A Lesson in the Contagious Nature of Kindness

I’ve always been one to plan every moment; to have every second accounted for. But sometimes the greatest experiences can be found in moments of spontaneity.

My day was planned: I had a doctor’s appointment in the city and a meeting for the organization a couple of hours after that. I figured the doctor’s appointment would take some time but as it happened I was finished earlier than expected. I had a couple of hours to kill before my meeting and normally I would find a café to sit in and get some work done in the interim.

However, I happened to have been next to one of my most favorite parts of the city – Lincoln Center. I have a fascination with Lincoln Center and if I had the means I would make my way to the city every night to catch a performance; whether it be a ballet, the philharmonic, an opera, or a Broadway play. I decided to take a look around and was taken aback by its beauty. Although a big fan, I’ve never actually taken a tour around Lincoln Center. So I headed to the information desk and as luck would have it a tour was leaving in just a couple of minutes. I decided to take a couple of hours for myself and headed out on the tour. The tour was one of the most enjoyable I’ve been on in quite some time.

I was accompanied by two other women who were so sweet and pleasant to be around. I knew it was going to be an exciting afternoon. The tour guide was phenomenal. He shared with us his breadth of knowledge about the complex, its history, the art and architecture. The two women and myself enjoyed in thoroughly and I was sad when it ended.

At the end of the tour, one of the women asked the guide if she could give him a tip. He was taken aback and pleasantly surprised. Upon seeing her simple gesture of gratitude, the other woman and myself followed suit. Such a simple act with such a lasting impression! But the kindness didn’t end there.

Very often you are asked after tours to go to the counter and fill out a survey about your experience, but most people never give it a second look. Who has the time to fill out a form? “I’ve already received the service, why would I go back to fill out a form,” most would say. But after seeing the guides appreciation for our token of gratitude, one by one we each headed to the counter to fill out the survey – of course with exceptional reviews.

We said farewell, smiled and headed back into our worlds, but for a moment we took the time to be aware that we are not simply living in a vacuum, but rather we are just a fragment of the puzzle and like a puzzle we are all connected. Life isn’t about getting to where you’re headed in the fastest possible way, but rather it’s about the lives you touch as you make your way there. It’s about recognizing that showing appreciation is important and truly an essential part in human survival. The more we appreciate, the more love, kindness, and respect we create.

Take a few moments as you run through your day to notice the people you are running by. Slow down, smile, connect and realize that life is about the journey not the destination.



The “parking slip” of kindness

Every day we walk down the street passing by hundreds of strangers; people we don’t know, people we may never officially meet. Each person we pass is a world within their own; each carrying around with them their own struggles, their own troubles, their own stories.

However, today a random stranger crossing another’s path stepped out of his own world for a moment to do something kind for someone he never met and will most likely never run into again. I would like to attempt to show you how the act of kindness looked like from his view point, the viewpoint of the giver, and then show you the impact it truly had from the viewpoint of the receiver. I think you will learn that there is no such thing as a small act of kindness; although the act may be simple to perform the effect it has is much greater than we could ever imagine.

Here it goes: The viewpoint of the giver:

Parking slip of kindness

A man needs to run an errand in the city. After some time of circling, looking for parking he finds a spot; deposits money in the muni-meter and places his ticket on the windshield. The errand took him much less time than expected and so when he returns to his car the ticket still has an additional 30 minutes remaining. He has places to go, things to do, people to see.

 

He pulls out of his spot and notices a car pulling into a spot across the street. He makes his way towards the car, gets out of his car and hands the woman parking the car his parking slip and says, “This ticket still has about 30 minutes on it; I thought you’d like to have it.” She graciously thanks him, they smile at each other, he heads back to his car and drives away.

Amazing! Such a simple thing, which took no more than 30-40 seconds and somehow two people, two strangers walk away feeling great. But the story isn’t over, not nearly.

The gentleman most likely got back into his car feeling a sense of happiness for doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger. Little does he know the true story of the receiver and what she was going through on that very day.

The viewpoint of the receiver:

September 2011: Lets take you back a couple of months

A woman with a stable job for the past seven years decides to take a leave of absence, take a leap of faith and pursue a dream – a dream of making the world a better place, a dream of inspiring the masses through kindness. She decides to start a non-profit organization geared towards spreading kindness and goodwill as well as empowering children through the idea of giving. With no income coming in on a regular basis and her money quickly depleting to build up the non-profit organization, she decides to begin tutoring whenever possible to help bring in funding.

October 12th, 2011: After tutoring the woman leaves one house to get on her way to her next tutoring appointment. Unfortunately, she doesn’t make it there. A block before arriving at her destination a car rams into her car from behind as she’s waiting by a red light. Luckily she has no bumps or bruises but with terrible pain in her back, neck, and head she is rushed to the emergency room.

What comes next is very unexpected. Known for her bubbly and enthusiastic personality, zest for life, and one to always be on the go, something happened to her on that day. It seemed as though her world came crashing down on her. Those personality traits that are her trademarks seemed to be mysteriously missing and she was transported to a state of mental cloudiness.

Things were tough before the accident, trying to keep her dream for the organization alive all on her own, but now they were altogether impossible. She was home bound for almost two weeks and she began to feel as though her dream was slipping away. The pain in her neck and back prevented her from getting any work done, from spreading her message to the world. As she began reflecting back on her life, which we all do after traumatic experiences, she felt as though she was a failure; one of the most crippling feelings. Suddenly she began questioning everything. She began to feel that every time she was finally on track in life, something would come along to push her down. She believed so much in what she was doing, but her state of mind allowed all of the negative and cynic remarks of others began to pour right in. “What are you doing?” “This organization isn’t going to get you anywhere.” “Why were you crazy enough to quit your job! How do you expect to make a living?” “You won’t be able to do it.” She began wondering if she in fact would really fail, after all she was the only person working on the organization and it hadn’t moved anywhere yet.

October 24th – Her first day out of the house, she headed with her mother to the doctor in the city to assess the pain she has been feeling as a result of the accident. After many long appointments, her mother hoped to lift her spirits and try and get her out of the funk she had obviously fallen in to. Her mother needed to run an errand in Bloomingdales. With her cousins wedding less than a month away, finding a dress became priority and her mother thought it would be a good opportunity to see what they could find. Her mother let herself out in front of the store and asked her daughter to park the car. We all know what parking is like in the city – close to impossible. She began circling. While doing so she scanned the faces of the hundreds of people in the street wondering how she ever thought it could be possible to really make a difference in the world – who is she after all.

Finally she found a spot and began to park. Suddenly a man emerges from a car, hands her a parking slip and says, “This ticket still has about 30 minutes on it; I thought you’d like to have it.” She thanked him profusely, they smiled and the man got back into his car and drove away. But at that moment that man didn’t simply give her a parking slip, he gave her reason to believe once again. After parking, she looked at the slip, a tear rolled down her cheek and she smiled. “This too shall pass,” she whispered to herself.

If a small gesture made such an impact on her, she knew her organization would indeed succeed in its mission. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but with continued effort she would succeed. Yes, there will be bumps along the road, but she finally realized that those bumps only assured her that what she was doing was indeed important. Kindness does in fact keep the world afloat.

As she took her next steps down the block, she looked into the eyes of the strangers passing by her in rapid movement and realized that they aren’t just strangers, they are pieces of her puzzle of life. She began to wonder what life had in store for her. Maybe she would one day have an effect on one of their lives just as the “parking slip man” had on hers.

I'm that woman and I can tell you that you never know why we cross paths with certain people. But one thing is for certain; if you put kindness out into the world it will most definitely have a ripple effect beyond imagination. There is no such thing as a “small act of kindness”, the effort may be minimal but its effect is far from “small”. So keep your eyes peeled as you take your next steps down the road of life, increase your awareness and you’ll see myriads of opportunities to bring a little joy, a little happiness, and a whole lotta kindness into the world.


The Story Behind the film "Kindness Boomerang": Part I

In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

When I sat down to write the script for       “The Kindness Boomerang” it was those words that echoed through my head.

I’ve always believed in the good of others and the potential of each person to make a great difference in this world. Some call me naïve, some call me a dreamer, some call me foolish. They ask me how after reading the news headlines, witnessing the pain, tragedy and destruction that occurs on an every day basis brought about by the greed and hatred of fellow human beings, that I can even attempt to believe in the good of all people. To those people I say, YES there are bad actions, but there is no such thing as a bad person.

If you really look at each person as individual you will find that they too once believed in the good of others. But, you will also find that somewhere along the road of their life they got burned, they got hurt because of their belief and slowly but surely they became cynical and eventually they became afraid to believe. To insure that we protect ourselves, sometimes we create walls, masks, barriers. On the outside we have a rough exterior, sometimes to the point where we begin to believe that the facade is our reality. But, deep down in our heart the belief still flickers, it may not be as bright, we may not even see it, maybe we don’t want to see it.

Kindness is something we all know to be important, but we tend to forget it somewhere along the way. Until one day, when we feel as though things can’t get much worse, we bump into someone else and for no reason whatsoever they touch us with kindness. Tat small touch ignites the feeling hidden deep within us once again and we begin to feel something we haven’t felt in a long time and it feels so good. If we’re lucky we take a moment to notice these precious moments and allow those moments peel off a layer of cynicism, allowing some light to enter. Perhaps, the next steps we venture will be with a new perspective, one that makes us more aware of those around us, one that makes us even for a fleeting moment to believe once again in the good of others, to trust.

The Kindness Boomerang was my attempt to remind the child within each of us, the innocence we once had, to remember that change is possible – to remember that kindness is possible and within our very reach. Open your eyes, become aware of your surroundings and you will be surprised by the amazing opportunities that lay before you. Your act may propel others to follow because kindness, like the domino effect has the power to spread rapidly. Who knows perhaps the kindness you perform today will magically find its way back. So put your heart out there and touch the life of another with kindness.

Each scene was taken from a real life experience that I’ve had with complete strangers. Little do they know the effect and impact they have had on me. Go and create your own scenes, stand back and watch how magically one kindness leads to another. Over the next week I will share some of those stories with you and hope you share some of your own.

 

But most importantly remember that kindness is not about the big things, it’s about the small things that are right in front of us every moment. So get out there and seize the day – because there is no day but TODAY!

 

So, what “If everyone cared”? – let’s try it out and see where it takes us. I'm rooting for all of us!


The Unexpected and Much Needed Kindness of a Stranger: Because we can all be someone's "Jeffrey"

It has taken me some time to finally get this blog up and running. As I began looking through the journal entries I’ve written over the past months, I stumbled upon this entry and I felt that it would be great to share with others. I wrote this blog this past summer, the Summer of 2011, a few months before Life Vest Inside actually launched. It was a time of doubt and fear that I wouldn’t succeed. Looking back, I realize that just how quickly things can change as long as you believe in them.

8/15/11

Hello World – I’m here and it’s time to finally speak up.

I’ve wanted to start a blog for some time now, as a means of sharing with others an idea that I began formulating – a Dream!

Here I am tonight, after almost two years of putting my heart and soul into a project I know I was meant to do, feeling more discouraged than ever, feeling as though I’m a failure, feeling as though this dream has somehow made me turn my world upside down. Obstacles, discouraging words, negative remarks, questions like “what’s the point of this?”

“Do you really think you’re going to make a difference in the world?” “There are tons of things like what you’re doing out there – what makes your project so special?” – its things like that which make you question yourself, make you feel as though you’re crazy to have even attempted, make you wonder if it’s all worth it.

I’m a very positive person, always have been. I’ve always been one to be fueled by the negative remarks of others. I guess I always took it as a challenge and one thing is for sure there’s nothing Orly Wahba loves more than a challenge. But, at the end of the day I’m a human being and sometimes negativity cleverly sneaks right past all the guards you set up for yourself. That’s kinda been what this past week has been about – negative words, negative thoughts slowly but surely creeping into the corners of my mind making me question everything I held to be true, everything I have been pouring my soul into.

You see, my dream is simple, probably not very different than most dreams we’ve all had at one point in our life. My Dream – to make the world a better place! No – I’m not 4 years old – but yes I still have the enthusiasm and conviction a 4 year old has when proudly declaring that dream for the very first time. I’ve always been a dreamer but more importantly I’ve always been a believer; a believer in a better tomorrow and even more so a believer in the good of people.

To those who have been burnt in their life and have become cynical or a “realist” as they tend to title it – try to put your guard down for a moment and remember when you believed just as I do – because I know you did. Some may call me naïve – but I understand the way of the world – I know that bad things happen and that more often than not its people that cause those bad things to happen. But ever think for a moment that the people causing those things have also been burnt, have also been hurt and they’ve forgotten somewhere along the way that people are inherently good and that if we only believe in people a little more, have a little more faith – we can help people begin to believe yet again in themselves.

Getting back to my point, yes I am a dreamer! I’ve always dreamt of a kinder, happier world. One in which people recognize the potential they have to achieve greatness, to touch the life of another, to fill the world with happiness. A world in which people give more than they take. That dream led me to teaching and teaching led me to Life Vest Inside, a non-profit organization I created based on the simple philosophy that kindness keeps the world afloat. We’ve all had hardships in our life; we’ve all felt at one point or another as though we are drowning in a sea of troubles with waters surrounding us on all sides. So, how do we survive, how do we continue, how to we stay afloat? KINDNESS – the kindness others do for us keeps us afloat and in turn the kindness we do for others keeps them afloat. In a sense – we are each other’s life vest as we travel through the stormy seas of life.

I’m sure that as I continue to blog you’ll learn more about Life Vest Inside, but for now let me return to my point.

Like I said, I’ve been feeling down on myself. There is so much I want to accomplish, so many places I see the organization going, but when I look at where it is compared to where it needs to be I feel as though I’m drowning in work and that the gap between where I am and where I want to be will never close or even come close to it. Tonight was one of my low points, but what amazes me is that at the moment you reach a low point G-d sends someone your way to help you see the light within the darkness.

After seeing a movie with a friend of mine, we decided to go for a drive. I couldn’t clear my mind and I began doubting myself more than ever. We went to a nearby hotel to relax and play a game of pool. Little did I know that inspiration was waiting for me in the Hilton lounge. A gentleman approached my friend and I and began conversing. He works in the hotel and is in charge of the bars and restaurants. Jeffrey and I share something in common – we are both dreamers.

After telling us a bit about himself and what he does he asked me what I do. I began to explain to him that I’ve been teaching for 7 years and have decided to take a leave of absence to pursue the dream of Life Vest Inside. He was taken aback and impressed. He looked me straight in the eye and assured me that I should continue to pursue it because it sounds like something promising, something that has the ability to bring happiness into the world. He began speaking about the idea of overcoming obstacles that will undoubtedly arise. It was as though he was reading my mind; knowing what I feared most and quelling those fears with his kind and encouraging words. I needed to hear those words at that very moment and Jeffrey was there to lift me up – he was my life vest.

He reminded me the reason I started this. Not for fame and certainly not for money. Rather I started this because I believed in creating something great, something that would remind people of the importance of the little acts of kindness that we can do for one another. But, if I allow the discouraging words of others get to me – they have won and I’ve lost. It’s about believing in what you do, loving it and not allowing anyone take away the joy you feel when you’re doing what you love.

Jeffrey’s words reaffirmed my belief in myself, my belief in Life Vest Inside, and my belief that I can achieve what others deem impossible. And so I would like to thank you Jeffrey, wherever you are right now for giving me the courage to continue to believe in myself.

We can all be someone’s Jeffrey. After all, you never know the difference the words you say has on the person listening to them. So, open your eyes and take advantage of the moments that pass by way too fast. Don’t just do kindness – Be it! Live it! Breathe it! And who knows whose life you may save!

Life Vest Inside…because kindness does indeed keep the world afloat. How do I know? When you become a recipient of kindness - - you’ll understand.

Goodnight for now.

With love kindness and a whole lotta faith,

Orly


Who am I? An insight into my life

March 8th, 2011

My name is Orly Wahba. I am 28 years old and for the past seven years of my life I have had the amazing opportunity to be an educator for 7th and 8th grade children. Throughout these years I have grown in more ways than one and a big part of that is due to my students and the atmosphere I have worked ever so hard at creating in and out of the classroom setting.

Class time was never spent simply learning facts and figures, but rather building character, forging bonds, and developing the values and morals that truly determine the worth of an individual. Each class is filled with discussions about unity, love, respect for oneself, respect for others, tolerance, kindness, generosity, and cultivating a deep sense of self and purpose.

These discussions couldn’t simply be limited to feeble talk within the classroom. As time went on we found ways of taking these thoughts and propelling them into action. One project followed the other and before I knew it, these amazing children were growing into people who would have the strength of heart and determination of mind to make a positive impact on the world. You may ask yourself, “What is she talking about?” Well, if you give me the chance I think you will begin to see.

Amongst some of the greatest issues plaguing children of today’s time is bullying, peer pressure, depression, substance abuse, violence, and the increasingly growing suicide rate. What has gone wrong? Where have we as a society gone wrong? Yes, children have always dealt with issues of peer pressure and such, but never to a degree as great and rampant as it is now. So…WHY??

I am most certainly not the first person to suggest an answer or reason. SELF WORTH and SELF CONFIDENCE!!! These two things are a major factor leading to each of the above issues. Children and yes-even adults struggle with lack of confidence and self worth. For some reason the word “CAN’T” has become a common word within people’s vocabulary.

People fail to see their own potential and just how powerful they truly are. Each person has the ability to move mountains, but somewhere along the way of life we have gotten discouraged, or have fallen, or failed. And within those moments we’ve lost the most important thing we own – BELIEF in ourselves. Being that I for one was a child who had exceptionally low confidence it was always rather easy for me as an educator to spot a child who had similar anxieties. Children and teenagers are discovering who they are and so it is natural and normal to go through a period of self-doubt. However, if not dealt with properly and by not teaching them how to gain confidence, true confidence, it can have devastating results as the child matures.

A child with a lack of confidence will often feel as though they are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, and so on. These feelings don’t simply disappear. Soon enough those feeling will turn into feelings of worthlessness. The child will feel as though they are the odd one out, as if they have no place in the world. A child with these thoughts is more likely to become a target of bullying and will be less likely to defend themselves in those situations. A child being bullied, with the inability to seize control of their life, will very likely fall into depression, feeling as though no one truly would miss them if they weren’t around. They begin to feel like they are in a downward cycle with no one there to help pull them out. Soon enough, if nothing is done, a child dealing with depression is more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol, or other forms of substance abuse to try and escape their reality. Some may even turn to violence by joining gangs and consorting with people who will only lead them further down the path of worthlessness. Over time they feel lost, they are lost, and finding one’s way back is never easy.

So, what do we do? The answer is clear! We must build the feeling of self worth within these children. I believe with all my heart that each individual possesses a tremendous amount of potential. Each person is another piece of the ever-growing puzzle of life. Each piece is the same size as the next, but what makes the pieces unique is their specific shape and colors. Each piece, regardless of how small, or seemingly insignificant is crucial in the completion of the puzzle. Why have we forgotten that we are a powerful entity? We must remind ourselves just how special, unique, and significant we all are, no one being more or less important than the other. Life isn’t about racing to get to first place, but rather about the amounts of people we help cross the finish line with us.

Getting back to my experience teaching over these seven years. One of the main reasons I became a teacher was because I had personally gone through a difficult experience during my childhood. An experience which devastated me. Unfortunately, it was during that time in my life where I felt completely alone. I felt that no one noticed me or what I was struggling with. As I time went on I fell into a depression until the point that I felt like an insignificant spec; like nothing mattered, as though I was worthless. I promised myself all those years ago that I would be there for others the way I wished someone would have been there for me. I trained myself to see people not for what they outwardly showed me, but for what was really going on within them, within their heart, the things they may keep hidden, but secretly wanted someone to discover.

 

When I became a teacher I used this “sixth sense” to reach out to students in a way I had wished someone had reached out to me. Yes, it took a lot of patience; a lot of effort, but what I found was that each child has a storehouse of beauty and potential. I didn’t see the child for who they were at that moment, but rather for who they had the potential to be. Truthfully, I believe that people pick up on that. The way we see people, will eventually become the way they see themselves. I can recall countless times students looked at me tears in their eyes asking me: “Why do you see so much good in me? I’m a nobody” When they saw I would refuse to believe that and regardless of how many times they may have failed, I continued to see them and look at them with the same eyes – eventually they began believing in themselves.

But, feeding a person confidence isn’t enough. Something more must be done. You must show a person just how powerful they are, just how much of an effect and impact they have on society. And so kindness, love and belief became the motto of each class. Believing in yourself, loving yourself for who you are, loving others even with their flaws, and giving of yourself kindly to others. By giving kindly to others ones self esteem and feeling of self worth automatically increases.

I began doing various exercises with my students. A few of these exercises stand out in my mind above the rest and I would like to share them.

I stressed very often that change, lasting change, happens slowly, over time and with  progression. In today’s society such things are unheard of. If a computer takes a few extra seconds to load, we already begin thinking about getting rid of that computer. If an hourglass pops up while we're waiting for a page to load we suddenly become frustrated. Our society has made us become people who believe in instant gratification, but any person who was truly successful in their life will tell you that true success does not happen over night. It comes only with time, effort and countless failures. Failure, after all, is the key to great success. Unfortunately our surroundings have instilled within us the wrong type of worth ethic and life ethic. Life is about committing to something and making small yet significant changes towards making it a reality. If a baby attempts to leap before he walks, the child will most likely fall flat on his face. Life is about process and we need to remind ourselves of this very important concept.

In order to educate the children in regards to this concept, I created a puzzle. The children had no idea what the picture on the puzzle made up. Every couple of weeks, the children would have to choose something small in which they wanted to try and improve upon: from aspects of their character, to their relationship with family, friends, teachers, siblings, or with themselves. They simply had to choose something small enough to accomplish and stick to it.

 

At the end of the two week period, each child reevaluated their task and asked themselves whether they were successful or not. We would discuss this is in a classroom stetting and they would bring examples to demonstrate whether they succeeded or failed. The objective was to sure them that even if they failed – they were truly a success, because they were trying to take the first step. Acknowledgement of your failures is just as much a success. Once they were able to accomplish their task they would receive a puzzle piece on which they would inscribe their name or signature. One piece turned into two, two turned into five, and so on and so forth. On the final week of school, all the pieces were distributed and we were finally ready to assemble the puzzle. WOW! What a sense of accomplishment, what a rush we all felt as we began digging into the bag with the puzzle pieces that bore our names, our actions, our goals that we have accomplished. Little by little we put the puzzle together, with the aid of each student.

When I had first announced the project, I asked the children whether they would hang a thousand-piece puzzle on their wall if one piece were missing. I asked them to imagine it being the very middle piece. The students all agreed they wouldn’t because the puzzle would not be completed and it wouldn’t look right. I explained to them – that each of them is another piece of an ever-growing puzzle and so if that is the case, each person is significant, because without them the puzzle is incomplete.

As we began placing the final pieces of the puzzle together, something very strange occurred: one piece was missing. Which piece? None other than the middle piece, which brought the entire picture together. I was disappointed and felt bad to show the children that one piece was missing, but then I realized that the missing puzzle piece is truly the message behind the project. That missing piece represents the small piece that we can all do to complete our own puzzle, there is always another step to grow, but it’s about taking it one piece at a time. Once the puzzle was completed, with its symbolic middle piece missing, I framed it. But the front picture no longer mattered – rather the back of the puzzle, the collage of all the names of the students was a masterpiece of its own. That was the true work of art because it represented the significance of each name and each person. That was a day I’ll never forget!

So where is this going? As I mentioned giving of oneself kindly to others automatically increases ones feeling of self worth. By helping others, you begin to feel your potential as an individual. A person, who recognizes their potential, will be filled with a confidence, self esteem and self worth that is unimaginable. A child with a strong sense of self, is less likely to be bullied, less likely to fall to depression, less likely to be seized by the fake intrigues of substance abuse and more likely to become a powerful catalyst in making this world all the more better.

Kindness has always been a theme in my class. I have had grades gelling together in the most extraordinary ways and watching it was like magic. Children respecting each other, encouraging one another, helping each other, and listening to one another – wow! Amazing!

I began a project with my students four years ago, which has lent itself to become my future. I began creating Random acts of kindness cards; each card listing a different act. On the front of the card it stated: “Random act of Kindness” – it would state the act and beneath it, it read: “Please perform the act, pass the card to someone else, lets keep the kindness going”. On the back I placed a quote about kindness. At first these acts were limited to about ten. I had been on a seminar in which I saw these cards laid out on the table. It was an inspirational gimmick to encourage the children to pass kindness along. However, when I saw the card I saw the great potential it had. What if I create more acts and actually distribute these not as a gimmick but for people to truly pass along. Showing people that they indeed have an effect on the world around them: a real life pay it forward, if you will.

And so I went to work. I created about 30 acts and began printing them up and laminating them. It was June and the 8th graders were having their final assembly as elementary students before heading out into a whole new chapter of their lives. It couldn’t be a more perfect setting. And so I created one card per child and spoke to the grade as a whole about the importance of remembering their great potential, especially as they move on to high school, an atmosphere that is known to cripple feelings of self worth. Remember your potential I told them. I handed each child a card and told them to continue to pass them forward and every individual who receives that card and is effected by it will be to their merit because they were brave enough to take the first step.

After distributing the cards I realized I accidentally printed 8 extra cards, or so I thought. As I pulled into my driveway that very hot June day, I noticed a group of men and women working outside of my house, cleaning the streets (I assumed they were doing some kind of community service hours). I recognized the opportunity to spread kindness and give kindly. I ran into my house, got a pitcher of water, a couple bottles of soda some ice and cups. I walked over to them and asked them if they would like a drink. They looked at me as if to say, “What’s the catch?” But there was no catch; simply a kindness from one stranger to another. They were taken aback and appreciative. We began conversing for about ten minutes or so. They asked me if I wanted something in return and I explained that I’m just passing it on. As I excused myself and walked back into my house, I had the biggest smile on my face and the warmest feeling in my heart. As I started taking my books out of my bag, I came across the envelope with the extra cards. Suddenly it came to me. I quickly counted the cards left in the envelope – EIGHT! I ran to the window and began counting the people outside. “Five, six, seven – EIGHT! Of course! How could it be otherwise? I anxiously took the cards in my hand and ran back outside. I walked up to them and told them that there actually was something they could do for me. I began explaining to them that I have been speaking to my students about the importance of kindness and I described the project I was working on with them. I then took out the cards and asked them if they would be willing to accept a card. I would never know if they would or would not complete it, but that didn’t matter. They all agreed and I began passing them out, each card carrying on it a different message. Suddenly one of the men stopped in his tracks. He grasped the card tightly and began yelling, “How did you know to give me this card? How did you know to give me this card?” he began to yell over and over as a tear streamed down his face. I realized the card must have hit a nerve. The others froze, eyes fixated on him as he explained that he had been thinking about calling his parents for the past few weeks; it was ten years since he spoke to them last. As I looked down at his card I saw the reason for his tears, “Call your parents to tell them how much you love them.” One thing is for sure – I will never forget that gentleman and his story is forever embedded in my mind. The power of kindness – indescribable!

My mission is simple:

About a year or so down the road, towards the end of the year I began having a discussion with my 8th grade students about their dreams. I showed them a music video by Nickleback, If Today Were Your Last Day. All I can say about that video is – breathtaking! The words, thoughts, ideas all represent a big part of what I believe in. The video ended with a quote by Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Many people will tell you the importance of having dreams for yourself, but more importantly than the dream, is the courage to pursue it in spite of the struggles and obstacles that most certainly arise. I explained to the children the importance of dreaming, remembering their dreams as they mature, and never allowing anyone discourage them with such words as “can’t” “impossible” and such. I asked each student to go home and write down their dream for the future. I compiled their dreams along with many other thoughts and words they had written over the two years I was privileged to have them as students in a class journal. As we grow older in this world, something happens to the innocence of dreaming. We become so afraid of failure, rejection, that we stop dreaming, stop believing, stop striving for what we once longed for. I too wrote a dream. I began thinking about the Acts of Kindness cards I distributed to my students in school and suddenly the idea hit me. Imagine if I created thousands of cards and I along with a group of people would set out to the city handing out cards on every corner. It was not long after that I found myself cutting, laminating, and cutting once again 8,000 cards with the help of a few dedicated people all in a three day time period. I made a pamphlet describing my mission to infuse the world with love and affixed a card to each pamphlet and distributed them within my community.

It was not long after that the next great idea came to mind. What will motivate the person receiving the card to truly pass it forward? Suddenly it came to me: tracking numbers. What if each card was to have its own tracking number. When a person logs onto the website they simply enter their tracking number and on screen will appear the name or user ID of each person that had the card prior to them as well as a story that a previous card carrier may have submitted about the experience they had receiving the card or passing it forward. Once the user passes it on, they will receive an email each time their card is being tracked, giving them the opportunity to see where their card has traveled. Across state? Across country? To a relative, a loved one, a stranger? Who knows! But the possibilities are endless. Suddenly, people can see first hand the impact their kindness has on others down the road. What an amazing way to see just how powerful we truly are.

And so I began my quest – creating Life Vest Inside from the bottom up.

While there is much to do and the work has only just begun, I feel privileged to be part of Life Vest Inside on a daily basis. And so I've taken a leave of absence from teaching, more like a leap of faith - to pursue something that I believe in wholeheartedly. Scary? Yes - but I won't give up on my dream!


Sometimes just simply offering someone a lending hand, reaffirms their belief in the good of others. Most of the time they may not accept your offer, but they won't forget that you took the time to ask. 

Raise Your Voice In Praise! A Lesson in the POWER of Positive Feedback

Written: October 10th, 2011

A few weeks back I hopped on a plane with my dad to accompany him on a business trip. The flight was booked solid and there were no extra seat anywhere. Out of all the seats I could be placed in, I was given the seat in front of the exit row, which means my seat, by law, can’t recline.

 

So there I am on a packed flight, sitting in a middle seat, in a non-reclining chair on a six-hour flight. But that’s only the beginning. Out of all the seats on the plane, my seat was broken. The headrest was detached from the chair and instead of a cushioned head rest, my head was resting on metal. Not quite what you would call flying comfortably. I did my best to make the best of it, but I was not very successful. Half way through the flight, my neck felt like it was breaking. I called over the flight attendant and explained my situation.

The flight attendant was very abrupt and said there were no extra chairs and with that walked away. I was taken aback by the lack of sensitivity the flight attendant showed me but what shocked me even more was her reaction when I stood in the aisle to stretch for a bit. I couldn’t sit down anymore, so I decided the least I could do was stretch. She immediately told me to clear the aisle and get back in my seat. The fasten seat belt sign wasn’t on and I couldn’t understand her hostile behavior.

Least to say, I was not a happy camper and it made me question what happened to the entire flying experience. I disembarked and suggested to my father that we write a complaint letter to the airline. What a terrible way to treat a customer. After all that’s what feedback is all about – people writing their experiences so that others are well informed.

Let’s skip ahead now to this past week (October 4th). A friend of mine came in from out of town and we decided to go for a nice steak dinner. He heard of a place that I had never been to but I’m always willing to try something new. From the moment we entered the restaurant the people there were so exceptionally kind. At one point the manager of the restaurant came over to our table to ask how we were doing and began conversing with us. Every person there was so pleasant to be around. I was about to walk out of the restaurant when something hit me. I was so quick to send the airline negative feedback just two weeks ago, yet here I am with positive feedback and I was going to keep it to myself? Before leaving the restaurant, I went over to the manager and told him how much I enjoyed the restaurant and the service they provided. I could tell that he appreciated the positive feedback.

When I stepped out of the restaurant I realized that very often we run to give negative feedback when things don’t go our way, but how often do we run to give positive feedback. The way I see it, if we don’t acknowledge the good out there then we aren’t giving incentive for people to perpetuate goodness. If we only speak up when we dislike something, we aren’t giving ample and much needed support to the things we do like. Eventually, the negativity we send out will only produce more negative energy. In a sense, we become responsible for the things we raise our voices to in protest. Let’s begin to promote good, to promote kindness, to promote love by sharing our positive experiences.

Although I believe that the everyday kindnesses of the back roads more than makes up for the greed in the headlines, why are we not as forthcoming with our praise of the everyday kindnesses in the same way that we publicize our negative sentiments.

2/2/12:

Looking back at this entry that I wrote a few months ago, I have a newfound appreciation for the power of gratitude. Towards the end of December 2011 the “Kindness Boomerang” film went viral; traveling across the globe, inspiring those whose path it crossed. Since then, comments have been pouring in on a daily basis (facebook, youtube, twitter, etc) – it’s been amazing! I make it a point to read every single comment and respond. People have asked me, “Orly, are you crazy – how do you answer every comment, what’s the point?” The truth is that reading comments on the film is one of the very best parts of my day because it reminds me why I am doing what I’m doing. Having left my job to pursue Life Vest Inside was not such an easy transition financially. There are very difficult moments, however the inspiring and heart warming comments from people who have seen the film and connect to the message of the organization gets me through those difficult days.

One of the very first things I do when I wake up in the morning is read through comments even while in bed. Those comments lift my spirits and help me pop out of bed with the largest smile on my face, ready to be fully invested in yet another inspiring day working on Life Vest Inside. So, to all those who have reached out and connected with me, just know that it means more than you know! Through your positive feedback I am energized each and every day.

On that note: I would like to encourage each person reading this blog to make a conscious effort to send positive feedback to a person, business, local store, teacher, employer, or anyone for that matter that you appreciate and show your gratitude. I can guarantee they will continue to give you reasons to be grateful. A simple thank you goes a long way – so what are we waiting for?


Joy is measured in smiles per minute!

Three words that changed my life Life Vest Inside

10/10/11

Life Vest Inside is born out of the idea that in a seemingly chaotic world with its bumps and curve balls, kindness keeps us afloat; it makes us believe once again in ourselves and helps us see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

People always question me and ask, “What does Life Vest Inside mean? How does that relate to kindness?”

 

 

Here’s my story:

January 2007: I boarded a plane to set out on a family vacation. During an airport stopover, I checked my voicemails, and received tragic news: a young girl from our community, 7 year-old Stella Laniado, had passed away from leukemia.

As a teacher, I had already encountered grief in my classroom - just three years prior, my students had lost a classmate. Now, just as they were recovering from the shock and pain of that tragic death, another one struck. They would be devastated. Naturally, my first reaction was panic: How would I help my 7th grade students make sense of yet another tragic loss?

Thoughts and questions flooded my mind. How do you find order in such a chaotic world? How do you stay afloat when so many of life’s events seem to pull you downward?

Moments later, I boarded the second plane for my connecting flight. As I sat dazed and disheartened, I looked to my right and a small sign caught my eye: “LIFE VEST INSIDE.” My eyes fixated on those three small words, I smiled and felt an instant comfort. Let me explain. A life vest has the ability to stay afloat regardless of how much one may push down upon it. Our life vest, our ability to overcome our hardships, to make it through comes from “inside.” Through the kindness we bestow on others, through the kindness others bestow upon us – we help keep each other afloat in the stormy seas of life.

Kindness changes lives, it helps us rise after we fall—and at that very moment I made a conscious commitment to spread that message to the world. I would never have imagined back then that those three small words would in fact become something I live by.