Elvis and an Angry Woman Changed My Life
Seeing changes everything
Las Vegas, July 2013. This was 11 years after an eye-opening experience in Namibia. My coworkers and I had just finished running a 5000-person session at a conference, and people were filtering out and heading to various breakout sessions. I was intrigued to see an Elvis impersonator drawing over a thousand people into one room. My curiosity got the better of me, and I followed.
We were instructed to sit at tables with people we didn’t know. I sat with two women, probably mid-fifties, from New York, with thick accents. After we introduced ourselves, a guy came out on stage and said, “OK. In 55 minutes, we’re going to make prosthetic limbs and send them to people around the world who literally ‘need a hand.’
I could tell by the body language of the woman sitting across from me that she loved the idea too. But the other woman- wow! She was really, really upset. Apparently, she wanted one of those boring learning sessions, not to be used as free labour to make ‘this stupid hand’. She spewed out a string of swear words and got up to leave.
The previously happy woman, who turned out to be her boss snapped at her, “You sit down right now! You’re going to embarrass me if you leave.” Feeling the eyes of others drawn to the scene, she sat down. “Fine, I’ll stay, but I’m not doing this.” She was true to her word, and contributed almost no effort to our task.
Fast forward 45 minutes, we completed the hand and added it to 500 others.
Then something unexpected happened that totally rocked me. The lights went dim and a projector fired up. A grainy, poorly-edited video came on screen that showed prosthetic hands just like the ones we assembled being distributed to people around the world the previous year.
The lights went out...
Kenneth Lu, Flickr
I’ll never forget this one 12-year-old boy featured in the video. He was sitting at a table, missing both hands. Two men walked in, each carrying a prosthetic hand. After the first one was put on, the boy’s face lights up. He doesn’t even wait for the second hand. He reaches for a pencil, struggles to pick it up, and scribbles his name on a piece of paper. He puts it back down and bursts into tears. A voice-over said, “This is the first time this boy has ever signed his name.”
I started to well up, thinking, “Wow, this is so simple to do but means so much to him, and we just played a role in that.” I wondered what the angry woman was thinking. I looked in her direction and saw her absolutely broken and weeping uncontrollably.
We locked eyes. I smiled and nodded, wanting to say, “See, there’s something to this if you give it a chance.” She grabbed me by the arm, pulled me closer and said something that I’ll never forget.
"I can’t wait to go home and tell my family what just happened; this just changed my life."
By then we were both crying. The video was still playing when we stood up to give each other a hug, and then it was over. I haven’t seen her since.
She showed me that the power of giving isn’t just in the giving itself, but in seeing the difference the gift makes. If we hadn’t been shown the video, she would have walked out and thought the whole thing was a big waste of time.
I sat alone as the room emptied out. I realized I had to quit my job and do something about what I had just seen. I couldn't let what just happened in Vegas stay in Vegas.
So I launched Givesome, a not-for-profit that works closely with charities to highlight the great work they’re doing and give donors a chance to SEE the difference they make when they give with videos like this:
Pencils for Kids - Sewing Centre, Libore, Niger
Give it a try. It might change your life.