Category Archives: Campaigns

No Business Like Snow Business

When I first glanced at the name of Canadian Tire’s winter-themed kindness campaign, I honestly thought it was called “Shove It Forward.” This made a strange kind of sense to me: It could have been an emphatic message about assertively, maybe even quite forcefully, paying the good deed forward.

Of course, the campaign is really about shoveling snow, not shoving kindness down people’s throats.

Here in Canada, snow shoveling is one of our official winter sports (I think). We wear uniforms (usually wool toques, deeply treaded boots and 2010 Winter Olympics mittens, slightly pilly with wear). We use specialized equipment – preferably ergonomic shovels with easy-grip handles, although any old aluminum thing will do in a pinch. And with practice, we improve and refine our technique.

Snow shoveling is not a team sport per se. But you do often see interplay, in the form of jovial comments exchanged between two adjacent driveways (“What a winter!” “You said it!”). The language rarely gets out of hand, although you may hear one or two curses aimed at a particular groundhog of note.

There are no national championships, no trophies, no medals. Snow shovelers, no matter how accomplished, never get celebrated. They don’t stand on a podium or receive flower bouquets or get asked to appear in a Nike commercial. What they do is work diligently and thoroughly to clean the white stuff away from their driveways and walkways.

And then, because this is Canadian society we’re talking about, more often than not they go next door, and similarly clear out a path for their neighbour.

The “Shovel It Forward” campaign is all about warming people’s hearts when the weather is unbearably cold. Canadians who shovel driveways for others are encouraged to report the good deed on the campaign website, or talk about it on Twitter. Canadian Tire is even supplying a number of limited-edition shovels to do the job (true to the name, you’re supposed to leave the tool with the neighbour so they can help someone else and pass it on).

With or without this campaign, Canadians everywhere are constantly shoveling it forward. On a blizzardy day, there’s no sound I love more than the distinctive rumble of a generous neighbour’s snow blower in my driveway, coming to the rescue. And my daughter and I, in turn, often wield our shovels on other people’s properties.

(These days, we do skip helping the cranky elderly neighbour I reported on here. Funny story: The winter after that episode, when I offered to help him after yet another heavy snowfall, he growled, “I don’t need help! I told you that last year!” At least his memory’s not failing.)

The shovel is almost bigger than she is. But that’s not stopping her. (Photo courtesy of Andrew McCartney / Tribal Worldwide)

The shovel is almost bigger than she is. But that’s not stopping her. (Photo courtesy of Andrew McCartney / Tribal Worldwide)

Nerves of Steel

What’s your biggest, strongest, deep-rooted, visceral fear? What makes you tremble, or scream and run away, trampling any and all seniors and small children in your path? Maybe you’re afraid of hairy spiders, or great heights. Perhaps it’s the idea of singing in front of an audience, or taking a dip in a dark lake. (Please don’t tell me it’s an ice bucket.)

Would you face your fear to raise money for cancer? That’s the basis of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Fearless Challenge campaign. Celebrities and commoners alike are crowdfunding for cancer while promising to take on whatever makes them shake in their boots. Some of them will eat gross stuff. Others vow to make various radical grooming choices such as head-shaving and hair-dyeing. The bravest ones (yep, guess what my fear is) are skydiving, bungee jumping and, gulp, leaning over the edge of the CN Tower, apparently secured by nothing more than a filament that could surely snap in the breeze of a passing pigeon’s wingbeat.

I will pause here while my palpitations return to normal (thanks, vivid imagination). The fascinating thing about the Fearless Challenge campaign is that everyone’s particular constellations of fear are unique. One guy doing the challenge is so shy that, to him, high-fiving a stranger is terrifying. Another man is leery of confrontation. His idea of facing fear is fighting a sumo wrestler. One woman doing the challenge says she’s prepared to accept her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Um. We won’t even. We just won’t.

Whatever your fears are, you’ll probably find something on the campaign website that resonates with you. And maybe inspires you. In fact, perhaps yours will be the next face we see posted on the Fearless Challenge page, promising to play with snakes, or tuck into a fresh piece of uni sushi, or finally tell your boss what you really think of her. Hey, we won’t judge. It’s your journey.

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

Let Me Count the Ways

Ever wish you could add up all your good deeds?

It’s one of the vexations of day-to-day life, isn’t it? You perform so many thoughtful acts, you just can’t easily tally them all. If only – if only there was a way to keep track, you’re thinking.

There is now.

It’s called the 100 Good Deeds Bracelet. It’s made with 100 coloured glass beads and a braided cord that wraps around your wrist. Every time you do one good deed, you move a little rubber ring over by one bead. When you’ve passed 100 beads, you’ll hit a button stamped with “1GD.” Bingo! You’ve performed 100 good deeds, faster than you can say “what does the 1 in 1GD stand for?”

The concept was invented by a dad, and refined into a bracelet by a creative artist and activist. We at 50 Good Deeds (or perhaps I should call us 5GD) think it’s a fun idea – sort of like a tiny, wearable abacus of kindness. Happily, the bracelets are also rather blingy (but do come in boy colours, too).

Buying these bracelets and supporting the 1GD initiative means creating employment for vulnerable women. Ergo, as it’s pointed out on the website, making a purchase counts as your first good deed. And you’re off to a great start.

So pretty, I’d wear one just ’cause.

So pretty, I’d wear one just ’cause.

Knit Picks

We’re long-time fans of yarnbombing, simply because this kind of street art gives us a lift. Now, thanks to a few mysterious gangs who know how to wield a pair of knitting needles in wintry weather, yarnbombing is literally giving people a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Last week, someone wrapped more than a dozen hand-knitted scarves around the necks of historical statues in downtown Ottawa, along with notes that offered the free scarves to anyone who needs them to keep warm.

The temperatures in the Ottawa region dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius last week. For you people in the southern U.S., that’s the official freezing temperature of… well, just about everything.

It’s not the only place where yarnbombers are fighting the cold. A “Chase the Chill” campaign has been going on in Winnipeg for several years now. And knitters in Easton, Pennsylvania, introduced the idea back in 2010.

So don’t be alarmed if you see that a bronze World War hero in your community is suddenly sporting a multi-hued muffler. Hopefully, it will make someone smile. And maybe even toasty-warm.

Yes, okay, I admit this scarf is store-bought. I can’t knit worth a darn… (get it?)

Yes, okay, I admit this scarf is store-bought. I can’t knit worth a darn… (get it?)

People Often for Good

I’m a huge fan of people for good, and I’m also a huge fan of People for Good. Confused? People for Good is the national campaign for kindness I wrote about back in August. The idea, the website and all the people involved in it fill me with so much happy, happy, joy, joy.

Now that we agree on that, I want to share just one teeny-tiny quibble I have with People for Good’s new TV ads. Don’t get me wrong. I love that there even are TV commercials whose sole purpose is to make you sweet, not sell you a car or a beer or all-day mascara. These ads are meant to further the notion that the world would be a better place if we performed more acts of altruism. So far so good. Here’s one about a man giving up his subway seat to a woman bursting with pregnancy, and here’s another one about two car drivers behaving charitably in a parking lot. Here’s one for folks who support bug conservation. They’re fine ads.

So where’s my quibble? It’s with the punch line. At the end of each of these commercials, a message floats on the screen: “If good deeds were more common, they wouldn’t stand out so much.”

See, I just can’t get on board with that. I think good deeds are common. I think a whole lot of good deeds don’t stand out.

Of course others do take our breath away, like when a community rallies with donations for struggling young students, or when a neighbourhood hangs a hundred thousand outdoor Christmas lights for a grieving mother, or when eight total strangers lift a smoldering car to save a man’s life.

But remember, we’re biologically wired to be kind. Look around, and you’ll notice a pretty steady hum of good deeds in your workplace, in the transit system, on the street, in your home. (Only moments ago, my husband brought me chocolate. Chocolate is kind.)

Most of these good deeds never make the news. But isn’t that the point? They’re so common, so usual, so numerous that we don’t stop the presses. We don’t report them. We don’t log them for the history books.

We smile and we say thank you. And we go on with our ordinary day.

What do you think? Is a good deed a rare bird?

Bat the Breeze for Mental Health

You knew Clara Hughes as the Canadian girl with the stunning smile who brought us home six Olympic medals in her sports of speed skating and cycling. Thanks to the Bell Media publicity campaign that’s been everywhere lately, you now also know her as a young woman who was diagnosed with depression. It’s not rare. One in five of us will experience a mental illness before we’re done. The rest of us will love someone, work with someone or hang out with someone who experiences mental illness. That means mental health affects every single one of us.

Bell Media claims to pour more cash into mental health promotion than any other Canadian corporation. Their campaign is “Let’s Talk,” and it’s about getting the topic out into the open because it’s normally so hidden – which is, of course, half the problem. According to Bell, two out of three people hide their psychiatric status because they’re afraid of what other people will think. A third don’t get medical help. Want to make a difference? Open your mind, and open your heart – and if you’re someone with firsthand experience, open your mouth.

Tomorrow, a plethora of Bell Media-owned TV stations will broadcast documentaries, talk shows and panels on the theme of mental illness. You’ll see familiar faces talking about it, like former hockey player Stephan Richer and singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk (LOVE her! Interviewed her for a magazine feature and she was dazzling, even over the phone).

You can do good just by tuning in to these TV shows and learning. And if you happen to subscribe to any of Bell’s phone services, every long distance call you make or text message you send tomorrow will earn five cents for mental health initiatives. So will a retweet (@Bell_LetsTalk).

I happen to be a Bell customer. So maybe I’ll call my mom tomorrow and say hi. It’s always good for my mental health, and hers. And tomorrow, it’ll be another nickel for someone else’s.

It Gets Gaga

When Jacques St. Pierre, student council prez, was planning an anti-bullying assembly at his arts-academic high school, he decided to try to grab his classmates’ attention in a big way: by getting a celeb to speak out. So when a sweet native New Yorker called Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – known to the masses as Lady Gaga – answered Jacques’ request with a one-minute video message for his school, he was over the moon.

“When I showed it to the student council, they all cheered and screamed and freaked out,” Jacques told a reporter. “She’s talking directly to [students].”

Jacques is a blissed-out fan of the pop singer and admits he watched the video more than 300 times before unveiling it last week in front of the student body.

Jacques also admits he was bullied in a previous school. After his school took a group pledge against bullying during last week’s assembly, Jacques and the student council launched a campaign called The “I Will Make It Better” Project. Presumably, the name of this campaign was inspired by the It Gets Better Movement. But I like this take on it, kicking it up a notch from a passive just-you-wait-until-you-sprout-hairs message to a hands-on, I’m-gonna-kick-some-bully-butt attitude (not literally, of course – this is a campaign for peace, after all).

Canadian comedian and anti-bullying activist Rick Mercer also made a video visit. But it was Lady Gaga’s parting words to the kids that made me teary (I’m often teary on Fridays): “Have a wonderful day at school,” she told the kids, “and love each other, treat each other with kindness, because we’re all we’ve got.”

And then she blew a kiss. Steffie, where did you learn to be so compassionate – or were you, in fact, Born This Way?

A video still of Lady Gaga giving a message to the school.

That’s no Poker Face: Gaga does a good deed.

In the Mood for Movember

Ready to pony up some ’stache cash? Today marks the first day of Movember, the annual worldwide fundraiser for prostate cancer that sees men of all shapes and sizes growing hairy lips of all shapes and sizes. Some of it may be visually unsettling, but it’s all for a good cause.

Last year I had the pleasure of cheering on several Mo’ Bros and their crumb-catcher campaigns for charity. This year I can’t wait to find out which of my male pals, colleagues, neighbours and family members are preparing to sport a ’stache for cancer research. (Tallying the facial growths of total strangers can also be an interesting pastime. Last November my daughter and I spotted a most bushy and disturbing mo’ on a fellow transit rider, and immediately turned to each other with the same unspoken question: Is it for Movember, or is he always this creepy looking?) You go, guys. Way to keep us guessing.

Lisa with a moustache

In the spirit of solidarity, I’ve created my own fashionable fuzzy. It’s official… I’m a Mo’ Sista!

Be Kind to Your Infanticipating Friends

Be nice to pregnant women. Is it really necessary for someone to tell us that? Yes, according to a non-profit group in Los Angeles that has been promoting acts of kindness towards expectant mothers.

It’s not just a feel-good initiative. In the U.S., black babies are much more likely than white babies to have a low birth weight or be born prematurely, leading to a higher mortality rate. More and more evidence links these pregnancy problems to mom’s stress levels. Women who are both knocked up and stressed out may be releasing hormones that lower immunity, increase the risk of infection and even bring on preterm labour. Other studies show that black pregnant women experience more stress than white women.

That’s why Healthy African American Families started a cool new campaign called “100 Intentional Acts of Kindness toward a Pregnant Woman.” This list of suggestions was generated by talking to black women who were pregnant or recently gave birth, and asking them: What do you wish friends, family members and total strangers would do to make your pregnancy better?

Over half of them wished those close to them would be more supportive, encouraging, understanding. (I love the woman who gave the suggestion: “Don’t argue with me.” It’s simple, it’s to the point, it’s a precious pearl of wisdom.) A quarter of them just wanted their partner to pick up a kitchen spatula once in a while, for Pete’s sake.

If the women in the focus groups wanted more from their family and friends, it was the total opposite when it came to strangers. They wanted less – less staring, less touching of the baby bump, less smoking around them, and definitely less commentary about how painful, exhausting, horrible and downright traumatizing the delivery would be. A full quarter of women just wanted strangers to offer up their seat on the bus, dammit.

You can read the complete list of 100 acts of kindness here. Some are big (“throw me a baby shower” and “pamper me”) and some are heartbreaking (“don’t break up with me during my pregnancy” and “don’t tell me about the death of someone’s infant”).

But a great many are simple and easy for others to do, like “tie my shoes,” “open the door for me” and even “wish me a good pregnancy.”

If this initiative really works, if the theory is correct, then just by following a few of these tips with the pregnant women we encounter – whether they’re black or white, whether we love them to pieces or don’t even know them – we could be boosting the health of all our community’s babies.

Welcome to the world, little ones. We’ve got your back.

An adorable laughing baby

One of my very cutest, healthiest nieces pictured here. We must've been pretty nice to her mom when she was expecting.

Be Good for Goodness’ Sake

If you spend much time taking public transit, you’ve seen billboards and bus ads meant to make you shop, travel, go back to school or get your teeth whitened. How often do you see one that makes you feel uplifted?

I first noticed a People for Good ad while waiting on a subway platform, and was intrigued and thrilled. (Never mind that, just a few feet away, some stumbling drunk was relieving himself into the train tunnel. True story.) Point is, here was a beautiful, eye-catching ad representing a significant effort to tell our entire city how delightful it is to do good.

Take a jaunt over to the People for Good website and you’ll get a sense of what the folks behind this social movement are hoping to achieve. Not to mention their tongue-in-cheek humour, which makes any preaching go down easy. “Our goal is to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time,” states the manifesto. They just want people to act like they care. They call it a community “glue.”

Awesome – let’s all get sticky.

Although about a kadzillion people have been named on the website as having contributed toward this nationwide campaign, the two key Canadians who sparked it are Zak Mroueh and Mark Sherman. Both men work in media and communications. And yes, they pulled in a few professional contacts to pull this off.

But, says Zak, “On a personal level, it’s been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to deliver such a pure message… Everyone who has been involved in the execution and creation of this campaign has told stories of how it has affected or changed how they behave each day.”

They’ve also been overwhelmed by the positive public response. There have been articles, radio programs, TV spots. The word is spreading. The good-deed ideas are catching on. “We’ve heard stories of people ‘high-fiving’ the transit posters,” says Zak, adding wistfully that he’d love to see that firsthand.

The campaign was started at the end of June and will officially end August 21, but Zak and Mark are hoping to expand it later this year. “This is just the start,” Zak assures us. “Until we have 6 billion people join the movement, the campaign hasn’t really completed its task.”

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? But it feels so darn good.