Monthly Archives: July 2012

How to REALLY Inspire a Generation

Are you burning with Olympic fever? I can’t say I’m in full-out flames. But I’m certainly keen to keep up with medal news. There’s gold, silver and bronze, of course, but how about the honourable Pierre de Coubertin Medal for stellar sportsmanship? Did you know there was an Olympic medal for good deeds?

Talk to sailing champion Lawrence Lemieux. In 1988, the then-32-year-old from Alberta was in the race of his life, flying towards a top medal in the ocean waters off South Korea. The story took a turn when Lawrence spotted Team Singapore’s capsized boat. The two crew members, who had been competing in a different race, were in the water and injured.

Lawrence forgot any notion of racing. He steered his craft towards the desperate sailors, rescuing them both and staying with them until more help arrived.

Only then did Lawrence return to his race. Instead of taking home a gold or silver medal, he finished twenty-first out of 32.

“The first rule of sailing is, you see someone in trouble, you help him,” Lawrence told a reporter later. “If I didn’t go, it would be something you would regret for the rest of your life.” He certainly saved the life of one of the sailors, who was drifting away to open sea by the time Lawrence caught up with him.

I’m sure the decision to award Lawrence the Pierre de Coubertin Medal was a no-brainer for the International Olympic Committee. Twenty years later, he received more praises as he was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

He no longer competes. But Lawrence still coaches sailing. And I can imagine that just as he teaches young athletes to tack and jibe, he instills the same sporting values that have put him squarely in the history books.

Senior Moment

If you happen to live in Oklahoma City, U.S.A., you might have witnessed one of the more generous ways to celebrate a big birthday last week.

Doug Eaton was turning 65. So he turned to Facebook for inspiration: How should he mark the milestone? “I got a whole long list of stuff,” he told a reporter. “And one of my friends said, ‘Why don’t you do 65 random acts of kindness?’”

He took the suggestion to heart. But possibly he was daunted by the idea of coming up with 65 different ideas, because instead, Doug ended up doing the same good deed over and over – for 65 minutes straight.

That’s how long the newly minted senior spent on a street corner, handing out crisp five-dollar bills to strangers.

“It’s just been fantastic,” he gushed in an on-the-spot TV interview. Apart from his helper’s high, he was blown away by the people who told him: “I love what you’re doing, but give this to someone who needs it more than I do.” Folks, we call that paying it forward.

The optimism was clearly contagious. “I think this is the craziest guy I have ever seen in my life – and also, it’s fantastic!” a passing driver exclaimed to the reporter. “I am enjoying the moment out here!”

Speaking of enjoying the moment, I’ll be taking a few vacation days, which means you won’t hear from me for a couple of weeks. I care, so wear your sunscreen.

Traffic sign has the word LOVE added to it

Kindness abounds in my community, too: Check out the graffiti I discovered on a recent neighbourhood walk.

A Day Less Grey

Add this to your to-do list today: Shoot the breeze with an old person. By easing a senior citizen’s sense of loneliness, you’re actually prolonging his or her life. Who knew that a pow-wow could have so much power?

This is supported by a new study at the University of California, where researchers followed 1,604 older folks for several years. The ones who felt loneliest were most likely to die, or have increasing trouble with day-to-day activities like walking or climbing stairs.

Before you assume that Granny’s just fine because she lives in a bustling retirement facility, it’s worth noting that 43 percent of the study participants said they felt lonely – even though only 18 percent actually lived alone.

So pick up the phone, knock on a door, or pen a thoughtful note. It doesn’t matter how you reach out, and it doesn’t have to take much time. What it does is let someone know that even though they’re over the hill, they’re not necessarily below the radar.

Shot Through the Heart, And You’re to Blame (Hopefully)

What if someone dropped, right in front of you, of cardiac arrest? Naturally you’d want to save them if you could.

The increased numbers of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places are making that easier. If used quickly, these mini-machines can improve the odds of someone’s surviving cardiac arrest by up to 30%.

But for many of us, the idea of operating a sophisticated, two-thousand-dollar high-tech lifesaving device – without a medical degree – is kind of intimidating. Could you do it? Would you freeze? Me, I’d worry that instead of bringing the person back from the brink of death, I’d end up electrocuting all rubberneckers within a ten-foot radius.

Here’s where a bit of role-playing comes in handy.

Check out the HeartRescue Project. With this interactive website, you become the passerby who calls 911 and applies electrified pads to an unresponsive stranger’s chest. And guess what? Your quick thinking ends up reviving the guy. I tried it, and found it helpful. And a comfort. I could probably do this.

In Canada, it’s recommended that defibrillators be used only by folks who have both the training and the authorization to use the machines. A few individual provinces go so far as to regulate the use of AEDs. So make sure you know what’s allowed in your jurisdiction, before you pick up the paddles. Better yet, take a CPR course, where you’ll be taught how to use an AED in case of emergency.

As they say, have a heart.

Fair Trade

Want to commit an act of kindness… the quirky way? Check out your local Craiglist, if you have one. See a section under “For Sale” titled “Barter”?

This is where folks go to post or find listings that involve swapping. You do a favour for me, and right back atcha. Often, people are simply looking to trade merchandise. (“I have an engraved fountain pen, do you have baseball tickets?”) But sometimes these posters are looking for something a little more… intangible.

One week, I found a request so strange that I saved it. Wasn’t sure why. But now I know it’s because it was destined to be shared with all of you. I swear I haven’t altered Greg’s oddball and slightly unsettling query in any way:

Hi my name is Greg and I have a problem. I need to lose 20lbs by March. I need someone to chase me around the street so that i get my butt in gear and lose my weight. I have a phobia of people chasing me, so i figure that sitting on the couch and playing PS3 isnt going to help me lose the weight. I know this is an odd request, but i think its the only way I will be able to go to Mexico with a beach body. I dont know what i will trade, but i could offer the borrowing of my PS3 for a week or so or real estate services.

The very same week, I found this one:

Crazy idea? I am sick of all my furniture and want new or different furnishings. Maybe you’re sick of your stuff to and want to trade? Maybe just a few pieces? Or maybe you are an aspiring interior designer who wants to practice decorating a whole house and willing to take my stuff as trade?

…Would I lie to you?

I’m rather attached to my furnishings, and I have no compulsion to run after people. So I haven’t responded to either ad. But it’s still fun – and it’s Friday – so go, look right now, and tell me what you find. If someone wants a few grammar lessons in exchange for de-weeding my lawn or re-caulking my tub, I am so there.

Hard-Wired to Heart Each Other

Archeologists studying Neanderthal remains have discovered many clues that suggest these primitive people were pretty darn nice. It makes sense that our ancient cousins cared about each other. How would an über-social species get along otherwise? Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist in Germany, believes that cooperation helped early humans hunt and gather together, and so survive.

Here in the twenty-first century, humans are still born with an urge to help. In his book Why We Cooperate, Dr. Tomasello says that children are naturally inclined to help others. It’s a behaviour seen in every culture, regardless of how early or late parents encourage sharing and other social rules. Even one-year-olds in experiments will help adults by pointing to a lost object.

Right now I’m re-reading Clan of the Cave Bear, that popular eighties novel (that was eventually made into a really bad movie starring Daryl Hannah), and totally absorbed by the author’s rendering of Neanderthal culture and all of its incumbent kindness. I’m not saying I’d want to sleep on furs and eat woolly mammoth fricasee. But it’s neat to know that even the most prehistoric of people had each other’s backs.

Toddler washing a baby in a bathtub.

Benevolent babies: You wash my back, I’ll wash yours.