The Internet can be a hurtful place, where bullies thrive and vicious memes can ruin your day, or life. But what if your used your digital powers for good?
That's what Canadian artist and entrepreneur Kim Smiley has been doing for the past five months with "The Empathy Effect," a daily Facebook post in which she chronicles someone, or something that is changing the world, in big and small ways, through generous acts of empathy.
"I've always been an observer and I found online platforms to be so rife with negativity and meanness," Smiley, a Toronto native, said. "But I have to use Facebook for my business, so instead of removing myself from social media I thought I'd create a counter force to it and look at it from a different way."
The amazing stories included so far range from sick children learning to give back and give hope, to strangers coming together to transform a couple's wedding day from disaster to a celebration of love and community. As the project's title suggests, the posts have struck a cord. Now Smiley gets submissions from all over the world for other stories she should spotlight.
We asked Smiley to talk about a few of her subjects (stories condensed from "The Empathy Effect" Facebook page):
Jean-Paul Bédard survived sexual abuse as a teen and addiction as an adult and now helps other survivors, including running marathons in their honor.
"He was able to take this experience and speak to other people and now he's just doing amazing things," Smiley said. "He's such a brave, brave person and he has the biggest heart ... He has this amazing ability to lift people up even though he suffered so much."
Jess was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 10. After three surgeries and chemotherapy, she's raised $30,000 for cancer research.
"What's extraordinary," Smiley said, "is that she's raising money for pediatric cancer and she had the wisdom to know that when her wounds healed and her hair grew back it would be harder to get people involved in her cause. So she decided to shave her head in solidarity with other kids with cancer. It was such an act of empathy and selflessness."
Bryan Thompson was handcuffed by police and suspended for running on the sidelines at a football game in a banana costume, so an NBC reporter dressed as a bunch of grapes to interview the 14-year-old autistic teen.
Veterinarian Dr. Faith Banks goes into clients' homes and helps families give their pets a "good death." Here she is with her own dog, Smudge.
Smiley: "I know Faith very well. She has this incredible concept of going to people's homes and she has this whole scale for pain management that helps families end the lives of their pets in a really dignified way. She's a very compassionate person. She's taking the hospice concept and translating it to pets, which is so interesting."
Charlotte got a cochlear implant at age 4 because of extreme hearing loss. Her dad shaved his head and tattooed an implant behind his hear so she wouldn't feel self-conscious.
Annette & Lior's wedding was almost a disaster when nobody showed up. Then, Annette's family recruited some "wedding crashers" online and 2,000 people made it a day they'll never forget.
"It's about community and interconnection and that's what I try to stress," Smiley said. "That's a story about our network of interconnectivity and people who don't know each other becoming one family through this experience this couple had."
Naima Shalhoub brings music and joy into the lives of inmates at the San Francisco County Jail.
"The executive director of Wheel Dance contacted me and I thought her charity illustrates empathy more than any other charity I can think of," Smiley said. "I just love what they're doing."
"She started this incredible charity in Toronto and she's a really interesting woman who is doing so much in her local community to bring awareness to this issue," Smiley said.