Tag Archives: Generosity

The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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The Vampire Test

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Pablo Picasso was a vampire.

The famed artist had a talent and reputation for sucking energy from the people he spent time with, then using that energy back in his studio to paint all those famous images I don’t like (except for The Old Guitarist. That painting is rad).

I didn’t know this about Picasso. Austin Kleon taught me in his awesome new book Show Your Work! where he wrote that he learned it by reading John Richardson’s biography A Life of Picasso.

Picasso was a taker. And, wrote Kleon, most people would deal with it because they liked hanging out with a famous guy.

But one man was unwilling to tolerate Picasso’s energy-draining behavior—a sculptor named Constantin Brancusi.

“Brancusi hailed from the Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when he saw one,” Kleon wrote. “He was not going to have his energy or the fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have anything to do with him.

“Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test.”

But the Blood Tastes Good

Right?

It feels so good to get.

Love. Attention. Sex. Money. Help. Whatever.

We crave these things on a case-by-case basis. I had to stop reading Kleon’s book at that point. I really wanted to think about this. Because it made me nervous.

Am I a vampire?

Two things happened after my wife left:

  1. I reached out to people and latched onto friends and family members because I needed them. But then I went into a reclusive cocoon and disconnected (not permanently!) with so many of those people who were there for me during those preliminary freak-out moments.
  2. I started writing here. And used you. Because so many of you give, give, give.

You read. You care. You provide feedback.

More often than not, it’s the nicest stuff anyone has ever said to me not counting my mom and grandma who are both inexplicably kind and loving to me.

But what do I give you?

There are dozens of you who peek in on what I’m saying here. You read. You “like.” You comment.

You invest.

You give.

You give more than I give. Because I’m such a self-centered person sometimes. You need to know that I feel it. That I know it. The inequity. I know you give more to me than I give to you.

That, sometimes, my behavior amounts to me sucking your blood.

I do it for the same reasons we don’t pick up the phone enough to call our friends and family members. For the same reasons we have those conversations with people over and over again: “We should talk more! Let’s go have a drink sometime! I just get so busy! You know how it is!” And we all nod our heads, because we all do know how it is.

But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to give more.

I’m such a wretched communicator with people, which is so stupid because I always feel better WHEN I’m connected to others.

And I always feel better when I give more than I take.

Give More Than You Take

I love this idea. I say it a lot. Usually, I’m thinking about it in the context of a marriage as I still spend every day nearly a full year later thinking about all the ways I did marriage wrong.

Give more than you take.

It applies to all of our friendships. It applies to charity. It applies to the energy we give to our families. Our employers. Our various commitments and extracurricular activities and hobbies and passions.

Give more than you take.

You want to make your relationship work with the person you love?

This idea alone can save you. But it will always take both parties.

One half of the couple can grow as an individual learning to give more than he or she takes. But that’s not enough for marriage.

If both partners can give more than they take?

Spend a lifetime out-giving one another?

That’s what the baseline ingredients for Forever look like.

Let the Right Ones In

“It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life,” Kleon wrote of The Vampire Test. “If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.”

He continued.

“Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

“Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from your life forever.”

James Altucher practices this very same philosophy—surrounding himself with people who lift him up and make him feel loved, and distancing himself from people who do the opposite.

It has been life changing, he said.

I do not want to be a vampire in your life. And I pray that I am not.

I hope you will think about incorporating The Vampire Test, and spending more time with people and doing things that make your life better, and spending less time with people and doing things that make it worse.

Even if one of those things is me. Because you deserve happiness.

And to achieve it we must only let the right ones in.

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How to Accept Gifts

I must learn to accept gifts.  So must we all.

I must learn to accept gifts. So must we all.

I am historically bad at accepting gifts from anyone who is not my mom or dad.

I get a little shy. I sometimes feel a little ashamed that I didn’t first give them a gift. I sometimes feel obligated to get them a gift after receiving theirs.

So, opposite of when I was a child, I often find myself wishing I wouldn’t receive gifts.

That’s a sad story.

And it really smacked me in the face how sad it was this morning when the wonderful writer at BulgingButtons—one of my newest readers—nominated MBTTTR for Blog of the Year 2013, not unlike my nominations about a month ago for Most Influential Blogger and Most Versatile Blogger.

And my initial reaction was to express my deepest gratitude, and leave it at that.

Because at first:

It felt egotistical to accept.

It will force me to nominate blogs for Blog of the Year, also. Which is not a problem. The problem is, I feel shitty thinking that people I care about might be wondering: Why doesn’t Matt think I deserve a nomination? Asshole!

The hard truth is, I don’t read a fraction of the great writing floating around WordPress and other corners of the Internet as much as I’d like to. I have a really hard time working 40+ hours per week, writing every day, being a single dad 50 percent of the time, and not letting every other facet of my life suffer. All that other stuff competes with my reading attention. Which is bad if you wish I’d spend more time reading your writing. And I’m so sorry. Because I feel deep within me the inequity that exists when many of you give more to me than you get in return.

Like a thousand micro-metaphors of the first seven years of my now-failed marriage.

I was going to thank BulgingButtons for the flattering nomination and simply leave well-enough alone.

And then I read something.

Accepting Gifts

I’m quoting this, word for word, from TheWannabeSaint.com from this morning.

“It was said of Abba Zeno, that from the outset he never wished to receive anything from anyone at all. Those who brought him something came away hurt that he had not accepted anything. Others came to him, wanting to receive some token from a great old man and he had nothing to give them so they too came away hurt.

The old man said, ‘What shall I do, since those who bring things are hurt just as much as those who wish to receive something? I know what seems right to me: when someone brings me something, I will accept it and I will give it to anyone who asks me for something.’ So he did that and was at peace and satisfied everyone.” 

The 180

So, I instantly recognized that me and Father Zeno suffer from the same illness—misplaced… I don’t know what… humility? Fake unselfishness? I’m not sure.

But I know this: We hurt people’s feelings when we don’t accept their gifts.

I love to give gifts.

And I’m often impatient about it, too. One of my favorite things about this time of year during my marriage was that we celebrated both my wife’s birthday and Christmas this month. Two opportunities to give her gifts.

She didn’t always love them. She hated an aftermarket car stereo I bought her one year. But mostly, she did like them. Tickets to live theater. Jewelry. Spa day gift certificates. Pretty, yet comfortable, things to wear around the house.

And those were some of my favorite moments. Buying her gifts. Giving them to her and seeing her smile. And mostly winning her approval afterward.

It’s not okay to deprive people who care about you of feeling the joy of giving.

They’re not giving because they want anything in return. Except one thing. You accepting their gift. Because that gift is a piece of them. Whether it’s a drink at a bar. A thoughtful card. An act of kindness. Or something much bigger.

I’m shitty at accepting gifts. One of the many accidental wounds I inflict with kindness efforts that miss the mark.

I’m always trying to be better.

Learning to accept gifts, compliments and love with graciousness is another leg on my journey.

Blog of the Year

I’m in the very early stages of learning to love myself again.

It’s laughable to me to have such a loftily titled award associated—even loosely—with what I’m doing here.

This still feels like a selfish exercise. Writing stories in the first person.

But in many respects, me giving myself to the keyboard is a bit like giving myself a gift. Present-day therapy. And long-term, perhaps my tiny little mark on this planet. My “I was here” sign stuck in the ground for wanderers—both hopeless and hopeful—to find.

In the end, I don’t get to decide how good or bad this stuff is. You do.

And instead of trying to discredit people who like my work, I should instead use their generosity to lift me up. To push me harder. To propel me further.

Thank you.

I don’t like nominating people for things for fear of offending the rest.

But if I’m going to be something like courageous, I’m going to have to be that here, too.

I’m also going to cheat.

1. Because I don’t always follow rules.

2. Because I care about truth (when it’s not too embarrassing for me to admit).

3. But mainly, because these are the blogs I don’t miss.

Only one of these is on WordPress, and I’m almost afraid to mention my blog crush on her because EVERYONE has a blog crush on her.

But, in my estimation, no one’s doing it better than Aussa right now.

1. Hacker. Ninja. Hooker. Spy.

But Matt! You just like her because she’s a pretty redhead with piercing blue eyes!!! Typical male!,” followed by lots of eye rolling and judging.

Believe what you want. She’s good. Really good. I can’t even really pinpoint what’s so good about it. But I want to. Because I want to capture it, bottle it, drink it and incorporate it into what I do.

But that’s impossible.

Because she is as unique and authentic as they come.

Her writing is good-natured. Hilarious. Filled with gobs of humanity. Excellent storytelling. Adventure. And it has captured the hearts and minds of 17 trillion people after only being in existence for nine hours. (She seriously launched the blog less than three months ago, I think. It’s beyond remarkable.)

Aussa is kind. Smart. Courageous. Loyal. Loving.

I feel like I know her because she lets us in.

She’s immensely talented and entertaining and I can’t not read whatever she posts next.

Blog of the (quarter of a) Year, yo.

2. The Altucher Confidential

I don’t think the rules state that I’m allowed to nominate hugely successful bloggers and published authors outside of WordPress. But I don’t really care. Because James Altucher is the most-important thing to ever happen to my writing.

He helped me find my voice. I read everything he writes. And I’m a better person, and hopefully, a better writer, for doing so.

Subscribing to his posts via email is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.

No one is more human than James.

I’ll always love him for that.

3. Seth Godin’s Blog

No one is less needing of blog traffic than Seth. He has one of the most-popular blogs in the entire world. He is probably the most-brilliant marketer on the planet today. He writes several posts a day. Sometimes, they’re only a few paragraphs.

This guy sees the world through a prism that I wish I could clone. Because he really knows how to ask the right questions.

Questions that can make us better professionals, but more importantly, better people.

These three brilliant writers wield a lot of power. Aussa, you’ll get there soon enough.

And they wield it for good. All in their own, unique way.

The reason we need to receive gifts is so that we can in turn give to others.

For those of you unfamiliar with these three writers, I’ve given you a gift.

And these writers? They are gifts.

People who give to the world.

Making us laugh.

Making us think.

Making us feel.

To paraphrase Cousin Eddie, they are gifts that keep on giving the whole year.

And you can open these before Christmas.

Thank you, Aussa. Thank you, James. Thank you, Seth.

You make me want to be better in every facet of life.

The perfect gift.

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Pay It Forward

Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.

Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.

“There are two ways to live your life. One, as though nothing is a miracle. The other, as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Someone I don’t know and can’t thank bought me lunch yesterday.

My friend and co-worker was kind enough to bring lunch to me at the office when I had work piled up and couldn’t get away. The driver in the car in front of her at the drive-through pickup window paid for one of our meals.

She should have accepted the generous act for herself. But she chose to let my order be the gift.

So, I kind of felt like two people bought me lunch when she brought me food and returned all my money.

So many little good things like this have been happening to me lately.

And they serve as an important reminder to care about others.

To focus on the good and beauty of humanity, instead of all the horribleness.

It’s so easy to find and focus on the shit.

Newspapers, magazines and television practically scream it at us.

The miracles are more subtle. All the good.

But it’s there.

If you just look closer.

Listen harder.

Shhhhhhh.

See it?

Hear it?

Actually, There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Cynicism never made much sense to me.

Because every cynic could prove themselves wrong simply by displaying unconditional generosity just one time.

During my first summer interning at a daily newspaper, I was asked to cover a Zig Ziglar talk. Ziglar died last year after years of motivational speaking and training and writing bestsellers.

When I was 20, I wasn’t ready for what he had to say.

I just didn’t get it.

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want,” Ziglar said. Over and over again, he said it.

That wasn’t registering with me 14 years ago. I wasn’t ready.

Remember when you were a little kid, experiencing the magic of Christmas morning? Gifts, gifts, and more gifts? And you just celebrated the greed and excess because you were a little heathen child narcissist shithead like me?

And you’d hear some well-meaning adult—maybe one of your parents—say something like: “It’s so much better to give than receive.”

And you’d nod in agreement, but in your head, you were like: Yeah, right, dipshit. I got a Lite-Brite and a Nintendo and a new bike. Santa hooked me up. Because I was so freaking good this year. Have fun giving shit away, though!

But then you got older.

And Santa stopped bringing you toys because you weren’t so good this year.

But then you gave a gift to someone else.

Your spouse.

Your children.

Your parents.

Your friends.

And all the sudden your parents don’t sound so silly anymore. Ziglar’s message starts to seem a little less crazy.

That feeling inside of you, telling you all you need to know about the power of giving.

The power of helping people. Even in the smallest of ways.

Listen. Smile. Care. Try.

You’ll change the world if you do.

The Drive-Thru Difference

So apparently this is a thing.

A quick Google search taught me that many radio stations encourage listeners to be part of the Drive-Thru Difference, both to give, and to call or write the radio station with stories just like this one.

Where someone—without agenda—performed an intentional act of kindness.

Driver A pulls into Starbucks. Buys her coffee and pays for the driver behind her as well.

Driver B gets to the window. Learns that the stranger in front of him paid for his coffee this morning. He smiles. His day just started off beautifully. He doesn’t hesitate to pay for the order for Driver C behind him.

It’s a chain reaction of smiles. Of positivity. Of good deeds. And it sometimes goes on and on and on.

And it only took one. Just one thoughtful person at a drive-through window.

The miracle of generosity.

When my friend got back to the office with lunch, she handed me a piece of paper the checkout window person had handed her.

It was a note from the person I wish I could thank.

It read:

“You don’t know me, but I’ve just paid for your order. Paying for someone’s order is a simple way to brighten someone’s day. Hopefully it brightens yours. Maybe you’ll feel like doing it for someone else.

Hope you have a great day!

—   The stranger in the car ahead of you.”

What do you mean one person can’t make a difference?

What do you mean you can’t?

It’s out there. The good.

If we only look closer.

Only listen harder.

Shhhhhhh.

See it?

Hear it?

I do.

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