Why Kindness Multiplies, Joy Rebounds, and Generosity Goes Viral

Last week, I wrote about a pub in Colorado, where you don’t have to pay your tab when you eat. If you don’t have cash, they send you home with a Karma Envelope, and they trust you’ll send your payment in when you can. Because they believe kindness multiplies, joy rebounds, community is contagious, and generosity goes viral.

They claim a 97% collection rate via Karma Envelopes.

Joy rebounds, indeed.

charity

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Readers around the world wrote in, saying the post made their day and restored some of their hope for humanity. The Channel 9 News in Denver called to ask for details about the story, and I did an interview with a radio station in Montreal. But my favorite part of the week, by far, was hearing about other businesses around the world who operate on the assumption there is something good at the center of people.

Here are just a few:

There’s a sandwich bar in Basel, Switzerland that works on the honor system—you eat as much as you want and declare at the register how much you ate. About a decade ago, the owner ran an ad in the local paper, granting “amnesty” to everyone who “forgot” to pay for sandwiches when they were young and broke. And he offered this: if you now wanted to settle your tab, you could contribute anonymously to a fund, and the money was then donated to a local association for the blind.

The sandwich bar donated a lot of money.

Because kindness multiplies.

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Karma Envelopes

karma

Last week, I got ambushed by hope in a pub in Boulder, Colorado.

My wife and I had just gotten into town for a conference. Our flight out of O’Hare had been delayed for hours by thunderstorms, so by the time we landed, traveled to the hotel, checked in, and set out with friends to look for our first food since breakfast, it was 6pm. We walked through the doors of the Mountain Sun Pub with empty stomachs and frayed nerves. We were seated quickly, given our menus, and were just about to open them when my friend noticed, in small type at the bottom of the menu, these words:

Cash only.

Our empty stomachs dropped, and we got up to go. A waitress stopped us and asked why we were leaving. We explained we were from Chicago and were only carrying credit cards. She smiled wide and told us not to worry.

Then she told us about Karma Envelopes.

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Home Is Where the Grace Is

grace

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It’s a Saturday evening and my oldest son and I are working the dinner shift at a homeless shelter. We’re staffing the beverage table with friends, enjoying the challenge of keeping up with the demand for drinks, working hard, and laughing even harder. And then I see him.

Or, rather, I see the back of him.

I see the back of a young boy—about my son’s age—already walking away from the table. While we were trading jokes and jabs, he had quietly approached us, picked up a soda, and is now returning to his seat in the crowd. I watch him rejoin his family—two parents and two younger siblings. I’d been at the shelter for ninety minutes, and I hadn’t even noticed them. While serving them, I hadn’t seen them.

There’s more than one way to be homeless, isn’t there?

Being houseless is one thing; being unseen and lonely is another thing altogether.

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I’ve Got Bad News and I’ve Got Good News (Which Will You Choose?)

hope

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“Daddy, I’ve got bad news!”

I’m getting into the car after making the mistake of sending my youngest two children out to the garage on their own. I finish getting in and I look in the rearview mirror. My son’s face is contorted by righteous fury. “She called me stupid two times!”

On this particular morning, I simply don’t have the energy to sort out discrepant eyewitness testimonies, request the appropriate apologies, and mediate forgiveness. So, instead, I say, “Do you have any good news for me?”

His face turns thoughtful and then a smile breaks out upon it. “I found my fleece under the seat!” He holds up a ball of something blue that looks vaguely like the fleece he lost last autumn. I smile, too.

The world is full of bad news.

And the world is full of good news.

Which will you choose?

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Why Siblings Fight (and Why We All Fight Like Siblings)

Siblings fight because they assume love is a limited resource. They assume they have to compete for caring. In other words, siblings are just like the rest of us…

family conflict

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I was brutal to my siblings.

I beat up on my little brother’s shoulder and I beat up on my little sister’s heart. When we were all grown and had gone our separate ways, I realized what I’d done, and I started to beat up on myself. I felt guilty about being a bully and sad about the lost opportunity to be their friend.

Even after they accepted my apology, I couldn’t forgive myself.

So, instead, I decided to redeem it. By cultivating a sense of companionship amongst my own children. It seemed simple enough. But encouraging mutuality and tenderness between siblings is way easier said than done. Siblings swing quickly upon a pendulum from caring for each other to competing with each other.

What are they constantly competing for?

Love.

They assume it’s a limited resource.

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A Letter of Thanks to You

gratitude

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Dear You,

Yes, you.

Thank you, Faithful Friend. Thank you for the grace you give—the grace that reminds us we’re okay, good enough, even lovely. Thank you for being a space where we know we don’t have to do anything or impress anyone to be worthy of love and belonging. For being the embrace that doesn’t go away. For being the family we choose.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Exhausted Parent. Thank you for being bone tired because you care enough to pay attention. Thank you for remembering—no matter what the kids try to tell you—eye contact matters more to them than any iPad ever will. Thank you for looking them in the eyes, when all you want to do is close yours. Thank you for loving them enough to give them all of you, and then loving them enough to let them go.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Rebellious Spouses. Thank you for rebelling against the consumer disease. For refusing to treat your marriage as one more commodity in a world of purchased things. For refusing to make it a transactional place where you get what you you’ve always wanted and, instead, insisting it is a sacred place where two people learn to give what has always been needed.

This world is a better place because of you.

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The Real Scandal Behind the NFL Domestic Violence Controversy

The real scandal is not about football or domestic violence or big business. The real scandal is about what’s happening in our living rooms…

NFL Domestic violence

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Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice gave his wife a right hook before he gave her a wedding band.

He knocked her unconscious and then dragged her halfway out of the elevator they’d been riding. Just far enough to keep the elevator door ajar and the security camera recording. Just far enough so the NFL could witness the totality of the brutality. When they saw it, they suspended him for two games.

Until the video went public.

Then the team cancelled his contract and the league suspended him indefinitely. In the wake of the news, more allegations of domestic violence amongst NFL players are emerging.

But really, none of this is terribly scandalous. Is anyone surprised that a sport rooted in violence toward others cultivates violence at home? Is anyone surprised that a billion dollar business will hide bad press until it can’t hide it anymore? No, the real scandal is in the results of an NBC poll: while 60% of football viewers disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the scandal—and presumably even more disapprove of domestic violence—90% of people will not watch less football as a result.

The real scandal is not about football or domestic violence or big business.

The real scandal is about what’s happening in our living rooms and in our lives.

The real scandal is our tendency to ignore what we value and to live out something else.

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Why I Waited a Month to Write About Robin Williams

When we try to fix things fast, we never get to feel them fully. And we need to feel them fully, because the solutions to our biggest problems lie at the bottom of our grief. If we don’t get better at grieving, we can’t get better at living…

Robin Williams

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Last month, my friend was in a car accident. The car was totaled. He texted me a picture of it and let me know everyone was okay. Reassured of his safety, the next question on my mind was, “Whose fault was it?”

The human mind likes to look for fault and to assign blame.

Last month, Robin Williams committed suicide. A shocking, tragic loss. And instantly, Twitter and Facebook lit up with debates about depression and suicide and illness versus choice. Mental health debates. Theological debates. Existential debates. Almost all of them sincere debates argued by caring, passionate people. We need to talk about such things. Dialogue is essential.  But the debate happened so fast.

Sometimes, we fight so we don’t have to feel.

Sometimes, we trade jeers so we don’t have to trade tears.

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The One Illusion We Cannot Afford To Believe In

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

community

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I’m on the fifth floor of a hotel in Pennsylvania, waiting for an elevator to the lobby. It’s July 4th—Independence Day in America. Early morning, and I’m leaving the hotel to find a cheaper breakfast. As I wait, I become aware of piped-in music overhead. I hear lyrics that remind me of my wife: “Fortune teller said I’d be free, and that’s the day you came to me.”

I instantly reach for my phone, Google the lyrics, and the song title is the top result. I click out of Google, tap my Spotify app, search for the song, and the song playing above my head is now coming out of my phone.

I enjoy the dopamine rush of immediate gratification and I marvel at the convenience of technology. But mostly, I revel in my apparent self-sufficiency. Twenty years ago, I would’ve required the help of a number of people to identify the song, find a music store, and purchase the CD.

In 2014, I interact with no one.

In 2014, I can completely ignore how interdependent all of us are…

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BringBackOurGirls (When the Nigerian Girls Feel Like Your Little Girl)

To grieve or not to grieve? That is the question we ask, when we choose our news. Do we put the brakes on our heart, or do we allow our hearts to break?

nigerian girls

I’m procrastinating, so I tap the CNN app on my iPhone and I scroll through the newsfeed. I stop when I see the headline announcing a mass kidnapping of young Nigerian girls by a group of militants. Defenseless girls. Disappeared. Sold. Traded. Trafficked. Brutalized.

I stare at the headline.

My thumb hovers over it.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I see an article just below it about a bug fix for the iPhone. My thumb twitches downward and hovers over the iPhone article. Meanwhile, I imagine my own little girl ripped from our home:

Her fingertips are just beyond mine as he pulls her out the door. I see her tear-streaked face. She looks at me frantically, expecting the protection I’ve always promised and her terror is mingled with confusion about why I’m not providing it. But they won’t let me go and the last thing I see as they pull her out of sight is the look in the eye of the man who is holding her. It’s a dead look. Whatever light was in him when he came into the world is gone. And now he is in charge of my daughter. In charge of taking her light away, too.

My thumb hovers.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I feel the tortured days and sleepless nights in the years to follow. I feel the pain of not knowing where she is. I feel the unutterable anguish of wondering if she is being brutalized at this very moment. These Nigerian girls are not my daughter, but, in some way only my soul comprehends, they are my daughter. Each and every one of them.

My thumb descends, and I choose to read about the girls.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

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