A Cowboy Tips His Hat
While most Canadians are aware of the devastating impact of forest fires on Great Slave Lake, they perhaps aren’t as aware of the many acts of generosity and kindness it has inspired.
I learned about one this past week as I listened to CBC Radio and heard how singer, songwriter, actor, and activist Tom Jackson, somehow managed to pull off a sold out concert to benefit the town within two and a half weeks. Everyone involved with the production described getting it together on such short notice as an amazing act of community.
One of the biggest draws was Canadian country singer Johnny Reid, who has twice won the Canadian Country Music Association male singer of the year, and album of the year in 2011.
Apparently, during the concert Reid moved to tip his cowboy hat and then remembered he wasn’t wearing one. He went on to tell the crowd that it wasn’t just a case of him proving he wasn’t bald under his hat, as some might have speculated. Instead, he explained, a cowboy removing his hat is conveying the deepest respect he possibly can. Reid said he was performing without his hat as his way of letting everyone know how much respect he had for the volunteer firefighters and for the spirit with which Slave Lake residents were rebuilding their lives.
While I’m already a fan of Johnny Reid as I just love his song, “Today I’m Gonna Try to Change the World”, hearing that kind of compassion and generosity got me a little teary and choked up, and left me with a warm feeling in my chest. Not only that, it reinforced my desire to reach out and try to change the world or, at least, my little part of the world.
But is that possible? Can one person doing a good deed make a difference?
The experts say absolutely.
University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt, actually coined the term “elevation” to describe how powerful moments of elevation can wipe out feelings of cynicism and replace them with feelings of hope, love, optimism, and even a sense of moral inspiration.
Haidt suggests we can be moved to elevation by observing others, as I did Johnny Reid, and their strength, character, compassion, generosity, or “moral beauty.” This elevation can prompt within us “a desire to become a better person, or to lead a better life.”
On the down side, Haidt’s research also shows that while elevation might be good at stimulating a desire to make a difference, it may not be as good at motivating us to real action. Regardless, the effect is still powerful because it opens both our minds and our hearts to new possibilities and increases the likelihood of us doing good deeds.
Ultimately it does seem that kindness is contagious, even when it isn’t as extraordinary as organizing a huge concert in record-breaking time. Even simple acts of kindness can have a trigger effect.
Simple acts of doing good—stopping to pick up litter, holding the door for someone, donating one’s time or one’s resources—can be enough to open our hearts and inspire us to help others.
We can also cultivate more elevation and make it travel by finding and repeating stories of moral beauty, and by understanding and embracing the ripple effect. This means any time you make an effort to do something good, you’re benefiting not only the person you’ve chosen to help but also those who witness and are inspired by your act. As a result, while every act is important and stands on its own, the ripple effects means there’s no such thing as a small or insignificant act of kindness because you just never know who you might inspire.Posted on 06-19-11
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