Bestselling author and Co-Founder of MTV’s “The Buried Life,” Ben Nemtin, shares a story on the importance of giving, and how when we help others, we create a ripple effect that impacts countless others.
From the beginning, the key component of The Buried Life has been to help others realize their dreams, just as others have helped us. Torri was born with one hand, and her biggest dream was to have a bionic arm. The technology existed, but it was prohibitively expensive, so Torri’s friends started the Twitter hashtag #HandforTorri to raise awareness and funds for a bionic arm. After we saw the hashtag, we contacted Hanger Clinics (the world’s top bionics manufacturer) and told them Torri’s story. They agreed to help.
We flew Torri and a friend to LA on the premise that she had won a free trip to a conference. Once we had Torri onstage in front of hundreds of people, we surprised her with a new bionic arm, which Hanger Clinics had donated along with the necessary physical therapy for her to learn how to operate it. I followed Torri back to Ohio where I met her friends and watched as she learned how to use her new arm to tie her shoes and curl her hair for the first time. (You can watch the full video here.)
That would have been a great ending to the story, but, as we discovered is all-too common, this was only the beginning of something greater. Torri’s gratitude for this surprise act of kindness inspired her to want to pay her own dreams forward. She realized that she wanted to dedicate her career to making a meaningful impact in other people’s lives. In her words, “I’d rather have a low-paying job, if I can play a small part in someone else’s success.” Torri is now studying social work at Bowling Green State University and plans to work in the homeless shelter in her small town. The ripples from her new hand spread further. Torri’s father had been worried about his daughter being bullied since the day she was born, and he now feels very much at ease. This is not just because of her new bionic hand but also from experiencing firsthand the loving support system Torri has around her in the form of friendships. This ripple has since deepened those friendships, Torri says, and has brought her that much closer to the five friends who sparked this series of events through a hashtag on Twitter.
Signs of this “ripple effect” began to emerge everywhere. It was not an outcome we anticipated, but it turned out to be an inevitable reaction each time we helped someone cross something off their list. Because of the myriad connections you have to the human beings around you, when you help someone, you don’t just help that one person. You help the people around them—their friends, their family, and sometimes even strangers who come into contact with them in the future. Giving is not a one-to-one relationship, it’s one to many. Each wave you create by giving stirs ripples that impact countless others.
Research using MRI technology has analyzed the neurological effects of helping others, and it’s concluded that giving activates pleasure centers, not unlike food and sex do. Helping others is one of the few things we can do that makes us both happier and healthier. When I look back over this past decade of crossing items off my list, it’s these moments, when I had the opportunity to step into someone else’s life and share in his or her transformation, that I know will stick with me until I die. After all, a legacy is more than a list of accomplishments. It’s your impact. I’m reminded often of a quote from the book Into the Wild, which says, “Happiness is only real when it’s shared.” Share in someone else’s happiness; it goes a long way towards securing your own.
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