Monthly Archives: March 2017

Beauty and the Beasts

A few recent stories of animal-directed altruism have had me smiling. There’s this report about a firefighter in California who used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring a dog back to life. I’m sort of stuck just trying to figure out the anatomy of that, given the wide disparity between the shapes and sizes of their respective oral cavities. Nevertheless, this combination of quick thinking and a little inter-species first aid led to the successful revival of a beloved pet – one who otherwise would surely have succumbed to the smoke from a house fire.

Feathered creatures deserve our love too, which is why a group of residents in a Boston retirement home have been busily supplying the chicken coop next door with tiny hand-knitted sweaters. (Endless games of Parcheesi can get tedious, after all, and idle hands are the devil’s playthings.) Apparently this particular breed of chicken isn’t used to cold weather. The chickens are now proudly strutting around in their knitwear – dare we say, getting a little cocky.

If you think that’s weird, I mean special, this isn’t the first time a group of do-gooders has made outfits for birds. In past years, knitters have supplied an Australian charity with handmade penguin sweaters to protect the birds from oil spills. (The sweaters keep them toasty warm while preventing them from ingesting oil as they groom themselves.)

So many different ways to be kind to animals. Wacky? Perhaps. Wonderful? For sure.

PenguinSweaters

“Don’t look now, Selma, but I’m afraid that bimbo Gertie has copied your outfit again.”

Lights, Camera, Kindness!

If you’re in the Dundas West neighbourhood of Toronto this Thursday and looking for some fun and warm-fuzzies, stop by Dundas Video. This establishment is known for serving up retro video games and movies alongside its alcoholic beverages. If that’s not enticing enough, on March 23 you can stop in to watch a new documentary about goodwill.

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens & Compassion is a short film about Bunz Trading Zone, a community-based favour-swapping, item-trading, connection-forging group. (ISO means “In Search Of” and is frequently used in Bunz messages, as in: “ISO someone to help me remove my storm windows,” or “ISO beginner accordion lessons.”)

Clearly, the Bunz platform serves as a catalyst for many acts of kindness. It helps the cash-strapped. It helps the environment. It helps the community. It even helps the lonely.

It’s fitting for this documentary to make its debut in Toronto, since it’s here that Bunz first launched in 2013. But it’s gradually spreading around the world, with total membership now at 120,000.

“It’s cool, because you meet new, cool people, and you develop a sense of community,” a guy (short on adjectives, long on sentiment) says in the movie trailer.

“I think people are in need of some kind of… personal connection in this kind of alienating society we live in now,” someone else notes.

If Bunz can fulfill that need, good on it. You can find out more about the trading group in this news article.

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In the meantime, I’m contemplating what I might be ISO (drywall repair? Post-apocalyptic fiction? Homemade french fries? The possibilities are almost endless…) (Image courtesy of Justin Lee)

Feel the Heat

Here in Toronto, we’ve been enjoying an exceedingly mild winter. It’s the kind of winter where you forget your toque at home and it doesn’t really matter. Where snowflakes, if there are any at all, settle themselves on the ground sporadically and with a wry smile.

That’s why the last few days of weather have been less than welcome here. Biting wind. Icy temperatures. Actual genuine 100% Canadian snow. And a deep, widespread feeling of distrust.

Eh?

This surprised me, too. But research has shown that when the physical temperature around us drops, we tend to be more suspicious of other people’s motivations. Conversely, when we get a blast of heat, we increase our trust and positivity towards others. Apparently, our systems for monitoring body temperature and controlling emotion are linked, and the warm or cold air around us can influence our feelings. (This field of science, in case it comes up at Trivia Pursuit, is known as embodied cognition.)

You can imagine all the creative experiments the researchers are coming up with to prove it. In one test, a “stranger” (sneaky scientist) asked someone to hold her cup for a minute while she wrote something down. If the cup was steaming hot, the person holding it was more likely to think of the stranger as a warm, kind individual. But if the cup was icy cold, they thought she was a bit of a – well, we won’t put that in print.

I may be misrepresenting the science somewhat. Perhaps the effects were a bit subtler, but they were quite unmistakable. So why has nature wired us to feel more connected to each other in the presence of higher temperatures? One theory is that if we trust people who make us feel warmth, we’re more likely to cuddle with them, hence saving the energy it would otherwise take our bodies to fight off chill. Hey, if it’s good enough for penguins…

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More snow? Blast it. (Photo by Jason Lemay/FreeImages.com)

Up Close and Very Personal

In my line of work, writing freelance magazine articles, I speak to a whole lot of different people. And some of them are vulnerable.

Sure, there are the polished experts – Canada’s go-to spokespersons on this, or the country’s foremost researchers in that. There are even the B-list celebrities (A-listers are out of my reach) whose very living depends entirely on media attention.

But lots of times, I interview ordinary people who have survived difficult, even devastating, life experiences. I’ve talked with women who’ve tragically lost their unborn babies. I’ve spoken to parents whose children have mysterious, unbidden, possibly life-threatening medical conditions. I’ve had conversations with men and women who have been depressed, even suicidal. I’ve questioned people who have endured other hardships large and small that have impacted on their day-to-day lives in profound and lasting ways.

At the end of the day, when a writer is switching off her computer monitor and powering down, she might ask herself: What’s in it for them? Why do these people open themselves up, at times ripping apart metaphorical stitches, to expose their pain to the world?

I know the reason. It’s because they’re convinced they can make a difference. They can show other people they’re not alone. They can give advice, so important and precious, advice that can only come from someone who has walked the same path. They can do their part to lessen the pain for the next person.

I know for certain this is why they do it. Why else would someone who is not a pathological egomaniac reveal such personal details to hundreds of thousands of readers?

And yet I was reminded of it again last week, when I interviewed a woman who had survived a potentially lethal disease. While we talked, she cried a little. But she was candid and honest and answered every one of my questions.

Afterwards, she admitted she had considered whether or not to go ahead with the interview. She’s generally a private individual, she told me. This isn’t like her, to tell her story to a national magazine. But she knew it was the right thing to do.

“If it helps even one person,” she said, “it’s worth sharing what I went through.”

You know what? Her decision may save a life. Or multiple lives. I am constantly humbled by the generosity of the women and men I speak to. It’s no wonder I love my job. I get to see the compassion of the human spirit – truly, up close and very personal.

ButterflyDamaged

We don’t get through everything unscathed, but we can leave a trail for the next person.