Real Friends

AJ Dahiya - Real Friends

There are over 7 billion people on the planet, each born with a drive to connect. The explosion of technology means we can digitally meet new people from all over the world. Social media “friends” lists can number in the thousands, a testament to our innate interest in the lives of others. 

But what is a “friend,” really?

When things are going well, we may find ourselves surrounded by friends. But when things are more challenging, many of those same people may well disappear. When adversity comes knocking, those who turn toward us rather than away from us are our real friends. When life becomes messy and the party’s over, real friends step forward and lend a hand to help us clean it all up. 

Early in The Pollination Project’s history, we supported a project led by Kelsey Crowe, an empathy expert who went on to co-write a book called “There is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” The book deals with how to support the people we love through illness or adversity. One aspect of the book that I won’t soon forget involved moving from thinking about being helpful to actually acting on that intention. This means replacing the ubiquitous “let me know if there is anything I can do to help,” with statements “I will bring you dinner on Friday,” or “I am coming over tomorrow to tidy up for you.” 

There is so much in this simple notion that underlies who we are at The Pollination Project. Our community is full of compassionate doers. Rather than waiting to be asked, they show up and fill the need before them. 

During the unfolding of COVID-19 across the world, I was so uplifted by the ways our community turned towards the most vulnerable in their own backyards. In recent weeks during the second surge in India, I felt this same inspiration. In moments of crisis, we are here for each other, bonded in our shared hope of a kind, compassionate world. 

Our highest aspiration is not to be a foundation that only gives away money. Our aim is simple: to show up and be a friend – a real friend. 

Becoming Justice

People protesting - AJ Dahiya - Becoming Justice

Over the last year, much of America and the world waited with heavy hearts for the outcome of the case against Derek Chauvin.

This wasn’t just a fight for George Floyd. This wasn’t just a fight against Derek Chauvin. This was a fight for the soul of a nation, a fight for humanity, and a fight for justice.

This week, the American legal system finally delivered accountability for this grievous murder. Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts. Yet, only a few hours after the Chauvin verdict another young Black person was shot dead by the police.

This is the problem with accountability: it is retrospective, not preventative, coming only after the loss of another precious, irreplaceable life. Perhaps even more importantly, accountability is not restorative. George Floyd’s young daughter will still live a life without her father, irrespective of what the jury decided, just as Ma’Khia Bryant’s mother will never again hold her child.

I’ve been thinking this week, like so many others, can we now move from accountability to true justice? Is our duty only to build and support the legal system and other institutions, making them more fair? Or is there a personal duty that each of us have to live the embodied virtue of justice in our everyday lives?

If I consider what is needed to prevent another murder such as George Floyd’s, I am not sure the problem is solely an institutional one. Part of it must be personal. What I see fundamentally missing in these violent and traumatic events is relationship, loving personal concern, and a lack of understanding of our interdependence.

Bureaucracies cannot love. They have no soul, heart, or conscience. Only individuals have those things. The “society” implied in “social” justice is made of a collective of individuals. The collective shapes the individual, but so too does the individual shape the collective. Perhaps the fight for justice is a fight with ourselves, one that starts within our own hearts; and “the work” to be done is the work of manifesting justice in our own thoughts, words and actions.

At The Pollination Project, here is what we will do: we will continue uplifting individual action, working with people within their own communities to understand where they see just solutions. We will continue to invest in their loving concern for their neighbors, knowing this builds the capacity for compassion that exists there. And as individuals, we will work to better understand ourselves, remembering Frankl’s idea that happiness cannot be pursued, but is something that ensues.

Perhaps justice is the same, and the answer is not to seek justice but to become justice.

Seek and ye shall find

Seek and ye shall find - AJ Dahiya

I have a dear friend who is a gifted biologist. Hiking with her, she always manages to notice a ring snake among the leaves, the curved tail of a salamander just below a river rock, or the fluttering wings of some reclusive bird species high up in the canopy. I imagine a great many people might hike the same path and notice none of these things. In fact, they might conclude that there isn’t much life within that stretch of forest at all.

So often in life, what we find is predetermined by what we are looking for.

On our own unique paths as individuals, how much beauty and wonder are we open to noticing? How alive is our inner forest, and how are we interpreting the experiences we have along the journey?

The stories we tell ourselves about our identities, communities, relationships, and worth can be self-fulfilling prophecies. If uninterrogated, these narratives create patterns in our lives through confirmation bias. And these narratives are not only dangerous, but often untrue. How many of our self-created villains, heroes, or detractors are actually just the shadow puppets of our own fears, justifications, or desire to belong?

I think of the famous quote by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

I think the “power beyond measure” she is referring to is the power to write and rewrite our own stories, change our perspectives, and build a brighter reality. One of the many things that inspires me about The Pollination Project community of changemakers is that their awareness is trained on goodness and solution-seeking. The very act of applying for seed funding means that their personal narratives are expansive; the story they have created for their own lives includes belief in their unique ability to be a force for goodness in the world.

Focusing on light does not mean ignoring the dark. Amplifying goodness is not to assert that suffering does not exist, but is a choice to focus on what we are for rather than what we are against; to be moved by love, rather than fear.

If we find ourselves unable to see anything but darkness we can pause and ask the question — what am I seeking?

Whatever it is, you can be sure you’ll find it

Leading By Example: Making A Difference At The Pollination Project With Ajay Dahiya

By Mitch Russo


Being a monk and leading a thriving nonprofit organization in the middle of NYC’s bustle can be a conflicting experience. Putting service above his personal serenity, Ajay Dahiya chose to give up his monastic vows to focus on leading The Pollination Project, a nonprofit that works to raise funds to award micro grants to people and organizations advocating for social change around the world. Ajay joins Mitch Russo in this episode to talk about building a tribe as he had done himself. “Why are you building a tribe?” “What is the purpose of that tribe?” “Who is it meant to serve?” “What are the principles by which you want to build that tribe?” – These are the questions that Ajay asked himself first to guide him on his path to leading a thriving community of thousands. Listen in as he shares this incredible knowledge with us.

Listen to the podcast here: