Monthly Archives: October 2015

Christmas Comes Early (Take That, Cancer)

At this moment I can’t think of anything more desperately poignant than a child close to the end of a short, precious life. But a family, along with the extraordinary townspeople of St. George, Ontario, found a special way to create meaning and hope in a dire situation.

Seven-year-old Evan Leversage has brain cancer, and isn’t expected to live another two months. His mom was determined that, no matter what else happened, Evan would not be denied one last Christmas celebration. So she decided the holiday would arrive two months – in her household, at least.

What she couldn’t have predicted were the lengths her community would go to bring her small son some big festive joy. Houses and storefronts throughout the town were decorated with holiday lights and evergreen boughs. Artificial snow was brought in. And this past Saturday, an unforgettable Santa Claus parade with more than two dozen floats made its way down the town’s main street. (Our little star got to ride with Santa in his sleigh.) St. George has a population of just over 3,000. Yet, somehow, more than twice that number showed up. Evan even received holiday greetings and gifts from people in far-flung places, and from celebrities like the Bieber family and Evan’s personal hero, SpongeBob SquarePants.

“To know there’s that many strangers out there that are sending you positive thoughts… is just mind-blowing,” his aunt told CBC News.

Did all these well-wishers manage to make a difference? Evan’s ear-to-ear smile, captured in images shared around the world, should answer that question. But the event meant more than that to Evan’s family, who had hoped to raise awareness of the needs of other children with cancer, not just their son. “The parade was for Evan, but in our family’s heart, we were thinking about all the other children in the same position,” his mom declared the day after the event. Thanks to the efforts of so many caring people, her hope most certainly will come true.

Ordinarily, I’d be fundamentally opposed to posting a Christmas-themed story in October. But one makes exceptions. (Photo courtesy of markuso /

Ordinarily, I’d be fundamentally opposed to posting a Christmas-themed story in October. But one makes exceptions. (Photo courtesy of markuso /

Happy Twits

“Boy, am I hungover!” Truthfully, as I’m writing this, I don’t yet know the outcome of our federal election. So I can’t actually predict how I’ll be feeling when this blog is posted on Tuesday morning. I suspect I’ll be tired, having stayed up past my bedtime for the voting results and speeches. And yes, maybe I really will be suffering the wrath of grapes, either from toasting a victory… or from trying to drown my sorrows.

I can guarantee, though, that social media channels will be humming like a high-powered jackhammer on Tuesday morning. Almost everyone will have something to say about the election results, whether positive or negative.

Believe it or not, that distinction makes a difference when it comes to the staying power of a post.

And you know I have a research study to back this up, don’t you? Computer scientists at the University of California just released an analysis of almost 20 million tweets. The messages were filtered through an automatic sorting program and assigned scores of positivity or negativity. So, for instance, “Pedicures are beautiful #footfetish” is assigned to the positive group, while “Over-boiled spinach is the bolus of Satan” gets put with the negatives. (Note: These are fabricated examples and are not extracted from actual study data.)

The researchers then looked at what happened to the tweets, and their retweets, over time. (Wow, now there’s a sentence that would fail you in English in 1999.) They found that positive messages did tend to spread more slowly than negative ones. But they were also shared and favourited more. Eventually, positive tweets reach more people than negative ones.

The researchers call this positive bias. You may recall a study I reported on back in March that found that languages around the world are universally skewed to the positive. Whether we’re writing or speaking or composing lyrics, we refer to flowers and sunshine more often than doom and gloom.

Nice to know we have a natural urge to share positivity. And it’s such an easy good deed: Click “Retweet”; make your followers happy. On that note, I just made a point of logging onto Twitter, saw something positive, and retweeted it.

You’re welcome.

Flowers and sunshine.

Flowers and sunshine.

Turkey Day Tidings

Have you emerged from this weekend feeling like you’re the butterball? Canadian Thanksgiving will do that to you. But if you spent time sharing a festive meal with loved ones, wasn’t it worth sacrificing a belt hole or two? To mark the holiday, we at 50 Good Deeds present you with six fun facts about Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

1. Experts say Thanksgiving is one of our most chill national holidays. Compared to other holidays that involve a string of social obligations, a vulgar amount of gift-shopping, or potential long drives through blizzards, there’s not much to stress us out at Thanksgiving. Really, you might spend a few minutes fretting over whether the brined method truly is best, but that’s about it. Hey, we even get a long weekend.

2. There are 531 turkey farmers in Canada. They supply Canadians with over three million whole turkeys at Thanksgiving time. The scope of the tofurkey industry is a little less clear.

3. Cranberries were used as a symbol of peace by certain Aboriginal groups in North America. In our family, it still works: Pass the cranberry sauce and pipe down.

3. If you’ve ever experienced a post-Thanksgiving-dinner food coma, don’t blame the tryptophan in turkeys. Scientists say it’s more likely a result of the obscene amount of calories you’ve just taken in, or the alcohol (or both, we’re all saying to ourselves right now).

4. “Thank you” comes from the same root word as “think,” and implies that you’ll remember fondly this kindness that’s been done to you. In Portuguese, obligato roughly means, “I owe you one.” In Finnish, kiitos is from the same word for praise. When you thank someone in Finland, you’re actually saying, “Praise be to you!”

5. When you express thanks to someone who’s done you a favour, you increase the likelihood that they’ll help another person. When you bring someone a thank-you note, your own happiness level rises. When you send a thank-you note to a hiring manager after an interview, you’re more likely to land the job. Thanking people pays off.

6. In the Middle Ages, turkeys were commonly referred to as turkey coqs. That is all.

I’ll leave you with this quote, sourced out by an 11-year-old at our Thanksgiving dinner party, and read aloud to guests: “Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.” It’s food for thought. And it might make a more lasting impression than the turkey leftovers.

Something’s missing. Oh, yes, it’s milk, eggs, spices and 45 minutes in the oven.

Something’s missing. Oh, yes, it’s milk, eggs, spices and 45 minutes in the oven.

Horrible Bosses

Do you manage front-line workers as part of your job? If so, are you more concerned with making a million bucks than making your employees feel like a million bucks? You might want to pay attention to a new study from the University of British Columbia. It suggests that the way supervisors treat their front-line employees can have a direct impact on the way those employees, in turn, treat the customers.

According to the researchers at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, customers in general are becoming increasingly snarky to call-centre employees and other front-line service workers. And when telemarketers or customer-service agents are at the receiving end of this over-the-phone abuse, naturally it’s tempting as hell to hang up on people, direct their calls to a nonexistent department of the company, or openly question a customer’s parentage.

But the study found that whether or not employees actually give in to that temptation hinges on the amount of respect they get from their supervisors. If the workers are consistently treated with dignity, they’re a lot less likely to behave badly to rude customers. And that, in turn, is good for the bottom line.

I doubt this phenomenon is confined to call centres. When we’re dealing with less stress on the job – any job – we’re less likely to snap. So if you’re a boss, be nice to your employees. It’ll be worth your while. Treat them fairly, say thank you, remember their birthdays. And it wouldn’t kill you to bring doughnuts every Monday.

“Since my boss treats me with respect, I’m resisting the urge right now to tell you how badly your gene pool is in need of chlorine…” (Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic /

“Since my boss treats me with respect, I’m resisting the urge right now to tell you how badly your gene pool is in need of chlorine…” (Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic /