Monthly Archives: August 2010

Let Your Fingers Do the Giving

Occasionally, one of my almost-daily good deeds will involve the changing of hands of some quick, hard cash. That can mean dropping a few coins into the palm of a panhandler (although, judging by my track record, I’m far more likely to hand over a granola bar or banana. And yes, I frequently travel with same). But it can also mean giving bigger bucks to a charity. I know you’re all doing it, too. According to the latest Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, a healthy majority of Canadian teens and adults – 84 percent – donate money to charity at least once a year.

Technology today makes the process of financial donation fast and pain-free. You can do it online, over the phone, or even with a brief text. (Yes, I’m still talking about financial donations.) PLAN Canada, whose international work my family supports, recently posted this announcement on Facebook: “You can now make $5 donations for Pakistan flood relief by texting HOPE to 30333. Texted donations are eligible to be matched by the Government of Canada until Sept 12, 2010. Even a small donation can help.”

So text or upload your contribution within the next two weeks, and your efforts are guaranteed to be doubled. Darned good odds, I’d say.

Mosquitoes Can Buzz Right Off

So I’m reading the latest post on my neighbour’s blog, which is all about over-extending. Nope, not talking about yoga here. Rather, it’s the tackling of a terrifyingly long list of tasks with only 24 hours per day and a single set of hands at one’s disposal.

I’m relating to this, big-time. If you’re like most Canadians then you probably get it, too. My personal list of unpaid jobs would be the same but different. I’m not running a networking group for entrepreneurs or coordinating a play group or writing four blogs (okay, I am writing two. But still…) On the other hand, I’m providing hours of daily assistance to a family member with disabilities, I put in time to help my child’s classroom and choir, I organize a small neighbour network, I try to keep my perennial garden in passable shape, I put all the dinners on the table, I do lots and lots and lots of laundry, etc., etc. I also stickhandle a never-ending written list of tasks I must do, and that I ostensibly intend to do, but that probably have little hope of ever getting done – thanks to the aforementioned list of stuff I’m already doing. This to-do list only adds to the stresspile because it always sits nearby, taunting me with its mere existence.

Is it possible to volunteer too much? To give so much of yourself that you’re left depleted? In a documentary featuring the Dalai Lama, his holiness commented that his desire to help others extends even to a mosquito that wants to feed from his veins. I dunno. Me, I’m all for donating blood, but when all you get in return is an itchy bug bite… not so much.

I do think it’s possible to do too much. I like to think of giving as something that doesn’t deprive you, but rather makes you richer. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed instead of rewarded, then it may mean the balance is a bit out of whack.

But that doesn’t mean you gotta give up on good deeds. Why not try simpler, less time-consuming acts of kindness? Take a short time-out to pick up a piece of garbage, hold a door, make a modest donation to charity, pay a person a compliment. Each act makes a degree of difference. When I analyzed my 50 days of good deeds, I was frankly surprised to find that these deeds had taken an average of just 17 minutes each. And three-quarters of them consumed 15 minutes or less of my day.

In my opinion, that doesn’t make them bad good deeds. That makes them doable good deeds.

Offering Deeds at a Discount

I try to make a habit of doing good deeds. But I also appear to be pretty good at being on the receiving end of them.

I live in a tight community, so my family has close neighbours, not to mention beloved friends and relatives, who frequently go out of their way to help us. To put this into context: We do live with a few challenges. My husband has disabilities, we both work full-time, and we’re raising an energetic daughter whose bustling daily schedule would be enough to short-circuit a PalmPilot. Happily, we have a neighbour who routinely helps out with lawn mowing and snow blowing. Another two families have willingly taken in my daughter any time I needed some last-minute babysitting. When my mate began having health problems, a couple of different ladies on our block showed up with food. (Yum. I’m not saying that made all our troubles worthwhile, but it certainly did take some of the sting out.)

Sure, I myself have been known to bring muffins or soup to the neighbours with the new baby or the health crisis. And I too have shovelled a sidewalk or two past our property line. When I first started writing about acts of kindness, I referred to these as “discount deeds” and didn’t count them in my daily log. Because I wasn’t helping a total stranger. Because I could reasonably expect that my friend or neighbour might reciprocate the next time.

But I’ve since resolved that a discount deed for a friend or loved one can be just as meaningful as lending a hand to a stranger. I just returned from a glorious family wedding weekend where I saw, over and over again, inspiring instances of thoughtfulness among the people there. Why shouldn’t we be as considerate as we can to our family, friends and neighbours? We desperately need these close connections in our lives, and doing good turns – especially when the practice goes both ways – is one way of cementing them. Do you agree?

Remember, you can subscribe to this blog just by clicking the sign-up button on the right. It means that you’ll get a short e-mail in your in-box every time there’s something new to read on this site. Inspiration is healthy. Do it for your health!

For Today’s Good Deed, Do Nothing!

You’re all grown up, so you know what the F-word is. Or the S-word or the A-word. Or the Z-Word. (Just kidding. There is no Z-word. Did I maybe have you going for a second there?)

Ever hear of the R-word? I like to think that most folks who use “retard” as a joke or as an insult simply don’t realize how offensive it is. But to the over 3 million North Americans who have intellectual disabilities, and to their hordes of families and friends, hearing the word “retard” is like receiving a severe kick to the teeth. Don’t take only my word for it. Actor Eddie Barbanell, who has an intellectual disability and appeared in the film The Ringer, says this about the R-word in a YouTube video: “It hurts people. Why would you want to hurt people?”

So for today’s good deed, how about doing nothing? How about not using a word that causes pain and humiliation? If you’re feeling the moment, go one step further and put your commitment in writing at the Spread the Word to End the Word website, where you can pledge never to use the R-word. You’ve still only taken a couple of minutes out of your day to do something meaningful that will make a difference.

It’s World Humanitarian Day today, so check out this very special short film showing humanitarian workers in over 40 different countries. It’s enough to make you feel totally inadequate – no, no, what I meant to say was, so grateful for the ultimate helping that these men and woman are doing around the world.

Helping as a Work Stress Reliever

This just in: Doing volunteer work makes your regular job a lot less stressful. A study by psychologists at the University of Konstanz, Germany, found that people with full-time jobs who also spent a few hours a week volunteering turned out to recover faster from pressure at work. Several magazines around the world have picked up on this research, including our own Reader’s Digest (August issue). So, feeling some office-related angst? Take two hours of candystriping and call me in the morning.

Now for an update about the leaky water main on my street corner. After I called it in, and after workers came to place an orange traffic cone beside the trouble spot, and after more workers came to place more traffic cones around the entire puddle, and after yet more workers came to dig a seven-foot hole… well, eventually there was quite a crew clustered around the watery pit with their big trucks and machines. I had a brief chat with the nice young man in the hard hat. Turns out if the leak had gone unattended for much longer, we’d likely have had a burst-open pipe on the block with much messier consequences. Now I’m thinking about my vulnerable basement just down the street that quite honestly could quite do without any more water incursions. And I’m realizing that by taking the time to help, I reaped not inconsiderable benefits.

That’s karma, baby. The question is: Does it still count as a good deed when it circles back on you?

Backpacks for Back to School

I love this. A woman in my neighbourhood, who has three kids and understandably full hands, realized she no longer had the extra time to volunteer at a local women’s shelter. Haven’t we all been there? But instead of giving up on giving, she found another way to help the shelter. This is the fourth year that she’s collected backpacks and school supplies for kids staying at the shelter. These boys and girls are all headed for new schools in September, and setting them up with full backpacks – after they’ve had to leave so many of their own possessions behind – can help them with a fresh start at a difficult time. This busy mom found a way to make a difference to dozens of children in a way that works with her jam-packed daily sked. Check out her blog for more info.

Watch for Broken Water Mains

Since doing 50 good deeds in 50 days, I’m sometimes asked if I still perform a random act of kindness every single day. The short answer: probably not quite. The reality: I know I do many more good deeds than I used to. It’s not that I was such a selfish pig before all of this. But after 50 days of going out of my way – and sometimes out of my mind – to find some big or small kindness to fill my self-imposed quota, I experienced lasting effects. You could call it a sort of good-deed radar. I find I’m much more likely to pick up on something that could or should be done. Maybe I noticed these things before but glossed over them, too focused on my own typically interminable to-do lists. But there’s this nagging guilt now, a sense of social responsibility, that won’t always allow me to stick my head back in the sand.

That’s what I contemplated this morning as I called the municipality about a leaking water main at the end of my street. Water has been pooling there for days, even during a rainless heat wave; I guess I figured someone on the street had washed their car, or used an automated lawn sprinkler system. Only today I looked more closely and saw an area in the middle of the puddles where water appeared to be bubbling up out of the asphalt. I’ve been walking past that spot every day. How many other people have done the same, each of us assuming that someone else is responsible, or someone else will take care of it? Guilty.

When I talk about good deeds, I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou. Trust me, I’m about as unholy as they come. But if something I write or say inspires another person to pay just a little bit more attention to the opportunities for kindness that abound, then that has to be a good thing.

Amid the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received after I wrote about good deeds in Canadian Living and Reader’s Digest, there was just one critic who wrote: “Charity is not about boasting and sharing all that we do for others. It is about giving and helping from the heart without being praised by people for doing so.” I wholeheartedly agree. But don’t be afraid to plant seeds of kindness around you. You never know what will sprout.

Do Good and Prosper…

My gratitude goes out to the talented photographer Christopher Campbell, who has kindly allowed me to use the tiger lily photo you see above to decorate this blog. I encourage you to check out his website for more samples of his work. Chris captured this beautiful picture during a magazine photo shoot of our flower garden at our Toronto home.

According to all things wiki, tiger lilies are a symbol of wealth and prosperity. At first impression that may not seem like quite the right image for a blog about doing unto others. A tad selfish-sounding, right? But on the other hand, a growing body of research shows how much we in fact prosper when we help others. So, perhaps tiger lilies are perfectly apt after all!

Elevation: Not Just for Mountaintops

Be kind – pass it on! Research at the University of Cambridge has found that when you watch someone do a good deed for another person, it gives you an emotional lift. That fabulous feeling is known to sciencey types as elevation. And elevation is like a do-good drug: It actually makes you, in turn, more likely to go out and commit acts of kindness.

This sounds exactly like the ripple effect I talk about so often. When we do good deeds, it seems to prompt other people do good deeds. So maybe it’s okay to toot your own horn a bit when you’ve done a kindness. After all, you’re just spreading around a healthy dose of elevation.