YOUR VOICE

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06.20.2012

How an Act of Kindness Saved My Life in a Wal-Mart Parking Lot (Guest Blog by Drew Elliot)

Nine states in to the forty-eight state volunteering adventure, I was growing accustomed to sleeping a night or two in the parking lots of Walmarts -- that was, until winter struck.

After experiencing negative twenty-six in Helena, Montana, I thought the worst was behind me. Of course, that was the farthest thing from the truth when I drove into Bismarck, North Dakota, I should have known that December weather could stop one dead in their tracks.

I sat in a coffee shop for a few hours answering emails and prepping for the coming week when I glanced at the forecast -- negative thirty all week long!

Yikes!

So...I enacted the emergency back-up plan: sleep in the car from 5:30p to 9:30p, then sit at an all-night diner until 7:00a, and then go sleep in my car for another couple of hours when the weather warmed up a little.

I found a spot to slumber at in the local Walmart parking lot and dozed off for about an hour until the cold was piercing through all fifteen of my pathetic layers. I tried to get comfortable but quickly realized it was a losing battle. (My eyeballs feeling solid was a good indication.)

That’s when I headed for a Denny's around 8 o'clock to continue working at the never ending pile of emails and website updates. This was a great idea except I couldn't get the wi-fi to work. So, I played a few rounds of solitary while I sipped through a pot of hot coffee, all while conversing with Hank and Henry, two guys visiting their mom/grandmother in the hospital. I gave up on getting any real work done for the night and decided to get serious with my dismal fate.

That’s when I initiated phase two of the emergency back-up plan: go buy a healthy amount of hand warmers, toe warmers, and body core warmers to see if they could keep the heat underneath my layers. I headed back to Walmart where I made the purchase of warmers along with a value pack of thermal socks thinking I could take on Mother Nature’s worst!

As I arrived at my car, there was a younger guy with a newly purchased Jeep parked next to me with his hood up. I asked if he needed a jump and he responded with an enthusiastic, "that would be great!” I drove my car around the parking lot median and squared my engine up with the twice-my- size vehicle whereby I popped the hood. It should have been a standard jump, except I'm never completely sure which one is the negative charge on my battery. (It didn't help that it was negative seven at the time and that it was a quarter to two in the morning.)

Let's just say that the first jump didn't take. I’m still not sure if the cables were cheap or if the lines were mixed up -- either way -- his jumpers were fried...literally. Plastic grips were melting and plenty of smoke/steam was coming from the connectors.

After removing the deformed cables, I took out the pair I had from my trunk and made the connection. This time, we made sure the colors matched up, and with that, came success.

During the whole ordeal, the gentleman and I began to talk about his new Jeep and about the size of the battery and about what I was doing in the state. I told him about the volunteer adventure and that I was there for just this reason, to help him (or anyone else) out.

As the conversation advance, he found out my intentions to sleep in my car for the night -- he then insisted on getting me a hotel room for the evening. I explained that I would be able to survive the night with my hand warmers and I was simply happy to help out without any need of compensation.

While shaking his head, he said, "naw...it’s no big deal. I want to help you out.” He then climbed into his Jeep and told me to follow him.

I didn’t understand what was going on, but tailed behind the now running vehicle all the way to a hotel resort a few blocks away. It turned out that his father owned the place and was able to get me a room at no cost to me or to him.

At that moment, I was drastically made aware of the old truth that kindness produces kindness, and even though my yearlong mission was to serve others, I was so thankful to receive the help of a stranger when I needed it the most.

I must admit, that night’s sleep was very sweet -- and looking back -- it might have even saved my life.


Drew Elliot, a lover of adventure and charity, volunteered for a week in each of the 48 contiguous United States while promoting a Service To Others lifestyle. He was name Reader’s Digest “2011 - Best Sojourner of the Year” and has been feature on The Huffington Post, Voice of America, and Americantowns.com with regular appearances in magazines, blogs, and television. He currently resides in Pennsylvania working on a new kindness project called “Here A Year” - www.hereayear.com.

05.08.2012

Guest Blog: Melinda Schmitt, "My Year of Hugs"

I was in the midst of self exploration and awareness. Despite my husband and 2 beautiful boys I felt lonely. I was not alone by any means. I was surrounded by people, but I felt no intimate connections with any of them. I had lived in Raleigh for 4 years and wondered when that connection would happen. I missed my extended family who lived out of state and began questioning if we made a mistake in moving so far away.

After asking my book club members how they determined what their purpose was in life I felt no closer to knowing what mine was or really any closer to them. I watched in pure amazement as one of the newer book club members hugged each and every member on her way out the door. No one else hugged, no one else had ever hugged each other. From that moment forward the momentum just propelled me forward. I missed hugging. I wondered why no one else hugged. I wondered why I didn't hug. The very next day came the realization that I wanted to change myself and the community around me. I wanted to hug and be hugged by everyone. I wanted to make a connection with everyone. Not just my family and friends, but others around me that I wanted to show gratitude to. Gratitude that they helped me with something, gratitude that they spoke kindly to me, gratitude for just entering my life. That felt right, but just not enough. I wanted to do more. I came up with the idea to do a Year of Hugs and blog about it. The blog was to keep propelling me forward, but also to reach people that I couldn't physically hug.

The following year was just another year in my life. Yet, it wasn't. I had triumphs and losses. I had moments of clarity and confusion. I felt happier, yet deeper sadness for circumstances beyond my control. I am certainly forever changed. I understand to my core how much I need to feel connection with other human beings. I will never again allow myself to be so far removed from it. I will never again allow myself to stop hugging others. Yes, I had also hoped that my journey would move others, I had hoped that others would find encouragement and courage in my words to reach out and make the connections they were longing for as well. No matter how much I had hoped for this, it still brings me to tears each time I hear how someone hugged someone else because of me. It brings me to tears every time someone shares a story about kindness or love because it made them think of me. That. That right there fills me with so much hope and love that I fear my heart will burst wide open.

People continue to ask what direction I plan on going now. For once in my life I am not concerned. I realize now that I don't need a defined purpose. My purpose is to be right here in this moment. No matter what I am doing, I am fulfilling my purpose just by living. Sure, I have aspirations for my blog and hope to create a community of hugging bloggers, but for now, I am just content to be.

Thank you to Sarah and Greg for allowing me to share my story with you. I feel it is only appropriate that I end my guest post the way I end all of my blog posts. Please accept this blog as my virtual hug to you.


Melinda Schmitt is a mother of 2 boys from Raleigh, NC. She just finished up a 365 day journey of hugging through her blog My Year Of Hugs. Her story was featured in the Raleigh News and Observer and on WRAL TV's Morning Show. She hopes to expand her blog to include guest bloggers willing to share their stories of hugs, love and kindness with the world!

04.24.2012

The Cushdy Experience: Ideas for Kindness from a Social Entrepreneur

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama

In a world of mistrust and what seems to be a high level of xenophobia, kindness to strangers might sound like a foolish dream or just a naïve notion. I mean, go out of my way to be kind to someone I don’t know… are you kidding?

Usually such questions are the result of fear. Maybe fear of your kind deed being unappreciated or maybe fear of what others might think. The truth is, if we are crippled by fear then such acts of kindness, especially to strangers won’t come easy for us.

The beauty of being kind to strangers has a domino effect since kindness remembered will more likely result in the person passing it on or they will pay it forward which means your deed goes on and on. View it as your contribution to building a kinder gentler society by doing your little act of kindness. Also the most selfless giving brings joy to both the giver and the receiver.

Kindness to strangers can be exhibited in a variety ways ranging from a simple “have a great day” to a cash donation to a worthwhile charity etc.

But kindness to strangers goes beyond giving away money, because there are so many other things you can do to make the world a better place.

Kind deeds you can do for a stranger:

Smile at strangers, maybe say 'Hi' or wish someone a great day

Compliment a stranger on their clothes and ask where they bought them.

Open doors for people

Leave a note complimenting great service at a business place or tell the management about the great service the employees gave you

Simply help someone, maybe by carrying a shopping bag that seems heavy or help them change a flat tire.

However you choose to show kindness to strangers, do it with a genuine heart and an authentic desire to help someone.

Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your daily modus operandi and change your world.-Annie Lennox


Duane is a copywriter, social media marketer, poet and spoken word artist based in Kingston, Jamaica. Over the years he has written copy for some of Jamaicas top advertising agencies as well as several prominent businesses on the island.He specializes in: Web Copy Press releases Regular Blog Copy Newsletters Lyric writer (jingles) and Social Media Marketing. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​He is a creative support partner at The Cushdy Experience, a virtual support company for creatives and entrepreneurs

04.09.2012

The Benefits of Kindness Blogging -- Guest Post by Tina Mansfield

The Benefits of Kindness Blogging

Four years ago, I began a blog focusing on acts of kindness. Hoping that by sharing stories occurring both locally and globally containing a kindness theme via my blog, I might help bring more awareness to the way we treat one another as individuals and inspire others to act with kindness. This is an important issue to me because as a mother I’d like to see a kinder culture for our kids to grow and learn from. At that particular time I believed our society had lost its simplicity and compassion while becoming increasingly violent... at least that is what the nightly news headlines seemed to conclude.

To my surprise, what I’ve learned in collecting and sharing these stories found through social media, my local community and personal experience, is that I’m FAR from alone in my desire to see citizens move from a competitively egocentric environment to a more inclusive one. I’ve met a growing community of like-minded people (like Sarah and Greg!) who continually remind me that with all the reported problems in the world, there are just as many incidences of people helping each other, loving one another, and creating a better earth. This is a welcome comfort when I find myself in a “funk” due to negative media overload and I can share a simple story of kindness to lift my soul. Blogging about kindness has turned into a bit of a spiritual practice for me.

Those of us dedicated to living a more peaceful, sustainable lifestyle are surely feeling the shift towards unity. I believe civilization is on the cusp of a change in the way we view humanity. The number of grassroots movements with the sole purpose of creating a kinder culture has grown exponentially over recent years. It is getting difficult to manage my computer bookmarks because it is filled with uplifting and humanitarian related sites that are intended to cultivate love for ourselves and others. But there is always room for more of the good stuff!

Reading and sharing stories about kindness keeps me informed with a more balanced view of what is happening in our world — reminding me of the positive not just focusing on the negative. Projects like American Bear are a breath of fresh air for a mind fueled with negative data. Thank you, Sarah and Greg, for your faith in human kindness and all your efforts to spread kindness.


Tina Mansfield is a graphic designer, wife & mother. Her concerns about an increasingly violent and mean school climate led her to create String-Ring, The Kindness Reminder Ring. She manages a blog on the String-Ring website called Kindness Community where she encourages kind acts and shares stories that revolve around a theme of kindness.

03.26.2012

To Help or Not To Help: What's Going Through Their Head? -- Guest Post by Stephanie Nguyen

Sarah and Greg's adventure to all of the American Bears is a unique quest in more way than one. Besides the more apparent goal of traveling to all five Bears in the U.S., the couple also hoped to dive first-hand in to the exploration of a pretty interesting question: In this day in age, who is going to open their doors to a couple of strangers? What do those who do agree help look like?

To Sarah and Greg's delight, a fairly high percentage of people actually were willing to talk to them and be interviewed. Many opened their houses, garages, or whatever space they had available to the travelers. What is going through these kind people's minds? How did they decide whether or not they ultimately were going to help?

Relatability

In less than a minute after meeting somebody new, you have already formed your first impression of that individual. When reaching out to a stranger for help, that stranger does the same, subconsciously comparing how you are either are similar or different to them.

Do you look and sound like them? What clothes are you wearing? How are your mannerisms? Do you appear to share similar belief systems and values? This and many other questions are being formulated and answered in the stranger's head. The more relatable you are to the other person, the more likely they are to feel connected to you, and therefore the more likely they are to help.

Diffusion of Responsibility

Who is around when you ask a stranger for help, believe it or not, can have a significant influence on someone's decision to whether or not they should provide the help. It has been shown that when there are more people around, you are less likely to get help than if the help is solicited in a one-on-one environment. This is due to 'diffusion of responsibility'.

When in a big group, it is easy to assume that somebody else will come to the person's aid; there's plenty of other people who would be willing to do it. In a more personal environment, the person feels more responsible for your well-being, and is more likely to help. This is easily seen in the differences between the country and the city where, although other factors such as concerns with safety or a general distrust of strangers may also result in refusing to help, diffusion of responsibility also plays a role.

This concept was demonstrated in Atlanta. Although Sarah and Greg characterized the people as friendly, the adventurers were unable to find a place to stay. This is in stark contrast to their experienec in the country, where many people opened their doors to Sarah and Greg. If a person thinks that someone else will provide help to those in need is a factor in the decision-making process, and helps decide whether or not a stranger will help.

"What's in it for Me?"

Some people call it Karma. Others believe what goes around, comes around. Whatever it is called, many people believe that good things happen to good people. I certainly hope this is true. With that said, many people take this into consideration when deciding whether or not they should help somebody.

This 'what's in it for me' mindset sounds selfish, but it certainly doesn't have to be. Those who are considering helping others aren't necessarily weighing out the monetary or material aspect. Instead, they may be considering what experiences they will have, friends they will make, or how good it will feel to help somebody who needs it. If the helper doesn't feel as though aiding will be a positive experience for them, they aren't as likely to go out of their way to help.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis

What ultimately decides whether or not somebody will agree to help you relies on one main concept: The Cost Benefit Analysis.

What is the risk? Am I putting myself in danger? The ultimate decision as to whether or not you're going to get help is if the person decides that the benefits of helping you outweigh the negative possibilities. If the person feels uncomfortable, unsafe, or disconnected to you, they will be more likely to turn down your request. In other words, the possibility that something might go wrong outweighs the possibility that something will not.

Although this may be due to the conversation or the first impression you gave, other factors may also influence the analysis such as past experiences, stereotypes, or general distrust. Whether or not you actually get help, however, will depend on whether or not the person believes the benefits of helping you outweigh the potential costs.

All of these factors and more went through each person that Sarah and Greg talked to. This process varies from person to person based on their own judgements, values, experiences, and analysis of the situation. Those who were willing to help the travelers most likely found them to be nonthreatening, honest people on a believable mission. Catching the verbal and nonverbal cues that go in to the stranger's decision to help was surely something that the couple were able to appeal to as their journey progressed.


Stephanie Nguyen is a Bucketlistologist working to fill her Life Bucket- one drop at a time. Learn about her travels, life without Facebook, becoming a mother and more at her blog, FML(B): Filling My Life Bucket.