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What Inspires You?

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Valentine's Day is here and we are thinking about love. Not the passionate, intense, anxiety-producing am-I-worthy/are-they-worthy kind of love. Not the dim the lights, cue the Al Green music, heart pounding, getting lucky kind of love that can leave you electrified or electrocuted by the object of your desire.

Today we are thinking about compassionate love. The kind that comes from empathy, affection, care, trust, and, above all, a shared respect for all people. This is the kind of love we are after, the kind you see when an elderly couple spend their time joyfully helping each other through aches and pains that escalate to terminal illness and end-of-life small gestures to insure that dignity and love are the last things they share. The kind of love that is everyday business as usual for teachers, physical therapists, nurses, well-diggers, and just about anyone of any profession who has the ability to be kind in handling their affairs no matter the chaos they may be living in.

We are thinking about the question "What inspires you?" and we are inspired by compassionate love. With great love all things are possible. This is true. In Mahatma Gandhi's words, "love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable." Mother Teresa spent her life working to give a voice to the poor and to promoting love as an essential ingredient to life. Her life devoted to the poor was among the richest in human history. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned because of his actions to end the loveless and dehumanizing oppression of Apartheid. After surviving circumstances and abuses that would seem impossible to endure, this giant among leaders and humanitarians presided over the transition of South Africa to a post-Apartheid democracy with justice and compassion. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote of love, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela both were awarded Nobel Peace Prizes, and Gandhi sadly was overlooked for that honor, but we can safely say we believe these three know their stuff and that love is central to human rights, civil disobedience, ending poverty, and achieving peace.

Compassionate love binds people together. It demands action. It's not idealistic and you have to be willing to free yourself of personal concerns for a time to get it. Granted, it's not easy for us to step outside of our material needs for a minute and show a true level of concern for the lives of others. We have to set aside what we think and how we'd handle a given situation, and instead meet people in their worlds with all of their unfamiliar mystery, horror and beauty. The love happens when we find ourselves bonding with people whom we feel a great connection to yet we maintain our own separate world of experiences, perspectives and obstacles. The love comes from us knowing their lives are not ours, but we want to put effort and movement behind understanding their problems and how they are asking for help. Compassionate love thumbs its nose at empty gestures. It's going to require a little bit of sacrifice and understanding you aren't in charge, but what you get in return will leave you feeling you've just robbed somebody. The compassionate love you give will get you things that are difficult to buy - purpose, creativity, genuine community, and maybe inner peace.

It's with compassionate love that we are inspired by C.I.D.A. (Community and Individual Development Association) in Johannesburg, South Africa. It's the first beneficiary of the Diamond Empowerment Fund (D.E.F.), www.diamondmempowerment.org, founded in 2007 to raise funds for empowerment through education in African nations where diamonds are a natural resource. The Green Bracelet is the symbol of D.E.F.'s cause.

C.I.D.A. started 20 years ago teaching free Transcendental Meditation for disadvantaged communities in South Africa. It launched CIDA City Campus in 2000 as the first virtually free degree-granting college for the huge population of bright high school graduates unable to afford the costs of higher education. CIDA's program combined the stress management and cognitive learning features of consciousness-based education with an academic focus on a business degree program. Vocational training programs for students who were not yet prepared for higher education were also offered. Equally important to the program was giving service to the school and to the student's own community as fundamental principles. The school has grown and we see CIDA City Campus graduates getting well-paying jobs that help them to support not just themselves but also their extended families. However, there's an overwhelming need to find more and better options and resources for young South Africans so expansion of the vision is now the goal. CIDA City Campus will focus on being a business college, and plans have begun for two new schools (the Maharishi Institute and the Eco-Campus for Africa) that will serve more students through a broader range of courses to build basic skills - computer, reading, communication and math courses and vocational education, as well as extensive courses on sustainability to train young Africans for the green economy. Service to the school/community and consciousness-based education will be central to the curriculum.

The students at CIDA give us the chance to give, get and witness compassionate love. We see it in them in their focus and thirst for higher education knowing it will give them a way up and out of their current station. We hear the stories of their personal struggles that include extreme poverty, loss of parents, disease, and astronomical unemployment. We see their determination not to be pulled under by the weight of these obstacles, but to rise above not just for their own sake but to be part of the solutions for their communities. We see all the qualities of compassionate love hard at work making the impossible possible. This inspires us.

This inspires us to call the blogging community to think about the importance of inspiration, and at Global Grind (www.globalgrind.com) we are featuring a special editorial theme around this fundamental question, "What inspires you?"

The great Zora Neal Hurston said "Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." Yet another reason to go for LOVE.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Russell Simmons, Founder and Advisory Board Chairman
Ellen Haddigan, Executive Director
Diamond Empowerment Fund