The Most Incredible Tag of Handwritten Letters

Aug 7, 2009

I have given dozens of talks, just this year alone, and there are invitations to many more. Like with everything, public speaking feels gratifying for the first ten times but then you have to tap into a deeper reservoir of motivation -- particularly with the gift-economy mode of operation, where you try to serve without wanting anything and purely focus on giving. Naturally, you get tired, often downright exhausted, but you still stand back up and give some more. You give some more knowing that someone, somewhere, somehow, seven generations from now, will be a recipient of some small ripples that you're putting into motion right now. If you don't burnout, you break through to a beautiful unfolding of goodness within yourself. It's truly a beautiful thing.

Some time last year, I had one of those moments when I got an invitation to speak to Mrs. Hammel's 5th period class at Los Altos High School. 15-20 students. I'd have to Bart, Cal Train and then get a car ride just to make it to the class. While my head's cost-benefit analysis clearly indicated a flashing NO response, I sensed a deep affinity with Mrs. Hammel's invite and my heart said yes. So, of course, off I went. It was a grand time and the ripples spread across the school.  A few months later, the school invited me to speak to their senior assembly. Another powerful session. And sometime last May, they asked me to speak to their freshmen assembly. It was difficult to schedule it in, but we made it work as Bill Miller, Jayesh Parekh and myself headed into an auditorium of 400 young freshmen.  Not exactly your captive crowd for a talk on kindness, but let's just say that they managed to be silent for the 40 minutes of the talk. :)

Along the way, the school administration itself was on a journey to understand this "gift economy" process that I refused to budge from. Initially, they were confused how to book someone who doesn't charge; then they wondered how much of a gift to give me; then, they started seeing the generative power of unconditional generosity through the responses of the students themselves; and ultimately, they joined in! Before my talk to the Freshmen assembly, Mrs. Hammel herself had made me a "goody bag" to take to my next meeting. Mrs. Satterwhite, the school principal, had got me a sweat-shirt saying that "I feel like you're one of our own." It's delightful to connect in this way.

And then, a few weeks back, I got an unsuspecting package in the mail. I opened it up and saw dozens and dozens of hand-written letters from these freshmen! The teachers and the students had tagged me royally. The most incredible tag.

Words simply can't describe my experience in receiving that gift.

I elevated into another dimension of goodness, as I read each of those letters! The joy of being an instrument for these tiny ripples of goodness is unparalleled.

If you have time, check out the scanned letters (thank you, Popat Uncle!). For the rest, here are some memorable quotes ...

"One thing that really stood out for me was the idea that small acts can make a big difference. I experienced this lesson first hand just 2 hours after your talk, during 5th period (when I was tagged). " --Saleil
"I never really cared about what other people's thoughts and feelings were and I never really cared about how making other people happy would affect me. Your stories enlightened me and changed the way I think. Now, instead of being afraid of what I lose, I'll think about what it is I really am afraid of losing." --Milena
"You mentioned something about meditation and I went home and immediately meditated. I see what you mean about how busy our minds are!" --Austin
"I'm going to plant a tree."
"[The talk] really helped me understand that I was being selfish. I was really moved. Tomorrow afternoon I will make lunch for a homeless person as an act of kindness." --Liz
"There is two questions I have for you. Is the story of the homeless guy true? And do you think it will work if I tried it?" --Andrew
"[The talk] has inspired me to pay for the people behind me in line." --Annie
"[The talk] really inspired me to be a better person. I have a friend whose mother is a cancer patient and I want to make her a cake this weekend. I know the cake will not make her forget about her illness, but at least she will know that other people are thinking of her. " --Marlen
"After your speech, at home, I wrote a letter to my good friend who is always there for me -- also, the next day, I thanked the school security guards and lunch ladies and told them that they're AWESOME!" --Lauren
"I think it's amazing how much happier you can be if you can just let go of your matieral possessions, and not get stressed about small things." --Evan
"Acts of kindness seem to be a lot of fun to do, it would be fun to see the happiness or dewilderment on people's face when they are shown kindness by a random person. [...] It made me think about something I never really thought all that much about." --Sophia
"I don't really want to be a millionaire because I've learned that other people need it way more than I do." --Tony
"Is this your life's dream, though? To help people knowing they might not help you back?" --Solomon
"Life is this huge dilemma that everyone has to go through, but you can create a win-win situation, like your Smile Cards and random acts of kindness." --Madison
"I think we will all go and do a small act of kindness for someone!" --Jodie
"One small act of kindness goes a long way -- you proved that just by taking the time out of your schedule to make an apperance at our school. So ... thank you!" --Michayla
"In one's moment of weakness, it's the small things that really matter. The tiniest of acts can make a difference in someone's life." --Michael
"In my opinion I think that the Smile Cards are a really good invention because they could really make a person who is having a bad day feel a lot better." --Alejandra
"Whenever I'm sad, I always try to look back onto the last time someone has done something really kind for me and it always makes me feel so much better. I really do agree [about] giving love in order to receive love." --Rebecca
"Your stories made me think of all the good I'm capable of doing and I will do what I can to make at least one person feel good." --Will
"Thank you for coming. I'm sending flowers to my teacher because of you. Have a great life!" --Katie
"[That story] has inspired me to do one good thing a day for someone I may not even know." --Alexie
"I really loved the message you sent out to the audience, that it shouldn't be about "me, me, me" but it should be about the world." --Jasmine
"I am letting you know that I appreciate you stopping by our school to enlighten all of us with your breath-taking stories on how the smallest things affect this gigantic world. Sincerely, Johnny"
"Even something simple can make such a big difference." --Katrina
"I think you're striving for a very good cause. Keep fighting the good fight." --Pierre
"I will continuously try to give out those Smile Cards with random acts of kindness." --Lauren
"I learned a lot about how to be nice to other people. This will change my life." --Ronan
"People all around are always doing things for ME, and they never expect a thank you in return. People deserve to be thanked. And a simple smile can brighten up someone's whole day." --Michayla
"I hope your organization grows." --Victor
"I thought I might tell you what I plan to do because of your talk. I have never fully thanked my best friend for being there for almost a decade, and since I know she often forgets her lunch, I will make her one of her favorites. There's also a boy in my class who complains often that no one has done anything for him. He told me once that he's never had a PB&J, so I think I'll make him! Thank you for the courage you've given me to take action!" --Alyssa
"I wouldn't say that you changed my life forever but you did make me think about kindness. It seems that small is the new big." --Lucas
"My experience with the lady and her card made me feel good when I gave her bank card back." --Victor
"I am inspired to do random acts of kindness, no matter how small they may be. I want to focus less on material things and devote a large part of my life to helping other people make a difference in their lives. I am very moved by you and the fact that you get happiness simply by seeing others happy." --Allie
"Have a nice life. :)" --Sahar
"I once got a Smile Card when I got back to class. I felt really happy knowing that there was someone who saw that I was having a bad day. Thank you so much again, but know it's my turn to do a small thing that can change a community." --Amareni
"I learned a lot about kindness, and from now on, I am going to try to do something nice for someone everyday." --Shabam
"Your speech has inspired me to be excessively benevolent and how brightening a person's day will have a chain reaction through society. I am a member of the JV Baseball team and last week, the Varsity team bombarded us with water balloons. Determined to get them back, we decided that on Friday we would put laxatives in their Gatorade. Although this would've been fun, a prank of kindness would not only show real character but would also envelope them with guilt. I hope you keep doing what you are doing right now. Thank you." --Auden
"Since your speech, I have given flowers to one of my neighbors and I have emailed some old friends. Your talk really made me see things in a new light, and now I realize how much I have to give." --Gabriella
"I have [already] seen people do very nice things for each other and leave Smile Cards. Thank you." --Brianne
"I haven't made small acts of kindness a regular habit, but you reminded me of it today and I'm going to try now to practice this in my life." --Rewa
"Your stories inspired me about the ways of wrongdoing I should change."
"I love your take on meditation and I've tried it -- works wonders." --Jade
"Um, thanks. Your kind and courageous example inspired me to be the change I would like to see in the world from holding doors open to playing board games with my sisters, and generally being more sensitive to the needs. Thanks for forcing me to re-evaluate how I interact with others." --Kevin
"I'm inspired to thank someone for the kindness they have shown continually throughout this year. I hope that many more people may hear your message." --Catherine
"Maybe one of these days I'll do a ARK (A Random Act of Kindness) to a total stranger." --Peter
"I have already done something nice for someone. I wrote a thank you card to my first dance coach to thank them for everything." --Kristina
"Even if we're teens, we can still change the world." --Fernando
"I remembered a kindergarten teacher whom I never thanked, but I'll be sure to thank her."
"I think I am going to try the 'one act of kindness per day' challenge." --Chris
"I have decided to do all the activities on the car. Sometimes people just need thing to DO to get started." --Annalise


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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

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