Empathy is our most important quality - Project Smile
Hi all, hope you had a happy Thanksgiving weekend. Over the past few days, I got to spend quality time with family, reconnect with old friends, and make some great new friends as well. This past year has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, but lately I've felt extremely lucky for all of the good things that have happened recently. 2014 looks like it will be a very interesting year with some amazing opportunities coming up.
In the spirit of abundance and goodwill, I wish to call attention to a little philanthropic project I am participating in called Project Smile. Recently, the founder of this initiative, Marek Wysoczyñski, reached out to me all the way from Poland. Marek has been collecting thousands "smiles and autographs" for many years to be displayed at children's hospitals all over the world.
While there are many organizations with the purpose of raising funds for children's hospitals, the goal of this project is simply to make those children smile. Marek believes that this simple act can have a major impact on everyday lives. Countless celebrities including Michael Jackson, Liza Minelli, Diego Maradona, and Jim Carrey, have donated their "smile" autographs to this cause.
Of course, I am not a celebrity by any measure, so I was quite honored to be asked to join his project. Marek has asked me to reach out to my friends as well. So, if there are any actors, athletes, or musicians, or just plain old nice guys like me who wish to participate, please contact me.
He has given me no particular deadline, but I'm hoping to get a bunch of "smile" autographs together- as many as I can, and send them all together in one package to Marek before Christmas. Let's think of this as a Christmas gift to the kids in those hospitals.
I believe in the value of this cause. Not from any personal experiences with children's hospitals- I think I've only passed through a children's hospital once, when I was at Johns Hopkins. And anybody who knows me probably knows I am quite awkward around kids. I barely interact with little kids, ever.
I do feel very compelled to do a good job on my "smile," though, and make a really awesome drawing or painting for those kids. Sometimes people say my work is very dark and aggressive, so at least I'll try not to give any kids horrible nightmares.
The reason i care is because of empathy. As designers, we often practice empathy in order to understand the people we are designing for, so that we can create a better products that have real value to the users. Great designers are great at empathy, and often even those who have design skills can only go so far without that deep understanding of empathy.
Empathy is what I feel is possibly humanity's most important trait. The ability to walk in another person's shoes and understand other's feelings is utterly necessary in our world where selfishness and individual differences can lead to war, persecution, economic disparity, and sociopolitical decline. We may often underestimate the importance of empathy and simple gestures of kindness. Yet all of us are the same. We all have our hardships and struggles in life. But, living in this world together, we all also have the ability to spread joy to each other.
So, I empathize with the young children in hospitals. To them, the world may easily seem like an unfair, hopeless, depressing place. Even the bravest grown men and women will feel helpless when dealing with sickness. Of course, we do not want those children to feel like the world is against them. We need them to know that the world is on their side. Even though it is a small gesture from a stranger such as myself, I hope that the children will know that people exist in the world who care about them, think about them, and wish them to be happy.
The Archbishop of Solomon Islands gave his smile to this project with the following quote: "Smile and the World smiles with you, Cry and you cry alone."
Let's make the world smile. If you are interested in participating in Project Smile, even if it's with a simple smiley face and a signature, please get in touch with me.
To learn more about the initiative, please read the following Interview With Marek Wysoczyñski
Check out some examples of smiles here on the Project Smile Website
There's a catalog by Kiwanis compiling some of the celebrity smiles here: "Project Smile" Catalogue
Also, many thanks to Grzegorz Derlukiewicz at Redkroft, the amazingly talented design agency in Poland that created and donated the beautiful logo and brand identity for this project. You can view the design project on the Redkroft website.