Hello everyone, and (almost) welcome to September! We’re finally done with the tedium of warm days and scampering around in swimsuits. No longer shall you have to pretend to love spending your every waking moment with your children, since you now once again ship them off to school! And perhaps most importantly of all, I’m about to finally get a chance to finish the bag of marshmallows I’ve been saving since last fall. I think it’s weird to make Smores during the summer. I also think it’s disturbing that my leftover marshmallows look exactly the same as they did a year ago, but I’m choosing to ignore that. I’m sure there’s something in them that’s good for me. Marshmallows have potassium, right? I mean they’re basically bananas.
But I’m not here to talk about my marshmallow obsession. Instead I want to focus on some of the unexpected benefits that come from being nice. Last month we decided to engage in some charitable activity beyond our usual ‘write a check to X organization’ approach. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that kind of charity, but this time we wanted a little more personal involvement. So we broke our efforts into two projects – participating in a charity golf tournament to raise money for a children’s hospital, and donating 15 Little Free Libraries (www.littlefreelibrary.org if you’re interested) to the city of Midland where I live. We didn’t do these things in an attempt to get attention for ourselves, and under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t even be writing about it.
But there were several unexpected benefits to our new charitable approach that I’ve ultimately decided are worth sharing. There’s really no wrong way to help others, and sending a check is often the easiest (and in many cases the best) thing to do. But in case you’re in the mood to experience something slightly different, here’s what happened for us:
Our Efforts Were Multiplied
The children’s hospital fundraiser included a live auction, and we assumed that we’d take the money we had, bid on an item, win it, and that would be it. However, because there were other bidders planning to do the same thing, we ended up getting into a bidding war over one item that we ultimately lost but which drove up the price higher than it would have been otherwise. Then, since we’d lost, we still had our money left over to bid on a different item. Ultimately, then, our gift ended up inadvertently raising something like 2.5 times more money for charity than it would have if we’d simply sent in a check.
We Built a Sense of Community
In the case of the Little Free Libraries, we started out with little more than a plan to build them and then find some places to put them. Then my wife suggested I get in touch with a local art school to see if they’d be interested in decorating the libraries. That led to a news story getting published in the local paper, which led to another news story in our local news, which led to a couple dozen people contacting me to see how they could participate. I don’t mean to pretend that it’s grown into something massive – but it’s certainly become a larger project that is affecting more people than I had originally expected it to.
We Got Other People Thinking
This is easily the biggest benefit we hadn’t counted on. Writing a check is a solitary activity, and we generally don’t tell people that we’ve done it. Because our activities this year are public, they’ve necessarily gotten the attention of others and caused some of those people to think about doing something on their own. I’ve talked with people in other cities who are now looking into building their own Little Free Libraries, and next year’s charity golf tournaments are likely to be larger because a few new people have heard about them and will want to participate.
Again, I don’t mean to suggest that there’s any one right way to give back to the world. Everything helps. But when we share what we do with others, we allow them to take on a life of their own. The same is true in your professional life as well. If you share your ideas with others, or talk about a difficult situation you experienced in the past, you allow those things to have an impact beyond what you can achieve by keeping quiet about them.
I hope this article encourages you to find some way to make a difference somehow – with your family, at work, in your community, or anywhere else. And I hope it also encourages you to share that experience with others. Telling others what you’ve done doesn’t have to come across as bragging. Instead, think about it as giving others the opportunity to build on whatever you’ve started. That’s why we live in a world our ancestors could never have dreamed of, because we’ve built upon the work of others.
And it’s also why we have Smores, for which I will forever be grateful. Thank you for sharing your wizardry with the rest of us, Smores creator! And thank you too, marshmallow makers, for creating a puffy, gooey food that is somehow impervious to decay. The world is better because of you.
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