Category Archives: Websites

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.

Right Out of the Brew

First, let me say that I am not secretly shilling for a coffee company. No one pays me to write the stuff on this blog. And I’m not expecting a case of free java in exchange for today’s post.

But I will say that I enjoy the recent string of Maxwell House coffee ads that suggest you’re not actually watching a Maxwell House coffee ad. No, you’re really taking what the company calls an “optimism break.”

During each thirty-second spot, you watch a video of an inspiring person. In one, it’s a happy little girl with springy curls in front of a mirror, doing the best personal affirmation I’ve ever witnessed. In another’s it’s an honest homeless man whose life changed for the better after he returned a lost wad of cash. Sure, we saw some of these go viral on YouTube long before they were ever associated with the joe. But add in the mood music, and you’ll get a couple of tears out of me every time.

Each commercial starts and finishes with a steaming cup of what can’t possibly be coffee, since supposedly this isn’t a coffee ad… so, any guesses on the identity of that dark-brown, hot liquid that I know smells so, so good and that I want to just snatch out of the screen? (Does it say “drink me” in a swirling steaminess of subliminal messaging?)

You can watch all six ads on the company’s Brew Some Good website. But no need to wean yourself from optimism breaks after that. On the site, ordinary people are encouraged to upload and share their own optimism, in the form of personal photos, stories and videos. Other visitors can rate these submissions according to whether they perk them up (Ha ha, get it? “Perk”? I’d ROFL, but I haven’t vaccuumed in a while).

No discrimination either. Coffee fiends and tea drinkers alike can stop by. Ah, I can see I’ll have some fun here…

Sweetness and Light

Fun Friday news: 50 Good Deeds has won an Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. As far as I can figure, this is some kind of chain mail of blog recognition. Sweet blogs are acknowledged, rules are followed, the award is passed on to other worthy bloggers.

In this case the award came from writer Kristen den Hartog, who blogs delightfully about the children’s books she and her creative young daughter explore together. Since the first Irresistibly Sweet rule is to thank the person who gave me the award, here it is: “Thank you, marvelous Kristen!”

The second rule is to write 7 things about myself. I think at this point I’ve probably already written 477 things about myself on this blog, so I’ll try to keep it brief, with my apologies:
1. I adore my family, my friends, my perennial garden plants… usually, but not necessarily, in that order. If one of them bugs me, they’re sent to the back of the line.
2. I have a printout of “The Optimist’s Creed” taped beside my desk.
3. I have a rather dark sense of humour. That’s all I’ll say about that.
4. I love, love, love Japanese food. Then again, I love food, period.
5. I intensely dislike putting away groceries. I would gladly clean five toilets to avoid this kitchen chore.
6. I’m better than average at reading people. I don’t always let this on. Why should I? So if you’re lying, insincere or hiding a dark secret, be warned. I’ve totally got your number.
7. I make my living writing non-fiction, but I’m a closet novelist, closet playwright, closet poet and closet children’s writer. I hope one day to come out of the closet.

The third and final rule is to pass the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award on to other bloggers. This part is easy; I know lots of sweet people, sweet writers and sweet blogs. But for the sake of these selections, can we assume “sweet” means excellent, as in “You bought me a car? Sweet!” and not sweet as in “Aw, who’s a sweet widdle puddy tat?” Because otherwise, this could get condescending and weird.

So now, in no particular order, here are my picks for the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award:

1. Great Things about Being Blind: The title is self-explanatory and the blog is often very funny. Storyteller Kim puts up a new post every day.

2. One in 36 Million: My friend Melanie, a single mom, writes poignantly about life and other adventures with her son.

3. Inclusive Humanity: My colleague Krista writes from the heart – as well as from a slew of professional experiences – about the value of including people of all abilities in our community.

4. Letters from Rona: I do enjoy author Rona Maynard’s writing and I’m sucked into her stories without fail, even when I have more pressing things to do.

5. Literary Type: Professor Sarah is honest, introspective and pretty darn interesting if you’re the bookish sort (which I am, of course).

Enjoy the blogs; enjoy your weekend.

Do Try This at Home (And Be Thankful You’ve Got One)

A caring videographer from California has made it his business to meet invisible people and turn them visible. And now his efforts have helped a homeless Canadian find a place to live.

For two and a half years, Mark Horvath has interviewed and filmed dozens of homeless people and shared their stories on his video blog (or “vlog,” as the young kids are calling it these days). Not long ago he posted a clip about Donny, taken on a freeze-your-face-off night in Calgary. In the video, Mark, who once lived on the streets himself, appears gobsmacked that Donny’s planning to sleep outside in an alleyway on sheets of cardboard. “It breaks my heart,” Mark says.

But after Donny’s video recently went public, in stepped the Calgary Homeless Foundation with a fix. This community agency hunted the streets to find Donny and set him up with a basement apartment – his first home in 21 years. Check out the housewarming video: just 8 seconds in, you get an exceedingly concrete sign of Donny’s exuberance. Mark’s reaction is lower key: “I’d love to take credit for that,” he writes, “but the truth is, it is the community that makes the difference.”

But by shining a spotlight on homeless people, Mark is lighting a fire under the community’s proverbial butt. His videos start conversations; they stir action. It’s worth taking the time to watch a few of the clips on his vlog. (I persisted past his tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: “WARNING – these videos will mess you up.”) What resonated most with me was the strong compassion expressed by the newly visible: When asked what his three wishes would be, a man named Randy includes a bid for world peace and a wish “that we could all just love each other.” Another guy, Gerald, talks about making choices based on morality, and says he tries to “bring out the honour in every man.”

Mark, if by “mess you up” you mean “make you want to hug someone,” then your warning is apt. People: watch his videos.

P.S. It’s my anniversary (sort of)! The first day of May marks five years since I started my good-deed-a-day project. I’m sending thick slices of virtual cake and gaudy party hats to all the readers and subscribers who visit this space and keep the theme going. Bonne fête!

Will Work For… Nothing

Do you give it away? Almost half our population aged 15-plus is volunteering for a good cause. That means over 12 million Canadians are working for nothing. They’re helping out in schools, community associations, religious groups and sports organizations. They’re coaching soccer, visiting hospitals, joining charitable boards, taking their Little Sisters out for ice cream.

Interestingly, there are certain types of volunteers who do most of the work. These tend to be parents with school-aged children, people with university degrees and folks who go to religious services every week. Although I score two out of three, my own volunteer portfolio looks, I think, rather shabby this year. My family commitments, job and household responsibilities tend to be all-consuming.

But just because I’m not taking on shifts at the hospital gift shop or fundraising for the homeless, that doesn’t mean I never give it away for free. In fact, my line of work, freelance writing, makes it fairly easy to work for nothing: In recent weeks I’ve given advice to new writers, reviewed a website, edited a grant proposal, all at no charge. Next month I’ll be a volunteer judge for an editors’ award. It’s relatively easy because I can do these jobs without moving my butt one inch from my comfy office chair.

That brings me to the next question: When do you say no? How do you know when a cause is worthy? When is it a good deed to work for nothing? When, on the other hand, are you simply being ripped off?

I discovered an entertaining flowchart that helps answer that question. If you’re a writer like me, an illustrator, an editor or a designer you will relate well. Even if you freelance in a different line of work, you might find it fits. (Cussword alert: Some language may offend, so surfer discretion is advised.) Click here to try it out, or just enjoy a chortle. It’s certainly more fun than the magic eight ball I referenced in my last blog post…

P.S. There are only four days left to vote for 50 Good Deeds to win a Best Health blog award. Click here if you’d like to add your vote!

Who Do You Think You Are?

Up for a little self-analysis? I came across a diverting online tool the other day. Now, I’m not usually one for those relatively meaningless quizzes. I don’t tend to feel all that fulfilled by establishing, once and for all, which Jersey Shore character I am or who my celebrity boyfriend might be. (Besides, it’s already quite clear that my TV-star soulmate is Josh Holloway.)

But this quiz, posted on planet Oprah, poses the question: “What Kind of Volunteer Are You?” Of course it grabbed my attention, so I dutifully responded to the five multiple-choice questions. Not all of them seem to have a direct connection to volunteering, but apparently they reveal critical personality traits.

My results? Apparently I’m a mix of the Untapped Volunteer and the Inspired Volunteer, with zero tendencies towards the New Breed Volunteer (which is okay, because that one just sounds like some kind of fancy dog). And when I read the descriptions, they actually do reflect my life somewhat. Although I suppose it could just be the horoscope phenomenon.

What I like most, though, about this quiz is the range of ideas offered up in the final analysis. Read through it: There are several suggestions as to where your passion, skills and lifestyle might find a fit.

As I’ve written before, there’s not much point in volunteering if you don’t find it engaging. You’re not likely to last, and you may not give it your all. So I’m all for any gimmick, even an online quiz, that can help you discover your niche.

All the Cool Kids are Doing It

It’s mid-January. According to the universal law of calendar science, are we still allowed to share a New Year’s story? My friend Mary sent me a piece of news she knew I’d find interesting: Random acts of kindness have been listed by London-based firm as one of the hottest new trends of 2011. That’s right alongside self-monitoring your health and paying less than retail. Apparently, giving is the new taking. (I guess I’ve been out of the loop – I’d only heard that black is the new black. Or was that last year?)

This trend-reporting website is targeted to corporate types, however, so it also includes tips on capitalizing on these consumer trends for – what else? – the benefit of business. Example: Do an unexpected kindness for a customer, and that’ll show you care. The article goes further, suggesting companies can use social media tools to find out more about their individual customers. This way, they’ll pick up hints about specifically which acts of kindness will go over well.

That’s where it gets a little creepy. When the VP of marketing uses Twitter to find out about a customer who’s had a bum of a day and could use a bouquet… well, that’s almost stalking. (And why does it make me think about those old Impulse Body Spray commercials? “If a complete stranger suddenly gives you flowers, that’s Impulse…”)

Trend or no trend, I’m positive you’re not out there performing good deeds just because the cool kids do it. Compassion isn’t a new invention. And some things just never go out of style.

Ain’t That the Truth

It seems old Winnie still has a lot of fans. I got some interesting responses, both online and privately, after I quoted Winston Churchill on this blog. Actually, I quoted reader Christine quoting Churchill, and it seemed to strike a chord with people. We enjoy pithy sayings from eminent individuals, don’t we? For one thing, these truisms are usually exceedingly well articulated – these folks are poets or leaders or orators or academics, so they know how to turn a phrase. But it’s also stirring when we come across a piece of wisdom that simply rings true, sometimes on a most fundamentally human level.

The other day, a faithful longtime 50 Good Deeds reader – okay, it was my dad – sent me a link to the Power of Kindness Movie. If you can get past the soppy background meditation music (think dental office meets MIDI file), this three-and-a-half-minute video features one-liners about kindness from a run of well-known men and women. Churchill in fact starts us off but we also hear from Mark Twain and Leo Buscaglia and Princess Di and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others. There are some stunning nature scenes for your pleasure.

What’s your favourite inspirational quote about kindness? Here are a few bonus tracks, not included in the video:
Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” (Yeah!) And: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Eleanor Roosevelt: “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
Warren Buffett: “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”
Mohandas Gandhi: “Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.” Plus: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Nelson Mandela: “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

If you like these, then have a peek at the Power of Kindness Movie. Call it your mid-week lift: It worked for me. Thanks, Pop.

Hot off the Press

Ever wonder why you’re such a kind soul? Turns out evolution has a whole lot to do with it. Researchers have been uncovering evidence that helping others has all kinds of benefits for our individual survival.

Back in September, I mentioned I was working on a magazine story about the science behind why we human beans do good. I spoke with several experts for this topic. I also solicited a series of beautiful tales about acts of compassion from across Canada.

I know you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat, so I’m pleased to say you can now read all about it in the brand-new December issue of Reader’s Digest. My feature, “The Science of Being Nice,” starts on page 66 of this issue.

I’m also making an appearance on the Reader’s Digest website. Click here to read a bit of background about my own interest in good deeds. I then invite you to scroll to the bottom of the article or click this link to submit your story about a good deed you’ve done, or an especially meaningful act of kindness you’ve witnessed or benefited from. What helping moments have stuck with you?

I’m hoping we’ll see lots of your anecdotes. If you need any more convincing, keep in mind that simply writing about a good deed is in itself a good deed. That’s because your story will inspire other people to go out and make a difference. So check out the page, write a line or two about your experience, click Submit and pat yourself on the back. Just because helping others is good for us doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the warm fuzzies that come with it.

About a Billion Reasons

In my last post I wrote about a hungry man in my own community. Today I’m writing about hunger thousands of miles away.

According to the World Food Programme, a United Nations initiative to fight hunger in all parts of the planet, the number of people living without enough food will surpass a billion this year. That’s more than the population of Canada, the United States and the European Union combined. And since that’s also about the same number of people who use the Internet, the WFP figures some matchmaking is in order. We online folks are well positioned to help hungry people because we can spread the word, advocate and fundraise to ease this global problem, all through our Internet connections.

And what if you only have forty seconds? That’s just about how long it took me to feed a hungry child. Thanks to an anonymous donor, every time one of us takes this short online quiz about world hunger, a malnourished child will receive a meal.

So while you’re sipping your morning coffee and contemplating that second doughnut, why not take a quick time-out and complete the quiz? You have nothing to lose, and a child thousands of miles away has everything to win.