1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire and Change Your Life shares Cohen’s two-and-a-half year journey from sorrow to inspriation through simple daily acts of kindness. She presents each mitzvah as a short vignette and the myriad forms they take – from helping the elderly to donating to good causes to baking and collecting food for others – highlight the many ways in which one person can touch the lives of others. As she pursues her quest, Cohen finds that her life is improved by these small acts – that every time she goes out of her way to do something good for someone else, she enhances her own well-being.
As a consultant working with companies around their Employee Volunteer Programs, I teach companies how to recognize their volunteers. This week, however, I was the unexpected recipient of some recognition that happily caught me off guard.
After my son moved to a new middle school this year, that is part of a K-8 program, one of my neighbors suggested I volunteer as a Reader Responder for our RHS Publishing House program. Essentially, all of the children in the school are invited to submit their writing and art work for the monthly magazine that is produced and goes on-line for our school community. Here is the newest edition.
Each month, the volunteer editor, sends out a list of all the articles and asks the volunteers to choose who they’ll respond to and send a written letter with feedback to the student. I remember the first newsletter that arrived in my email and reading through some of the student’s articles. Of course, the submissions vary widely since they are submitted from kindergartens through eighth graders but it’s always easy to find something to compliment these writers on. Their articles are often deeper than you might expect and very thoughtful. Kids just write what they see and know. I have enjoyed this volunteer job, and even though I am only able to reply to a couple of submissions each time, I try to put some thought and heart into each one.
On Tuesday, when the request came out from the editor to choose our assignments as Reader Responders (RR) for this edition, she also included a P.S. that said, “Here’s a good line from an RR to an 8th grader that points to the heart of these letters.” The quote was from one of my last letters! I was so excited and surprised. I sent her a quick thank you note but realized how that simple recognition, made me especially proud of the volunteer work I had done and eager to do more.
Don’t underestimate the value of recognition. Even an “old-timer” volunteer like me can be moved and elevated by some unexpected recognition. Be sure you are giving this liberally to your volunteers. Do it with heart and your volunteers just might increase their sense of commitment to their project or your company or organization.
To learn more about improving your Employee Volunteer Program or increasing your recognition to your volunteers. Feel free to contact me.
On the eve of Shabbat, as I am making challah and preparing some dinner, it seems like there isn’t much more that can be added to the conversation during this difficult week in Boston, but I’m a writer and I process by writing so here is my two cents.
On Monday morning, I had a client meeting and when I mentioned to the client that I grew up outside of Boston, she asked me if I’d been watching the marathon that morning. This was early in the day before anything terrible had happened. I thought briefly in that moment about the year after graduate school when I got my first job in Boston how happy I was to have another paid day off in honor of Patriots Day. I didn’t know much about marathon running or even follow much about the race at that time but enjoyed the springtime vacation day just the same. Later Monday afternoon when I learned with the rest of the country about the terrible bombing that had occurred, I was dumbfounded. How and why would someone do something like this? After listening for an hour to the news, I purposely changed the radio station to our classical station because I know that I can not handle the 24/7 coverage that occurs tragedy after tragedy these days. I know that may sound like I am sticking my head in the sand but I know for myself that being plugged into the media coverage makes me sad and angry and scream out loud, ”What the hell is happening in our world?” Instead, I’m likely to try to find the stories on the internet about all the heroes. Monday my google alert for acts of kindness sent me half a dozen stories of those citizens who rushed to the aid of the wounded. Personally, I prefer to read those stories instead.
Yesterday, when I went to the gym, the television was broadcasting the live Interfaith Healing Service being held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. It may have only been words that Cardinal O’Malley and President Obama and other faith leaders offered but they felt like hope and light amidst the darkness. The President started and concluded his speech quoting a scripture, that said “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” He told us that as we do this to hold God close and that God would help us remember those who’ve been taken from us too soon. God would comfort their families. I know they were just words but having faith in God felt reassuring.
When my 12-year-old son got home from school, I mentioned that I had watched the healing service earlier in the day and found it comforting to hear what the clergy and the president had to say. He wanted to know if the speeches offered by the speakers would have made me feel better if I had lost my legs or my child in the bombing on Monday. His question floored and saddened me, it’s hard to even believe that a 12-year-old is thinking about these kinds of things. No matter how we try to protect and shield our children and try to have them experience a childhood like we did, times have changed and we no longer have the innocence of childhood that we once did. 12-year-olds know about bombings, shootings, war and other atrocities that seemed unfathomable just 20 years ago.
These are new times we find ourselves in. Times when raising children can seem joyous in one moment and fraught with fear the next. I know that even with the darkness our children must know, they will still know the kindness, love and beauty of others. There is too much light in this world for the darkness to prevail. Spreading kindness, light and hope has become our responsibility as parents and as a nation.
This evening whether it is your custom to do so or not, I invite you to light Shabbat candles to remind yourself of the light, hope and peace that we must fill our world with.
Wishing everyone peace and light this Shabbat.
The Search for Meaning Book Festival has a fairly big name wouldn’t you say? This is the second year I have been invited to participate in this interesting conference sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. The conference is completely free to attend, and I loved what the dean of the school Mark Markuly said when he welcomed us for the opening keynote, “Our human search for meaning should not be something you have to pay for.” He did also mention, however, that the conference is generously underwritten in large part by the charity of a few specific donors.
This one day conference is an ecumenical dialog about religion and meaning and I was once again inspired to be part of the community for thoughtful discourse about the search for meaning.
I was fortunate to lead one session and though it wasn’t a packed room , those in attendance shared that they felt connected and engaged by the conversation. I have learned during my time as a speaker the past few years, I should not measure the success of a talk by the amount of attendees but by the connections created. I was also delighted to stumble into a session by accident led by Rebecca Walker, whom I didn’t even realize until after the talk, was the daughter of Alice Walker. She discussed her book Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. I also learned about her book Black, White and Jew and ran to buy it after the session. I am already enjoying it.
One of my favorite, interesting little offerings at this year’s conference was a “5 senses” interactive art stations area. They had tables set up with activities to stimulate our senses and help us connect to our senses viscerally.
I tried not to look at the table where other people had been encouraged to write what the smell evoked for them until after I had smelled the bag and had my own scent memory. With the scent of dried leaves I remembered my childhood, raking leaves on our farm with literally acres of maple trees. I thought of the long nights my father spent boiling sap into syrup in his makeshift maple sugar house – I could almost smell the syrup as well from the scent of those dried leaves. A second bag held something that reminded me of chai tea evoking a sense of comfort and nurturing since my husband and I have a custom to have a cup of tea most mornings together before he leaves for work. I loved the cinnamon which smelled like my grandmother’s kitchen in New York City and immediately made me think of her old world Jewish cooking. It was incredible to me that these simple bags with a scent in them could evoke such instantaneous and strong memories. But they did.
At the other stations, we used our other senses to answer questions like, “What is sweet in your life right now?” when we tasted a sweet treat on the taste table or “What are you searching for?” when we had our hands in a bowl of sand searching for the hidden marbles on the table for the sense of touch. It was a wonderful interactive exhibit of how our senses influence our thoughts which can ultimately influence how we feel and think about things.
Perhaps the search for meaning is simply the ability to be in a moment and live that moment completely and fully. Whether that means enjoying the ray of sunshine on your face, connecting with a stranger by listening and engaging with them, or noticing the food you are consuming and tasting it fully. I love the opportunity to spend time with others searching for meaning, it is always such an incredible and thoughtful group. Perhaps next year you’ll want to join in the search. Save the date for next year’s Search for Meaning 2014.
Yesterday, I was late to a morning meeting. I had planned to be late from the beginning so when I got in the car knowing the meeting was just starting across town, I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t rushing, I wasn’t passing people at a million miles an hour. I was just driving. At a regular speed and knowing that I would get there, safely, whenever I arrived.
Counter that feeling with dozens of other times I’ve been driving somewhere and I was late but hadn’t planned to be late. I can always feel the anxiety building in my body as I curse the red light, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel willing the light to change faster. I catch myself watching the clock slowly move forward and sensing my dread of being late.
So what was the difference in knowing I was going to be late and accepting it versus running late without expecting to and feeling anxious about it. Honestly, the only difference was my mind-set and my thoughts. In both cases, I would inevitably arrive late. But yesterday, when this was always the plan, I walked in calm and assured and whenever I haven’t planned to be late, I walk in feeling anxious and irritable. The only other time I clearly remember being late to an event and still being calm was several years ago, soon after my father died, when I followed a funeral processional to a meeting. I remember being acutely aware of my thoughts that time too.
This simple “aha” for me yesterday made me realize that the next time I am running late unexpectedly I have the power to choose how the experience will feel in my body and I’d like it to feel calm and collected rather than frazzled and anxious. I suppose I realize now that I always have the ability and power to make it so!