Monthly Archives: July 2013

What’s the Bright Idea?

Certain key factors can influence a person’s kind behaviour. This we know from past research. But face it: Some of those influences are fairly unexpected, and others downright weird – like the smell of fresh baking, or the word “loving” on a T-shirt.

Thanks to psychologists at the National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, we now have another odd one to add to the list: Bright lights. In their experiments, people in brightly lit rooms were more likely to help others, behave honestly and donate generously, compared to people stuck in dim rooms. The research is published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. The authors theorize that brightness may… well… make moral behaviour feel more important, which in turn makes ethical actions… er… more likely. (Sorry, I’m only going with what I’ve got, here.)

Naturally, this research has quickly been pounced upon by – wait for it – a home lighting company, which suggests that families consider brighter light installations “to make things more harmonious in the home.” The take-home message, apparently: If your kids are bickering, dial up the wattage. Peace will follow.

Caution: Bright indoor lights may induce hugging.

Caution: Bright indoor lights may induce hugging.

Zombie Race with Grace

There are only so many fair-weather weekends available in summer, especially for Canadians. So it’s a tough call sometimes when we northerners are making our seasonal plans. When I was penning events into our calendar this year, the Zombie Survivor race in Cochrane, Alberta, didn’t make the cut.

Nevertheless I’m a tiny bit jealous of those who did make the trek last Saturday, all those runners who risked their brains just for the thrill of dodging the undead. The idea is you dash along a five-kilometre route over uneven terrain and around obstacles, while loads of people dressed up as zombies lurch after you. You ask me about my idea of a good time, and it’s all packaged up right there.

What does any of this have to do with good deeds? Part of the event’s proceeds were slated for donation to Kids Cancer Care, a charity that supports families coping with childhood cancer. They didn’t have to, but they did. So it proves that even zombies have hearts (albeit slowly rotting ones).

How I’d look if I succumbed to the zombie apocalypse: No one promised it would be pretty. (Dead yourself at

How I’d look if I succumbed to the zombie apocalypse: No one promised it would be pretty. (Dead yourself at

Tiny Little Free Libraries

Guaranteed, I’ll continue to get confused and call these “free little libraries.” But they’re actually called Little Free Libraries, founded three years ago by a guy in Wisconsin, and they’re gathering momentum all across North America and beyond. Toronto is in the midst of getting set up.

Why are these small-scale projects so appealing? Maybe it’s because these wooden boxes of books, which sit perched on posts and wear little painted gable roofs, are adorable. Or maybe it’s because the volunteer stewards pack these boxes with some of their favourite reads, just so their neighbours can borrow them, and maybe even return them for someone else to have a go. (As the website points out, you can’t steal a book if it’s already free.)

Check the map to see if there’s a Little Free Library in your area. Want to start your own? Like the idea of sharing books? Or perhaps you’re just keen on calling yourself a steward (I agree, it’s a pretty cool moniker). Helpful instructions are posted here.

You had me at “free books.”

You had me at “free books.”

Floods of Generosity

If you live in or near Toronto – or you don’t, but you know of Toronto, or you can pronounce the word Toronto – then you may be aware that we recently experienced what weather experts are calling a “once-every-hundred-years” phenomenon.

In layman’s terms: We were drenched. In just a couple of hours on Monday, we got more rain than we’d received in the entire day, ever. In fact, we collected more rain during rush hour than we normally get in the whole month of July.

What did that mean for those millions of us who live here? Spin the roulette wheel and take your pick: power failures, flooded basements, washed-out roads, evacuated homes, phone outages, stalled transit, swamped vehicles, trapped train commuters, damage to house and yard. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has experienced loss in some form or another. And yet they’ll tell you, too, of the kindness they witnessed amid the devastation, the neighbours, friends and families who helped each other. I’m not hearing tales of woe. Instead, what I keep hearing is: “We were lucky.”

We were lucky. Our basement – not known for being impervious – wept somewhat during the worst of the downpour, but it was a slow leak that was easily contained with towels. Same with the rainwater that washed in under the front door. Our power was out for over 40 hours, leaving us with no means to operate my husband’s essential disability equipment. But we were able to literally recharge our batteries (and have a rewarding doggy visit) at a family member’s home. We had no A/C, but the weather was pleasant (fickle as it is). We threw away hundreds of dollars’ worth of perishable food, but we had great fun sharing a meal with neighbours, eating some stuff up before it spoiled.

And we were safe. We checked on folks in our community, and they checked on us. We fielded calls, texts and emails from people farther away who cared. I had the best coffee I’ve tasted in a long time, thanks to the neighbour who brewed it for me in the camper-trailer in her driveway. (Incidentally, I also had the worst coffee I’ve tasted in a long time, thanks to the enterprising local café that did the best it could with a gas burner and candlelight.)

Events like these remind us that in case of disaster, we have each other covered. We will pitch in. We will come through.

It’s a comfortable way to weather any kind of storm.

Hold on to your rainhats, folks, here comes a product endorsement … our coping-with-the-dark ability was boosted by our three terrific Lanterna “Touch On” LED table lights.

Hold on to your rainhats, folks, here comes a product endorsement … our coping-with-the-dark ability was boosted by our terrific Lanterna “Touch On” LED table lights.

Why We Say Please

One of the simplest and easiest ways to be kind is to remember your Ps and Qs… specifically, your “P(leases)” and “(thank) Qs.” But it depends where in the world you are. According to Delancey Place, my go-to website for all facts fascinating, some societies don’t have words for please and thank you. In fact, these niceties are a fairly recent – and Western – custom, invented within the last 500 years as this society became more equality-minded and less of a kowtowing people. Up until then, we said please (if it pleases you) and thank you (I’ll think of you, and what you’ve done for me) as “a way to show deference to a lord or master,” according to the well-read Delancey Place folks.

This gem comes from David Graeber’s 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, in which he writes: “Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.”

What fun. When you thank the guy at the newsstand for handing you your change, you’re really telling him that your heart will forever remember he showed you a kindness. And when you ask your sullen teenager to “please” turn off her cellphone at the dinner table, you’re basically saying she doesn’t have to do it unless she feels like it.

I love learning, don’t you? But forgive me (please, thank you) if I don’t share this particular tidbit with my teenager.

We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness, Yet

Dear reader: This is the 300th post on the 50 Good Deeds blog! Can you believe it? That means we’ve found 300 ways to talk about good deeds. And I’m convinced there are hundreds more.

Take, for example, the EXCHANGE exhibition at the Foundling Museum, which you can visit in London, England, until September. In this exhibition, ceramic artist Clare Twomey has placed more than a thousand cups and saucers on display. Each one of these cups has an act of kindness printed on the bottom. (Are you keeping count? We’re now at 1,300 ways to talk about good deeds!) Ten museum visitors a day are allowed to choose a cup to keep – but only if they pledge to carry out the good deed. All one thousand saucers are staying behind to document the deeds.

What, are you telling me you don’t live anywhere near the northwest London borough of Camden Town? Don’t fret. The artist has found a way to bring EXCHANGE to the wide world. Go to the online edition, and there’s a mechanism for 10,000 more good deeds to be carried out. (Are you still keeping count? Now we’re at… a lot.) Click on a pale blue cup icon to suggest an act of kindness, or click on a pink cup to take on one that someone else has already proposed. (Fun challenge: Can you find the one written by me?)

If this is what you mean by being in your cups, I’m all for it.

If this is what you mean by being in your cups, I’m all for it.

A Berry Generous Thing to Do

What’s the best thing about becoming a great-grandmother? Ask my mom, and she might rave about the impossible sweetness of a newborn baby’s tiny face, or the stupor-inducing scent of his downy head.

But she may also mention the free strawberries she received, after racing to a pick-your-own berry farm just moments after the closed sign was hung. My mom drove in anyway, and explained her urgent reason for crashing the gate: She was going to meet her new great-grandson for the very first time, she’d promised to bring the family a strawberry shortcake, and she was desperate for the fruit. Could she possibly spend a few minutes in their strawberry patch, gathering just enough for her recipe?

The farm owner looked at her own two smiling teenage daughters, then nodded towards three baskets of freshly picked berries on a nearby table. “Take them,” she said.

“What do you mean, take them?” My mother asked, startled. “How much do I owe you for them?”

“Take them,” the other woman insisted. Yes, she was bestowing the berries on my mom as a gift. In honour of her new status as great-grandmother. And if you know my mother (well, most of you probably don’t – but you can take my word for it), she always appreciates a good, solid act of kindness. But she’s especially touched if it happens to be garden related.

Welcome to the world, baby Chase. There are a lot of awfully nice people in it.

And sometimes, they give you strawberries.