April 29, 2011

Selfless Acts = Positive Effect

If you’re like me, do you ever wonder if, where, or how your good acts ripple out? Will we ever know?

I hope this blog post gives you some faith, hope and inspiration. After covering the local news for about a decade, I finally listened to my inner voice which I had been ignoring because I liked the comfy paycheck that came with my big market news job.

When I was laid off more than two years ago, I decided to use my storytelling power to inspire and help others through GoInspireGo.com (GIG).

I’ve never needed validation of what I’ve known to be true –- that good does beget goodness –- but for all those naysayers, a new study may make you believe that good acts do ripple out in a BIG way.

According to a new study conducted by the University of British Columbia, “People with a good ‘moral identity’ were inspired to do good when they read media stories about Good Samaritans’ selfless acts.” Karl Aquino, the lead author of the study said that four separate studies show a direct correlation between someone’s exposure to media stories of “extraordinary virtue and their yearning to change the world.”

How can we quantify the media’s role on the cause and effect of good stories manifesting beyond the moment a person sees and hears stories of good deeds?

"If more attention was devoted to recounting stories of uncommon acts of human virtue, the media could have a quantifiable positive effect on the moral behavior of a significant group of people," said Aquino, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at UBC.

Leading GIG, I’ve experienced the effects of this study firsthand. I founded this video-based website that inspires social change, where we strive to help viewers “Discover and use their power to help others.” There’s a call to action at the end of every video, which our all-volunteer team forwards via social media in order to inspire social change.

Disenchanted by the death and destruction that comes along with reporting the news, two years ago, I decided to start using my power with GIG, connecting with people and storytelling to help others. My hope -- that a droplet of intent would ripple out and inspire a wave of change, that five people would help five others and so on ...

You don’t believe me? Check out how Phoebe, a preschooler in San Francisco inspired the world by enabling the San Francisco Food Bank to give more than 140,000 healthy meals. Then there’s Jorge Munoz, a school bus driver in Queens, N.Y., who would spend more than half his salary to buy, cook, package and deliver food to the needy under the subway stop near his home. These are just a few of the stories GIG shared that created huge ripples of rad(ness).

Contrary to popular belief that “if it bleeds it leads,” people are craving inspiring stories now more than ever. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the most widely shared/e-mailed stories were awe-inspiring, emotional and positive.

Of course, you didn’t need a study to make you believe. Just think about what stories we tend to post, tweet and email most: stories that move us, give us hope, stories that -– no matter how bad life could be at this moment -- make us believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

We invite you along for the inspirational journey… GoInspireGo.com.

April 21, 2011

Celebrating Mother Earth: Visiting Parks, A Natural Way to Unplug

(Photos by Jeff Silva)

Have you hugged your mother lately? No, I'm not talking about the woman who gave birth to you; I'm referring to our shared mother -– Mother Earth. April 22 is Earth Day and we're asking you to join us in celebrating this great big globe that we live on. We're all just dots on this big green and blue sphere, so it's easy to think, "How can little ol' me make a difference?" YOU CAN make a difference –- a BIG one! Today we challenge you to do something, one thing, anything that will better our world. One of my friends, Sara Bayles, picks up trash for 20 minutes a day along the Santa Monica shoreline and blogs about it. Can you imagine if one billion people picked up one piece of trash today? What if we did this everyday? Also, check out this Earth Day site to find out how this day originated.

Go Inspire Go's board member, Marcia Estarija Silva, is doing her part by sharing her experience of unplugging … naturally. If you enjoy the gifts of nature, think about how you can care for the environment and preserve its beauty so our future generations can share in the joy.

Being out in nature wasn't a big part of my upbringing. My parents, who were born and raised in a rural town in the Philippines, probably didn't think it was necessary and I never thought I was missing out.

Then I became an adult. My outdoor activities were still rather minimal. In fact, it seemed I had gone to the other side of the spectrum. I was merging with my computer and phone. Indeed, I started feeling (and continue to feel) too connected, checking email, status updates, and tweets multiple times in an hour. I didn't have the willpower to turn the devices off and put them away.

So it was a huge shift when I started dating my now-husband who had a penchant for visiting national and state parks. Hiking and camping suddenly became normal activities in my life. And with those things came no cell phone reception and Internet access. I heard nothing now.

Initially, it was really hard to accept. I would check my phone throughout a park visit or camping trip and think that those bars would miraculously appear amongst the redwoods and sequoias, canyons and cliffs, rivers and lakes. Nope. Nothing. Nada.

I learned to leave the phone alone, buried away in the tent or in the car, and focus on the beauty around me. Out of sight; out of mind. It was peaceful, relaxing, even liberating.

I recently went with my husband and a couple of friends to Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, Calif. We all snow-shoed for the first time and we were probably the oldest group of people actually playing in the snowplay area.

There was free wi-fi access in the lodge and, yes, we all jumped at a chance to check the Internet. But when we realized the wi-fi was not so good, we didn't fall apart. It wasn't the end of the world. Those unread webpages and emails would still be there later.

I was somewhat amused by the first ever National Day of Unplugging this past March. Maybe five years ago, a call to turn off computers and phones for 24 hours would have seemed impossible. But, honestly, I shouldn't have been so snooty about it. Sometimes a specific ask is all we need to finally do something to change our behavior.

Visiting parks is one way to disconnect from electronics and gadgets and reconnect with the simple things that we sometimes take for granted, like a 2,700 year-old Giant Sequoia or the relationships that keep us rooted in life.

If all you do is celebrate Earth Day by sharing the wondrous experience of nature with a friend who is perhaps not so use to the idea, like I was, you've already made a BIG difference. I hope you are inspired to visit and support your parks, whether it's the first or umpteenth time. For more information, visit the National Parks Foundation or Google your state's parks website.

April 14, 2011

Youth: The Hope of Today

I asked Steve Culbertson, the CEO of Youth Service America to guest blog about Global Youth Service Day -- here's his inspiring post. Go Youth Go! -- Toan Lam, Chief Inspirator, GoInspireGo

Since 1988, Youth Service America has encouraged millions of American kids, ages 5-25, to participate in service projects at the same time every April. National Youth Service Day, now called Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), is the only event that recognizes and celebrates the contributions that young people make to their communities 365 days of the year. In the beginning, participants came from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the American Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC.

During a trip I took to Russia in 1998, a 15 year old boy named Evgeny raised his hand and asked me if there was any reason why the kids in the Russian Federation couldn’t join their peers in the United States in celebrating National Youth Service Day. I was dumbstruck by the brilliance and simplicity of his idea. Of course his question made sense, given that young people relate best to other young people, no matter where they live.

With the help of Evgeny’s peers across Russia, and other organizations we recruited with partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank, we launched the first Global Youth Service Day in 2000 with 27 participating countries. Within a couple of years, we quickly surpassed participation by kids in more than 100 countries on six continents.

A combination of technologies such as Internet, email, and social networking helped expansion, combined with a slew of disasters, such as September 11th; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Pakistan Earthquake; the Chinese Earthquake; Darfur; Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and the Asian Tsunami, which drove more and more young people into service and into GYSD. Lots of publicity about diseases such as malaria, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis woke up a generation of kids to the sufferings of their peers around the planet. Passion for animals, concern for the environment, and service-learning classes on subjects such as the links between climate change and industrialization created new motivation for young people to get involved and take action.

On April 15-17, 2011 (over three days to accommodate teachers, weekend programs, and our Jewish colleagues) millions of kids around the world will take the time to show off their energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity in solving the world’s most difficult problems around health, education, human service, human rights, and the environment.

Elementary school children in Turkey will create a flash mob demonstration dressed as water droplets to bring attention to the world’s scarcity of water. In Ecuador, youth will remove invasive plants in favor of native trees and build dry bathrooms throughout community parks, all which assist in compositing and fertilization. Atlanta, Georgia youth have worked all semester with local, green-friendly professionals and are constructing a new playground, sports fields and park to replace the school’s decimated grounds.

With half the world’s population under 25 years old, we must make room in our hearts and minds for the contributions of youth. Too often, they are recipients of our high-minded programs and educational systems, which often only create passivity and boredom in young people. We need to have them on the giving end of the power stick, as actors in delivering service to world, not receiving it.

Think recycling. Think littering. Think Egypt. Youth are not hope of tomorrow, nor some distant leaders of the future. They are actively leading and changing the world today. Come join them on Global Youth Service Day 2011.

*Steve Culbertson is President and CEO of Youth Service America, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve communities by increasing the number and the diversity of young people, ages 5-25, serving in substantive roles. You may follow him on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/Culbs. Information on Global Youth Service Day may be found at http://www.YSA.org

Millions of Youth Unite in Global Weekend of Service

Contrary to all the bad press permeating mainstream media today about the young folks of America – their bullying, sexting, drugs, alcohol and all sorts of bad behavior -- I believe in the youth and the good they do. I believe in their power to make their mark on our gigantic globe … NOW. What I don’t believe in is the seemingly innocent question you and I are too often guilty of asking: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” While I’m sure the intent behind this question is to spark curiosity, hope, or perhaps some forward thinking and goal-setting, I know that our future, our youth, can make an impact now.

Don’t believe me? Just check out some of our GoInspireGo (GIG) stories about the inspiring youth of America like Lily Gordon, a teenager who is working on beating hunger in Tanzania, or Phoebe Russell who enabled the San Francisco Food Bank to give out more than 140,000 meals, or the band students from San Jose, CA who were inspired by this GIG video to orchestrate a winter concert to help Reverend Lemaire Alerte, Reverend of the Haitian Evangelical Church in Jersey City, N.J., accomplish his dream of building a school in Haiti.

The folks at Youth Service of America (YSA), the world’s largest and longest-running youth service campaign, share the sentiment -- kids have the power to make a difference today.

This weekend, from April 15 – 17, millions of youth around the world, spanning 100 countries and six continents, will join YSA to celebrate Global Youth Service Day. Witness the wonderful work and service of children and communities working in unison to solve the world’s problems. From elementary school students' flash mobs in Turkey highlighting the world’s water woes to Georgian kids building playgrounds to enrich local families and communities, I invite you to inspire the youth in your life to take action and be the change. Encourage them to participate in Global Youth Service Day.

As adults, I believe it is our filial duty to give back, inspire and challenge our youth to do better for themselves and others.

One of my favorite quotes is from Desmond Tutu, Angelican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa: “The ocean is made up of individual drops of water.”

We are each a single drop of water moving together to create waves, to create change. My question to you is: Where do you see yourself (and the youth in your life) in the sea of change?

What can YOU do?

April 8, 2011

Threads of Compassion Weave Warmth, Gratitude and Life-Changing Lesson

I never thought that the dude that directed blockbuster comedies such as Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty -- movies that don't particularly interest me -- would craft an inspiring, probing, life-changing film.

Tom Shadyac's non-fiction documentary genre "I Am" is a powerful, in-depth and eye-opening look into our world. It raises two simple, yet intensely deep questions: "What's wrong with it [our world]?" and "How can we all make it better?" This non-fiction flick tells the story of Tom Shadyac's near death experience -- how it awakened his spirit and how he is choosing to consciously live the rest of his life. He explores how interconnected humanity really is, using science to explain how when two people touch or are in proximity to one another, the person's heartbeat signal actually registers in the other person's brain. Researchers also explain how our thoughts and emotions affect the world around us, even impacting bacteria in yogurt. Yes, I did write yogurt!

The film "I AM" truly is amazing. I don't use the words truly and amazing lightly either. It shook me to my core and moved me to tears. As a former TV reporter, I've seen so many tragic and profound real-life stories and multimedia pieces, that I’ve become desensitized. If you ask my friends, they'll tell you that it takes something significantly moving for me to laugh and cry during a movie. That's why I want to share my experience with you…

Shadyac recounts his life-changing shift after a cycling accident nearly took his life. Not wanting to spoil the ending, I'll stop there. I'll only tell you that he became disillusioned with life on the A-list -- the status and material wealth that came with it -- and had an epiphany that sparked a shift that led to drastic life changes. He sold his house, expunged material "things" (the personal jet, big home and fancy cars) and moved to a mobile home to start a new life filled with awareness.

Aside from the snapshot of Shadyac's surreal awakening, the images, textures and riveting interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky are brilliantly woven together, with a sprinkle of eye-opening scientific data, and a lot of moving scenes, vignettes, facts, figures that will leave you feeling like you can really make your mark in this world.

Coincidentally, on my way home, I had an experience that eerily depicted scenes from the movie. I was out of gas. For some weird reason I passed up the gas station right off of the freeway exit and was compelled to drive out of my way, past my San Francisco apartment, to gas up. As I pulled up, a scene played out before me like the movie I just watched -- fancy shiny cars, hybrids, Mercedes and Hondas juxtaposed next to two homeless men eating out of the trash can, another asking customers to clean their windows in exchange for some spare change.

As I got out of the warm confines of my car to pump gas, I immediately noticed the frigid wind against my face. That's when a homeless man walked up to me, with a desperate glare in his eyes. He told me, "Sir, someone stole all my stuff. Do you believe that? Do you have an extra jacket or tee shirt in your car that I can have?" I was shocked to think that someone would steal from a homeless man and immediately glanced inside my car and didn't have any garments. I told him, "If you would've asked me yesterday, I would've given you two as I just cleaned out my car." His hopeful face filled with despondency. In a genuine tone, he said, "Thank you, have a nice night."

I felt terrible that he didn't have anything to keep him warm, aside from a thin tee. I had a thin maroon v-neck sweater on and I was shivering. I thought, wow, he only has a tee-shirt on, so he must be colder than I was. I said, "Wait, do you want this sweater I'm wearing?" His eyes lit up as though he won the Mega Millions jackpot. Dumbfounded by the offer, he graciously said, "Oh, yes, please, anything will help, I'm cccold." I took off the sweater and handed it to him.

What happened next caught me completely off guard. He put both hands in front of him, palms facing me to signal me to stop and said, "Wait, you don't have to give it to me now, you can take it off when you're done pumping gas so you're not cold." Wow, I immediately got the chills (not from the windy weather) and handed it over to him right away. I thought to myself, how thoughtful of him to think about my warmth when he had been exposed to the elements for God knows how long.

I then asked him for his name. He said, "I'm Kevin." I shook his frozen hand and said, "Nice to meet you, I'm Toan. Have a good night and God bless you.” His smile widened, revealing a mouth full of missing teeth. WOW. Talk about adding more octane to an already inspiring night.

Admittedly, I rarely give to the homeless on the street. I thought, I give so much to the homeless through GoInspireGo.com and have passed up lucrative job offers to build my organization (a video based website that inspires people to help others.)

This personal, raw, real connection and experience taught me that we are more interconnected than we think. Our actions, however small we think it might be, could change how people treat others. No ripple is too small.

This experience taught me that there is more I can do, simple things like clearing out the many sweaters and jackets in my closet and donating them to folks like Kevin. In return, Kevin probably doesn't know what ripple he created in me as I share this story with you and many others. He created a shift in me, raised my awareness and consciousness -– and emblazoned in my mind is his smile, filled with so much hope. I will never forget that.

Perhaps there is more that you can do too…
What can you do to make someone else’s life better today? You have the power.