It’s been a while since we’ve done a post that attempts to jam several somewhat-related ideas into one piece so it must be time for another one! The title for this post was inspired by a rather erudite nine-year-old girl (Julia Wolfe), so we’ll start with her.
At TEDxYouth in Albuquerque, NM last year, Julia gave a talk describing her experiences at Burning Man, 2014. If you’re not familiar with Burning Man, basically they build a community of 50-60,000 people out in the Black Rock desert for a week of celebrations. By the time everyone leaves, there’s no trace that anyone was there. Burning Man is founded on ten principles, one of which is acts of giving. As Julia describes in her presentation, giving can be material gifts, but it can also be welcoming, food, a hug, a place to sleep. It’s sharing what we have and who we are.
Building from that comes a video that we only came across yesterday about a man in Toronto, ON who stood on the sidewalk downtown wearing a blindfold. With him were two signs. One said, “I am a Muslim. I am labelled as a terrorist.” The other said, “I trust you. Do you trust me? Give me a hug.” He waited, arms open, to see what would happen. We can guarantee it’s one of the most beautiful things you’ll see today.
We’re no strangers to the ‘Free Hugs‘ scene, and we can tell you from our own experiences that while there’s an incredible lift in hugging people, there’s also an element of risk and a little fear because when we hold up our Free Hugs posters we’re stepping out of the anonymity of the city crowds and opening ourselves up to those around us. We’re also inviting others, just for a moment, to do the same. The results can be amazing, and last year we hugged people from 41 countries (that we know of)… all ages, all races, all ways of Being.
After encountering the above video we found another by the same YouTube user (AsoOmii Jay) where she stood with a poster that read, “I am a Muslim so that makes me” and a marker so that passersby could add their own ideas. They varied from ‘Human’ to ‘Awesome’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘I ♥ U’ and more. Before starting out they’d added the words ‘A terrorist’ to the bottom of the poster, and in the comments for the video they noted that everyone who stopped apologized for whomever had made that comment.
Continuing the theme of giving, how would you feel if you were given a vacuum cleaner for your birthday? Excited? Ecstatic? Over the moon? What if you really LOVE vacuum cleaners, and have your entire life? Giving means different things to different people, both the giver and the receiver.
We wanted to end this post with something that involves not just a few people, but millions. If you’re not familiar with the Humans of New York project, photographer Brandon Stanton began with a pledge to himself to photograph 10,000 people on the streets of New York City. Along the way he began asking people for their stories along with their images, and they are alternately funny, sad, evocative… and all unique. One day Brandon stopped a young man named Vidal on the streets of Brooklyn and asked him who inspired him the most. Vidal’s answer was his school principal, Ms. Lopez because she got every student in the school to believe in their future, to believe in themselves. Vidal’s image and story touched a lot of people, gathering over a million hits in a short period of time. While meeting, Brandon, Ms. Lopez and her staff agreed that what her scholars needed most was a way to see beyond their neighbourhood and she wanted to be able to take them to Harvard to show them where they might reach. A crowd funding project very quickly surpassed all of their expectations, enabling the Harvard trips to become a permanent part of the curriculum. As the money continued to come in, the next idea was to start a summer program so the students would have opportunities over the summer months, outside of school. Once they reached $700,000, they decided any additional funds would be used to start a scholarship program for the graduates, with Vidal being first. By the time the campaign ended, over 50,000 people had donated over $1.4M US to the fund. Vidal, Brandon and Ms. Lopez have been featured on several TV shows, and Vidal and Brandon had the opportunity to meet President and Michelle Obama in the Oval Office.
This isn’t really about 3 people, or one school or about one story. It’s about connection, and the ability for each of us to give. It can be something tangible, like money or donating clothing or blankets to a shelter, it can be a smile, a hug or a random act of kindness. It’s remembering that we are all connected, and every act of generosity uplifts us all.
Today is Valentine’s Day… celebrate love every way you can.