Monthly Archives: November 2010

Guilt-Free Giving

The other day I took one of my rare trips to the bottom of the pile of paper on my desk. As I sorted through documents, and my recycle bin filled up, I observed two distinct categories of discards. One was junk mail. The other was charities soliciting donations.

I had no qualms, of course, about pitching the pizza flyers or scrapping the brochures from roofing companies. But what’s absurd is the twinge of guilt I felt for every envelope I tossed that happened to have a return address with the word “foundation” in it. As I rejected one appeal after the other, I felt contrite.

The reason it’s absurd is that no one could be reasonably expected to donate to every charitable cause that comes asking around this time of year. In that one afternoon I reviewed requests from a poverty relief agency, a disability support organization, three hospital foundations (including one for sick kids – what kind of brute am I to say no to sick kids?), an emergency information service, even my own alma mater. All very good causes, certainly.

I’ve already made at least six donations to non-profit groups in this month alone. And I’m not independently wealthy – not yet, anyway. So why, then, did I feel like a heel as I fed all these entreaties straight into my blue box?

Maybe it’s like my neighbour’s mom said to me later that same day. We were discussing the fact that most of the people we know truly want to be helpful to others. “We probably should do more, though,” she remarked. This while she was already going out of her way to drive my daughter and me to the subway station so we wouldn’t have to shiver at the bus stop (her idea). So why was she, like the rest of us, being so hard on herself?

We have to learn to let go of the guilt. I don’t think anyone should feel inadequate just because you aren’t walking in Mother Teresa’s sandals. Most of the time you’re doing the best you can. And if it so happens that you choose a spa day instead of spending your last forty bucks to help sick kids, you probably shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. For one thing, you won’t enjoy your spa day half as much.

Do you agree? Do you think we should feel better about the good that we do, and stop feeling so guilty for the good that we don’t?

How Goes the Mo’?

It’s almost the end of November, and a good day to check in on the boys and their whiskers. A couple of weeks ago I posted pics of friends who were kind enough (or brave enough?) to submit images of their starter ’staches, which they’re cultivating for a cancer cure.

If you haven’t already donated to Movember, a funky fundraiser and awareness-raiser, you still have time. All participants who are growing a moustache for the cause are accepting donations until the end of this month. The money goes to Prostate Cancer Canada to help the one in six Canadian men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Not a bad reason to wear a crumb catcher for a month.

To put you in the Movember mood, I include here a few more photos of the men I know who have been growing a fuzzy lip for charity. You can also watch the antics of my nephew and his moustachio’d buddies in this special video, which they compiled for the occasion. My favourite take-away line: “If you can afford to party, you can afford to donate to prostate cancer research.” Well said, young friend.

Remember: If you subscribe to this blog by clicking the sign-up button at the top right, you’ll be e-mailed instantly whenever a new post appears, roughly twice a week. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Tim: It's worth checking out his fundraising page just for the funny comments from his friends.

Peter: His ’stache is stylish, and his fundraising page is

Clarke: Joined a fundraising team for mo'-ral support.

Hot off the Press

Ever wonder why you’re such a kind soul? Turns out evolution has a whole lot to do with it. Researchers have been uncovering evidence that helping others has all kinds of benefits for our individual survival.

Back in September, I mentioned I was working on a magazine story about the science behind why we human beans do good. I spoke with several experts for this topic. I also solicited a series of beautiful tales about acts of compassion from across Canada.

I know you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat, so I’m pleased to say you can now read all about it in the brand-new December issue of Reader’s Digest. My feature, “The Science of Being Nice,” starts on page 66 of this issue.

I’m also making an appearance on the Reader’s Digest website. Click here to read a bit of background about my own interest in good deeds. I then invite you to scroll to the bottom of the article or click this link to submit your story about a good deed you’ve done, or an especially meaningful act of kindness you’ve witnessed or benefited from. What helping moments have stuck with you?

I’m hoping we’ll see lots of your anecdotes. If you need any more convincing, keep in mind that simply writing about a good deed is in itself a good deed. That’s because your story will inspire other people to go out and make a difference. So check out the page, write a line or two about your experience, click Submit and pat yourself on the back. Just because helping others is good for us doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the warm fuzzies that come with it.

About a Billion Reasons

In my last post I wrote about a hungry man in my own community. Today I’m writing about hunger thousands of miles away.

According to the World Food Programme, a United Nations initiative to fight hunger in all parts of the planet, the number of people living without enough food will surpass a billion this year. That’s more than the population of Canada, the United States and the European Union combined. And since that’s also about the same number of people who use the Internet, the WFP figures some matchmaking is in order. We online folks are well positioned to help hungry people because we can spread the word, advocate and fundraise to ease this global problem, all through our Internet connections.

And what if you only have forty seconds? That’s just about how long it took me to feed a hungry child. Thanks to an anonymous donor, every time one of us takes this short online quiz about world hunger, a malnourished child will receive a meal.

So while you’re sipping your morning coffee and contemplating that second doughnut, why not take a quick time-out and complete the quiz? You have nothing to lose, and a child thousands of miles away has everything to win.

Charity in the Form of Chickpeas

Last night my family and I stopped in at our favourite falafel restaurant to grab takeout dinner. It had been a long day but we were in high spirits. And we always enjoy showing our faces at this establishment, because we get a friendly reception without fail. We’ve been coming here for years. We’re treated like long-lost friends. The owners have seen our daughter grow from an tiny infant to a shyly grinning preteen (grinning, because such a fuss is made of her here). More times than I can count, a sweet piece of baklava has been surreptitiously wrapped up for my little girl to find at home. There are always smiles and good wishes. And what’s more, the people who work here seem genuinely caring, not just generating some superficial banter that’s good for business.

In other words, I didn’t really need proof that these are nice people. But if I ever did, I got it last night when a man shuffled in who was rather down on his luck. He stood behind the line of customers, caught the eye of one of the owners and asked for food. Without hesitation, the man behind the counter assured him he’d get something to eat. The staffer then proceeded to put a hot meal together in a takeout container – didn’t seem to mind when the homeless guy indicated he’d really like some rice added to that – and got him set for that night’s dinner.

“You try to do what you can to help,” one of the owners said when I commented on the generosity of the gesture. Of course, there are lots of businesses that give back to the community in one way or another, whether it’s sponsoring a neighbourhood sports team or donating coffee and muffins to a local fundraiser. And while it’s terrific that they do this, you know they’re getting publicity or tax write-offs or some other kickback for their kindness. Fair enough. That’s business. But when a hungry man with no money walks into a restaurant and is quietly fed without fanfare, somehow I find it especially touching.

So if you’re ever in Toronto’s west end looking for a Lebanese eatery with great, fresh food and really just the nicest folks, well, be sure to give me a call. I’ll point you in the right direction.

Giving Large

Here’s a tale of a particularly large-hearted Canadian couple. Allen and Violet Large made news a few days ago with their big lottery win of over $11 million. It wasn’t so much the colossal prize itself that drew attention, but the fact that they didn’t spend any of it on themselves. There will be no mansion, no fancy cars, no trips around the world for this couple, who are in their 70s and live in Lower Truro, Nova Scotia. Instead, they made generous cash gifts to a list of charities and family members.

Violet, who is recovering from cancer surgery and chemotherapy, told a reporter that the giveaways “really perked us up.” Her husband Allan said being able to help others felt just great.

Most of us, finding ourselves in the same situation, might not make quite the same choice as this low-key couple (I could certainly do without the mansion and the fancy cars, but it would be awfully hard to say no to that ’round-the-world vacation). But before you allow the Larges’ generous actions to shame you, it’s worth remembering that most of us are donating at least some of our riches to charity. Eighty-four percent of us give money every year, according to the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating.

And if you listen to what sociologists have to say, we’re probably doing it for much the same reasons as Allen and Violet Large. It perks us up. It feels just great.

We all want to make a difference. Whether we give away 11 million dollars to a long list of worthy organizations, or whether we support the girl guide next door by shelling out a few bucks for cookies, it’s a gratifying feeling to know you’ve helped someone.

Mmm, cookies.

Moustache: The Right Move for Movember

Does the world really need mo’ moustaches? Well, at the very least we need mo’ prostate cancer research. And that’s why we need Movember.

Movember is a month-long event in which men formerly known as clean-shaven grow moustaches to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. It actually started as a joke over beers – of course it did – but now Movember is an annual fundraiser in ten countries around the world.

Over here, the money raised goes to Prostate Cancer Canada. According to this agency’s stats, one in six men in this country will learn they have prostate cancer, and 4,400 will die of it this year alone. Awareness and medical breakthroughs are desperately needed.

Men aren’t known for having in-depth conversations about their prostates, so I think attaching this important health issue to a facial hair contest is actually not a bad way to get attention.

Four people I know have already declared their commitment to a handlebar, a fu manchu, a pencil or some other oh-so-fashionable ‘stache. I’ve posted a couple of their starter pics below. I’m holding out for follow-up photos in full moustache by month’s end.

Every Movember participant has his own space on the website. Visit to search for your own hairy friends and sponsor their efforts. Remember, it’s like it says on the website: Every moustache makes a difference. Now haven’t you waited your whole life for a catchy tagline like that?

According to Alex, growing a moustache is a choice, getting prostate cancer is not. Visit his fundraising page at

What’s your mo’-tivation? Tim: “I'm doing the Movember thing because my Dad had prostate cancer last year.” His fundraising page can be found here:

Halloween Goody-Goodies

I’ve written before about doing “discount” good deeds for the people we’re close to, like our friends, family and neighbours. One of my daughter’s best pals falls into two of these three categories: she lives on our street and she plays with my kid regularly. Last week the girls made plans to go out trick-or-treating together, same as every year. Except fate threw a monkey wrench into their plans – in the form of chicken. Chicken pox, that is. Consequently my daughter’s playmate was forced to spend the past week at home in glum isolation, Halloween or no Halloween.

One of the reasons I think kids are so compassionate is because they often seem able to put themselves completely in another’s shoes. My daughter had no trouble imagining the agony of missing out on tricks and treats. Of course she couldn’t lift her friend’s quarantine or change the date on the calendar, so she did what was within her power. All evening she toted an extra treat bag as she made her Halloween rounds, and at every house she gave the same pitch: “I’m collecting candy for my friend with the chicken pox.” The result? A nice weighty sack-o-treats, hand-delivered at the end of the night. And a big grin on the face of the receiver of said oversweet delivery. (Why shouldn’t her parents be on the hook for their kid’s dental bills like the rest of us?)

Over the weekend my daughter also took time to make and send a PowerPoint get-well card, deliver a movie she thought her friend would enjoy, and decorate a batch of chicken-pox cupcakes (which, or is it just me, sounds like something one ought to be able to buy at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?).

As I wrote before, having consideration for your friends is one way of strengthening those relationships. I know my daughter’s pal would be there for her in a pinch.

Plus when you’re a kid, performing acts of kindness for people you’re acquainted with means you get to see firsthand the results of your efforts.

There’s nothing like the glowing face of a friend to remind you that you done good.

A plate of cupcakes decorated with spots

Mmm, chicken-pox cupcakes!