also behavioural changes are easier when one is younger, before fixed patterns and rigid mindsets and prejudices are formed, right?

And so we think its much better to invest with them. We’re also working with educators who work with the youth. So, you know, and I’m really always hoping that my generation especially can die with our prejudices rather than passing it on to the youth. How do we open the youth to see a world which has less prejudices and more acceptance, and to get them to see the benefits of collaboration. 

Aishwarya: That is very true, because I think the youth of today need to be empowered and feel empowered. You know, the world is full of opportunities, it’s full of changes,  and a lot of opportunities here and there, but finally its about telling the youth how they can make use of those opportunities; that is exactly what we’re working towards.

Nirmala: Right, right. And Aishwarya, the definition is ‘balancing self-interest with the common good’ right? And this definition, the youth are able to buy into.

Aishwarya: Yeah, yeah, true.

So the impact is more on them, because they’re able to comprehend what we are working towards, and we would be able to put in more effort and more meaning into what we do currently. So I think that’s a good reasoning behind the motive.

Nirmala: So when you talk about networking, right, the importance of networking, so I always remind them how networking starts with giving, right. 

Aishwarya: Yes.

Nirmala: So, that’s how you build a network; it’s not just for selfishness; you can be selfish, but you won’t have a connect for a longer period of time. Because the person will say you’re a taker; you’re using somebody, and so youth, once they see that it doesn’t even make this much sense really and you can’t build goodwill by just being a taker. 

Aishwarya: Yes, so true. So you have to show some amount of wanting to give back to the society, wanting to drive a change in the community, because that is where you earn a good set of like-minded people around, who will also help you in where you want to go and what you want to achieve. 

Nirmala: Such a small world today because of technology, right?

Aishwarya: Yes, yes.

Nirmala: And our reputation precedes us. 

Aishwarya: Yes. In fact, we think we are all connected, but then it is absolutely how do you make that network work for a longer time, work with good relationships and trust.

Nirmala: Yeah, yeah yeah.

Aishwarya: So, the next question I wanted to ask was, we heard about your new project called ‘Pooh Circles.’ So can you elaborate a bit more on what it is about, and who can benefit from it?

Nirmala: So, as we said earlier, you know Aishwarya, that LonePack is in that space as well, that we see so many lonely people, right, who on the front are seemingly seem all sorted out, but when you know that there are young people and people of all ages who seemingly are lonely and want to belong; with that in mind, I decided to do an experiment, and build a space of acceptance, sharing, active listening, and most of all, non-judgement.  Where whoever comes to the circle can benefit from this process. 

Sometimes, many of us are hesitant going to a counsellor. That’s because of the various kind of connotations this has, especially in our country. And so, I’ve seen firsthand that it takes a while for someone – you know, rather than go early,  people go when they are very, very late. And can’t really handle it well. So I thought, let’s create a first step, where we create a group process. And then possibly when people can come in and see the benefits and joys of this process.

So to give people an idea of group process, of non-judgement, acceptance, unconditional positive regard, respect; to get them to trust one another, and the kind of sharing that they do, in this kind of sacred space, so that was my idea. And then some of them want to go in later on for counselling and they understand the importance and the benefits. 

So I just wanted a first step, to give people that understanding that most of us are lonely, and we’re all searching for something, and there’s no harm in accepting that, and learning from each other, and then if required, moving on to going to a counsellor, if they think that could also help them. 

So it’s a first step circle; that’s what I’m trying to create. 

Aishwarya: Yes. This is incredible, and in fact, to add on, I was captivated by this term that you said, ‘being non-judgemental’. Because that’s exactly what I have been talking to people about, what I’ve been  hearing in the last couple of conversations I had with some people around.

So first step, we can do to people around us, is being non-judgemental, because I think that creates a fear in all of us, that when we are trying to be judgemental, or we are being judged by others, and to move past that fear, which hinders us from opening up, and you know, hinders us from speaking aloud our insecurities, and a couple of issues that we face mentally. 

 Nirmala: And also, we become very poor listeners, no Aishwarya?

Aishwarya: Oh, yes.

Nirmala: We’re always with our digital gadgets and seem so distracted. So to actually have two  hours of uninterrupted space where everyone is actively listening, I think for all of us, it can be very beneficial. 

Even online, we have become very less tolerant of other peoples’ views right? So we look at trolling and all these kinds of unkind bullying behaviour online; it’s a reflection of something that’s happening to all of us, right. 

Aishwarya: Yes. I think, after the impact of social media, with a lot of these social platforms growing, we are more into digital connect. But in fact, to lead to more positivity and more kinship and close feelings; rather it’s more bullying, and doing more abusive activities. It’s high time that we start taking the impact of social media very crucially. 

Nirmala: Right, and that’s why organizations like LonePack, Kindness, all of us are trying our best to put the positive voice out there, right. 

Aishwarya: Exactly! We use social media in a way to alert people to spread positivity and to remind people that they are worth it, and they can also spread the same message to others around. 

So how do you think we, as neighbours, relatives, or colleagues, can spread positivity everyday, in simple ways?

Nirmala: So I’ll share some very very simple ways; there are so many, Aishwarya. I’d say, you know, that whenever we smile and acknowledge a human being, that’s huge. We can lend a helping hand, like carrying a heavy load, holding the lift for someone who’s rushing to get in, checking when someone’ sick, sharing something handmade, like a card or food, even calling those who labour hard for us by their names, and not their caste names, or their occupation title. It seems very small, but it can make a huge difference in showing that you care and you’re concerned about, you know- small things. So it can really trigger change, no, once larger numbers start practising very small little acts of concern, I’m sure it would make a big difference for the greater good. Because all this will have a ripple effect, right. 

Aishwarya: Yes

Nirmala: So there’ll be more smiles to go around, more people who are nice to the other, so the whole random-acts-of-kindness ripple effect begins, and you have human connections that grow, and the small things actually are the big things in life, yeah, and it holds so much of space in our heart, sometimes, you know, such a small thing is done, and you say, ‘Oh someone remembered that I was travelling and wished me’ or ‘someone remembered that I had an exam’ and you know, so these little things make life so much worthwhile. And so if more of us did that and, you know, consciously helped, we’d start our days better, and maybe the person who’s receiving that kind act will go forth and be kind to another person, right. 

Aishwarya: Yes. In the end, it all matters about how good you were to yourself, and how you spread that goodness around to people. 

So little things really matter, and it’s not just words; it’s not just by words to say that, you know, these little things matter; you have to do it in actions. So as you said, these small acts of kindness that all of us can do everyday, if we multiply that, I think, as a community, it’s going to have more and more impact on more and more people. 

Nirmala: Yeah. In fact, this year, Aishwarya, 13th November is World Kindness Day every year. And in India it’s still not caught up, so we’re really trying to put that day on the agenda. So this year we’re having a huge event with music and with standup shows; and yeah, we’ve already booked the auditorium, and no one will have to buy a ticket. 

The ones who’re coming for the show is going to be given a list of kind acts; they pick a kind act, and they perform it, and they get a ticket to the show!

Aishwarya: Oh! That’s so good! Yeah, it’s such a good initiative; it’s interesting. I’m sure that people would love to do it, and this way, I think they’re all helping people remember those little acts of kindness that they should be doing. 

Nirmala: Sure. 

Aishwarya: So it’s a very good initiative, and all the best for the event. 

Nirmala: Thank you, thank you.

Aishwarya: So, Thank you so much, Nirmala, and it was wonderful speaking to you today about how kindness can be a magic wand, create positivity, and promote mental health. 

Nirmala: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you, and I’m sure jointly all of us, you know, collaborating in this space, can together make a huge difference. 

Aishwarya: Yes, so true. 

So today’s episode was a clear example of how Kindness Unlimited and LonePack, along with people around, can work together towards spreading kindness. 

To listen to more such positive discussions, keep tabs on the next episode of LonePack Conversations. So until then, I’m signing off. Bubye!


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