Chairman of the Beard

On this blog we’ve talked about growing moustaches for charity. This is a story about shaving off a beard for charity. A man in Clarenville, Newfoundland, who apparently felt that four decades was long enough to live with face fungus, recently made big plans to shed his full-length, bushy white beard. (Why, yes, he does in fact sell Christmas trees during the holiday season.)

Ralph Lethbridge – known to his pals as “Boonie” – wanted to leave a legacy as he prepared to embrace a baby-smooth chin, so he decided he’d do some fundraising. His charity of choice: the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. Three of Boonie’s friends have had the disease. Boonie hoped to raise $5,000 for the cause.

Reportedly, Boonie is a bit of a legend around town (hey, it’s a small town). Thus the idea got popular pretty quickly, and a few weeks ago, during a local Clarenville Caribous hockey game, the ice rink ended up doubling as a barbershop. To the cheers of spectators, a variety of helping hands – including Don Cherry, jokingly wielding a chainsaw – took turns trimming and shaving Boonie’s facial hair until it was completely gone.

Boonie must be feeling proud. Donations poured in as the story took off, and he ultimately raised over $50,000 for the non-profit organization.

But he did have to work to overcome his apprehension first. That’s according to Todd Cole, Clarenville’s director of leisure service, who helped arrange the event. “He was so nervous before it,” Cole told a reporter, “that he got up on the ridge where he goes cutting wood, and started speaking to the trees and moose. Apparently they said, ‘Grow up, Boonie, for f—’s sake!’

Cole (rather needlessly) added: “The whole family is truly salt-of-the-earth people.”

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Proudly impersonating Santa one last time. (Facebook)

It’s Always Darkest Before the Yawn

She loves me, she loves me not: If you want to know how connected your pal feels to you, try yawning in her presence. The tighter your social bond, the more likely she is to yawn in response to you.

There are a lot of theories about why we yawn, why it’s contagious, and how come some people are more susceptible to infectious yawning than others. It could be genetic. It might be a survival instinct to keep a group out of danger. And it has something to do with age – older people and younger children seem more immune.

Currently, there’s a reasonable amount of evidence to suggest links with empathy. That’s why a group of biologists at the University of Pisa figured that since women are known to have more developed empathic abilities than men (sorry, guys, but it has to do with our traditional roles of tending the kids and making sure our clans get along), perhaps they’d be more susceptible to contagious yawns. They tested this out and found that not only were women, as expected, more likely to catch a yawn than men – but yawns were also more contagious between close friends and family members, and less contagious between people they barely knew.

So if you want to measure the loyalty of your female friend, catch her eye and do some dramatic yawning. (Either that, or ask for a loan, and see how that goes.)

Personally, I’m convinced I have a severe case of yawnitis. I yawn when I see someone else yawning, when I look at a picture of someone yawning, when I write the word yawning, when I think about yawning, even when I watch a drawbridge opening. In fact, I’ve yawned thirty-six times already while writing this blog. Either I’m tight as glue with every person on the planet… or I need another go at the morning coffee. Suspicions are strong it’s the latter.

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Aw, look at that. She likes you, she really likes you. (Photo by David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tinney’s Teens

This story has lingered in my thoughts since I read about it last week. Maybe that’s because it’s not the first time I heard about Tinney Davidson, a woman in her 80s living in Comox Valley, British Columbia.

The place she lives is relevant, because it happens to be located on a major walk-to-school route, teeming with teens.

Tinney moved here nine years ago. And while it’s normal to get into a routine after settling into a new home, for most of us it looks like this: laundry every Monday, garbage curbside every Thursday, and perhaps a visit to the mailbox each weekday afternoon. For Tinney, the daily routine involves sitting at the window three times a day, distributing enthusiastic waves and gregarious smiles to the packs of students on their way to and from the local Highland Secondary School.

Believe me, these kids give right back. They’re completely accustomed to catching Tinney’s eye, grinning and raising a hand as they pass by her house. They like it. “She’s just one of those people who’s, like, pumping everyone’s attitude up,” one student explained to a local television station in 2014. Said another: “It makes everyone’s day a little bit brighter.”

That was the year the teens first organized a surprise Valentine’s Day celebration in Tinney’s honour, to recognize the love that flows between them. They invited her to an assembly, presented her with valentine cards, and showed a compilation video of boys and girls saying thanks. “I’m overwhelmed by all this. It’s just wonderful,” an emotional Tinney said at the time.

The TV news segment went viral.

This year, on Valentine’s Day, the students outdid themselves. Instead of passing by Tinney’s house in the morning, 70 kids gathered in her front yard, decorated her lawn with handmade hearts, and waited around to give her cookies, hand-written valentines – and warm hugs.

“They’re just wonderful children. They just make me feel so good,” Tinney told a reporter. “I think I’m just the luckiest lady alive… I have so much joy from them.”

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Photo courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Top Tales in 2015

It may be a bit late for a reflect-back-on-the-year-that-was post, but since someone wished me a “happy new year” just last week, I say let’s go for it. Today, we’re revisiting the most popular 50 Good Deed posts of the previous year. Which stories captured the most views? We did this a year ago, and after a series of careful double-blind studies with control groups we came up with our results: In 2014, it was puppies and babies that grabbed your hearts. Kind of a no-brainer, right?

But in 2015, the top posts were a little different. Not that they’re without youngster or canine representation. In third place, “Morris, Who Works Like a Dog” told the story of an adopted sheepdog who has quickly learned to pitch in at the family business… specifically, a funeral home where skills like consoling, comforting and making cutey eyes are in great demand.

The second-most-popular post was “A Close Shave.” This was about my friend Ella, a.k.a. selfless mother of the century, who encouraged her son to shave her head – losing 26 inches of her hair to the floor – just so she’d match him, after his life-saving emergency brain surgery.

Both these stories are heart-rending, because they involve loss, or near loss, and these are terrifying to contemplate. For a complete change, let’s turn to the number-one 50 Good Deeds story of 2015, about a celebrity act of kindness: a few caring words from singer-songwriter  Melissa Etheridge. The words in question were directed at my friend, a (rather starstruck) young flight attendant, while everyone on board his plane coped with a long delay. There are no puppies or children in this story – unless you count my friend’s tired dogs after spending many hours on his feet – but, probably thanks to a few tweets and then a retweet by the fabulous singer herself, “Like the Way Melissa Etheridge Does” gathered more attention than any other blog post all year.

I am always grateful to readers who spend time on this website when there are countless others competing for your attention (did you know that if you enter “blog” in a Google search, you get over five billion results?). Thank you for being an important part of these stories of kindness – because, of course, that’s what you are. No matter where we are in the world, and no matter where we are on our journeys, there are threads that connect us all. (I’m tugging one right now, do you feel it?) Happy new year.

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Here you go, fans: A cute baby, and something furry.

All Smiles

How about this new study from the Psychology department at the University of British Columbia? Researchers found that young children aged five to seven have stronger reactions to happy, smiling faces than angry ones. They perceive these positive facial expressions as more intense, and they’re more tuned in to the information conveyed by human beings who are beaming.

That’s a surprise, because apparently by adulthood we’re more attuned to negative faces than positive ones. Presumably, that’s because there’s survival value in picking up quickly on threats and other bad news. When someone is frowning, we know we ought to pay close attention to whatever it is they’re about to tell us. (If we’re lucky, it’s more on the scale of an outrageous dry-cleaning bill, as opposed to a massive alien invasion.)

So why do little kids show the opposite pattern? Why do they have a stronger response to happy smiles? Maybe it’s the way we’re raising them, suggests co-author Rebecca Todd in a press release, noting: “In North American culture we really give a lot of positive reinforcement to our kids.”

I guess what she’s saying is that our kids are used to receiving all their critical information – don’t pick your nose, keep your hands away from the stove, say thank you to Grandma – from a happy-looking face. We don’t scowl at them, but rather guide them with never-ending patience and sweetness. (Are you laughing as hard as I am right now? Hm, maybe that’s where the smiley-face business comes from.)

But seriously, as 21st-century parents go, we are a pretty nice sort. And I like the idea that we are capable of teaching them crucial life lessons without anger or physical force. That our children are getting a whole lot of loving-kindness in their lives. Maybe we do raise our voices once in a while – we’re not perfect. But at least our kids are learning that smiles are important.

If you ask me, that’s a crucial life lesson right there.

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“Son, next we’re going to talk about why you shouldn’t flush the hamsters down the toilet… uh, ever again.” (Photo courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Books on the Bus Go Round and Round…

I’ve given this some thought, and decided it might break my heart to tell you the story of the little girl in Nova Scotia whose tragic early death has led to an unbelievable, exponential number of good deeds everywhere. So I will share a link to this article, stand aside while you read it, and let you be inspired to commit extraordinary acts of kindness, without any guidance from me whatsoever.

Now that we’ve all composed ourselves, let’s talk about a novel way to share book love. No Kleenex required. Thanks to this brand-new initiative in Red Deer, Alberta, small collections of free books are now circulating around the city via public transit routes. If you’re riding a bus with one of these on-board libraries, you’re encouraged to browse through the selection, grab anything you want at no charge, and take books away with you… or simply read while you ride. (Disclaimer: Red Deer officials are not responsible for missed bus stops due to engrossing bestsellers.)

It sounds similar to the Little Free Library concept I wrote about back in 2013. That was the movement that triggered a crop of cute little book houses all over North America (one came to my neighbourhood last year!), offering a range of titles free for the taking and the sharing.

Back in Red Deer, Books on the Bus will run for six months on a trial basis, maintained by volunteers. Book donations can be dropped off at any Red Deer public library. Fiction and non-fiction at all reading and age levels is happily accepted.

Just in case they’re looking for more ideas, I’ve come up with some themed classics. There’s The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck, The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy, Riding The Bus With My Sister by Rachel Simon… and that runaway bestseller, Practical Safety Inspection for Commercial Vehicles, published by the Ontario School Bus Association. We can’t wait for the next edition.

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Books on the Bus: An idea that everyone can get on board with. (Photo courtesy of the City of Red Deer.)

Actor of Kindness

He may have played a murder consultant in Horrible Bosses, and answered to a nickname you’d never repeat in front of your kids (rhymes with smotherchucker). But movie star Jamie Foxx, in real life, does good. We know this because his foundation supports the health and welfare of children around the world. We know this because he’s put himself out there as the celebrity spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. We know this because he’s been personally involved in raising money for groups like the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (bee-tee-dubs: his sister, DeOndra, has Down syndrome).

We also know this because when Jamie Foxx picks up on a commotion in his ’hood, he races outside to lend a hand.

Jamie Foxx told reporters that he heard the sound of a car crash from his home in southern California. He called 911, then rushed to find a pickup truck overturned and on fire, with the driver trapped inside. Jamie and an off-duty paramedic were able to smash through the window of the vehicle and haul the driver to safety… literally seconds before the entire truck was engulfed by the flames. They surely saved his life.

“I’m just so happy that it happened here, and they were the right people here,” said the tearful father of the driver, a 32-year-old man who suffered serious injuries but is recovering. “I think we want to be willing to jump in when it needs to be done, but how many others really would?”

And (apologies, apologies, apologies) what does the Foxx say?: “I don’t look at it as heroic,” he told the reporters. “I just look at it like, you know, you just had to do something.”

This celebrity’s no smotherchucker, that’s for sure. On the contrary, he joins the 50 Good Deeds hall of famous… along with the likes of Melissa Etheridge and John Malkovich, both of whom have been featured in past blog posts after doing sweet things. It’s all about being human.

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“And for the most profoundly well executed good deed, the Oscar goes to…” (Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)