Orly Wahba is a passionate ‘kindness activist’ and the founder of the non-profit organization Life Vest Inside. You can read more about Orly and her organization on her profile page.
This is an exclusive interview with Orly Wahba, the woman behind the international kindness organization.
Soul Love: Hi Orly, you are just back from the TED2013 Conference in California as you were the “TED Kindness catalyst” and you chose to speak about “The Magic of Kindness”.
How did it go? Tell us a bit more about your experience during this international conference.
Orly Wahba: Well, first of all, the way that I got there was really amazing. It started because of the ‘Kindness Boomerang Video’. Because so many people after watching the video connected with the message and they were posting comments. I love to answer every comment, even if it takes an hour and a half, I love to do that because I feel that people deserve to hear an answer back. And through connections I made with other organizations doing great things, one person lead me to the next, lead me to the next and what happened was that one of the people I met with sent me an email and said “Orly, TED is right now doing a talent search and there is an application opportunity.” And I thought, TED is so big, but I said “I’m gonna do it.” I filled out the application and did this one minute video and put it up there and a couple of weeks later I received an email saying “you made it into the talent search, and soon you have to do a 5 minute talk.” I thought that was crazy since I never expected it to happen. So in June I did the 5 minute talk and it was posted on their site. And based on the ratings they were going to choose someone from the talent search to actually speak at TED2013.
So in October I got the news that I was accepted. It was a phenomenal experience, very nerve wrecking as this is about kindness and bringing people together. It has been a dream of mine since I can remember, since like being a little child. This is something that I always wanted to do. And because of all the amazing people who follow Life Vest Inside, the support of words that I am getting, it wasn’t just me going on stage. It was everybody else in the world that’s been raising their voices to the message of kindness for change. So I felt this great responsibility on my shoulders. It is not just me that I am representing or the organization but it’s everybody’s hopes and dreams and that was a very scary feeling for me. But I thank God and I am really happy that it went well and I hope that this video will soon go live.
And when I actually looked on the TED site to see if there were other talks about kindness I realized there really weren’t any and I said “this is wild”. If a global platform like TED wants to represent the idea and the theme of kindness and the magic of kindness that means that something magical is happening in the world. It’s not just the magic of kindness, but more than anything, it was the magic of people, because that’s the magic really. People are the magic. We can change situations from terrible to amazing in a split second just with something so simple like a smile or a positive word to somebody. We have such an amazing power that we don’t recognize how valuable we are. That’s what’s so magical and I think that it’s helping people recognize how magical they are, how powerful they are and how valuable they are. That’s really when we can expect to see change because in my belief we’re living in a time where people have a very low sense of value and self worth and we need to empower people to recognize that they are worth more than they think. Our value isn’t determined based on what others think of us but how we see ourselves. So it was really an honour to be able to share the ideas of kindness on such a global stage.
SL: During the 2012 TED Talent Search you spoke the following words: “What do you see when you watch the news, when you turn on the radio, when you read the headlines? Hatred, poverty, war, fear, crime, depression, suicide, hopelessness, bullying. But you know what I see? I see people with amazing potential, who just lost their way and forgot to believe in themselves.”
How beautiful is this Orly? But tell me now, how do you do that, because that’s not always easy for many of us.
OW: No it is definitely not easy for a lot of people and I think that the way we build that self value of how people see their potential is through kindness. And what I mean by that, if you recall a moment where you were involved in an act of kindness in helping somebody and this can be in a small, simple way and you recall that feeling. How does that make you feel?
It feels like somebody lifted you up and hugged you in the air. You feel if you want to stand up and shout “wow, the world is beautiful, life is amazing! People are great!” When we’re involved in an act of kindness, what we’re really doing is we’re actually seeing our potential in these small things that we do, so our self value naturally increases because we recognize at that moment the great things that we can do with virtually nothing. You don’t need a million dollars to make someone’s day. You just have to have you. That makes us realize our value and the smiles make us happy. Kindness has that way of building that positive self value. This is all based on the interior, not the exterior. And when our value for ourself increases, our value for others also increases, and we see that each person can bring something to the table and that each person is unique.
SL: Your Mission with your organization Life Vest Inside is: To empower the world with kindness – Kindness keeps the world afloat.
What is it that made you so passionately dedicated to actively spread kindness around the Nation?
OW: That is a really great question. The truth is, as a little kid, the idea of wanting to unite people is a very very big part of my belief system. I am sure it had to do with my family. My father was always very much into bringing people together. But whenever I would see the news or hear about all the different types of aggression going on, I was very sensitive to these things at a young age, it like physically hurt me when I would hear that people hurt one another. Since my teens I was always involved in community work, but one of the things that kind of made me realize just why it is that kindness keeps the world afloat was after a tragic experience that I had when I was fifteen years old. There was a fire in our house. Thankfully nobody was hurt but we lost all of our possessions and as a child, when something like this happens, it felt that if my life was a race. What would happen if I wasn’t here tomorrow, would there be any remnants of my existence and it was a very hard time for me. And there was one thing after the next that was going wrong and although I was very positive and I tried to stay very strong I fell into a deep depression and felt very, very lonely. Unfortunately I didn’t have the support of friends as at that age kids don’t really know how to respond to something like that.
“And I promised myself that I would be there for others, the way that I had wished someone would have been there for me.”
I remember, on one day when I was looking into the mirror, I just didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. That same girl who had this dream of changing the world, I didn’t know where she was. It was then that I made a promise to myself and I promised that I would be there for others the way that I had wished someone would have been there for me. I needed that and I was able to pick myself up. My faith had a lot to do with it and was helping me to get over things and I became stronger than I ever was before because I was a very shy girl and I started finding my own voice and finding my inner strength and value. I started getting involved in different community activities and the more I gave, the more healed I became. So I became addicted to giving, seriously. I just loved giving more than anything and the more I gave, the more I recognized my value. This led me into teaching and I love to see in children what they haven’t seen in themselves and help them see their potential, as kids especially, they can very often be looked over.
SL: Do you feel that we first need to experience suffering before we can see the world through different eyes and accomplish truly great things?
OW: That’s a really, really great question, and I am going to say “no”. Sometimes we need to go through suffering. I think what suffering does sometimes, it makes us appreciate the good times. Because when we go through hardships we get to appreciate the light and positivity that is in our life. It is much harder to appreciate when you only always have good. It’s the truth. Not everybody needs those hardships to appreciate. People are able to do it on their own but it is very hard because when you’re always given something positive, it is easy not to say “thank you”. One of the great things a person can do for themselves is use the words “thank you”. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is say “thank you” and list the things you’re thankful for, because if we can be appreciative we don’t need those hardships. But it is not a very common thing to always be appreciative and sometimes those hardships come in not really to hurt us, but really to awaken us to use the words “thank you”. When we use those words, we’re really opening the door to allow more abundance that comes into our life. Those obstacles are like a bittersweet gift. But it is not always easy to see it that way and if we’re able to train our mind to think that way we will be able to go through life in a whole different way.
SL: What does love mean to you?
OW: Wow, what does love mean to me? I think that love very much has to start with the love for self, to really appreciate yourself. It has nothing to do with being arrogant or confident, but it is really important to love yourself. It means to recognize that you have value. When a person grows in love, the positive part in them helps to open the door to love others. Think about it like a life vest. What’s the difference between a life vest that can safe somebody and one that can’t? If it is not inflated it’s not gonna do anything. So what inflates the vest? It’s air. So we need to learn to give to ourselves air, because if our vest is not strong enough to carry us how are we able to help others? When you are on an airplane and in case of an emergency all the masks drop down, what do they say? First put your own mask on and then put the mask on the person next to you. Why do they say that? Because if you’re not going to have your own mask on, you won’t have the energy and the capability to help anybody else so really, love has to start with you. And once you are filled with that love it is going to radiate out to others.
SL: What is it in life that excites you most right now?
OW: I have to say, I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity to work on this organization. And the fact that so many different parts in my life came together to bring me here. I am excited so much because I know the potential it has, that kindness has, that people have and I am lucky to be at this point in my life that I can give back. I am excited about where this organization is gonna go in helping bring people closer to greater love for themselves and greater love for others. That excites me so much.
SL: Can you explain me more about your ‘kindness cards’ and the impact you have experienced so far.
OW: These cards [showing me her cards] are the cards I started with my students. Each card has on it a different act of kindness and it says “Please perform the act and pass the card on to someone else. Let’s keep the kindness going”. I developed these cards with my students because I wanted to help them be able to recognize that it is the small things that matter and that they have the capability to affect change. So I made 8,000 of these cards and it was amazing the response I got from people. But then I thought it is great to have the card and to pass it on but we actually want to give people the opportunity to see the effects that it has even when it has left their hands. Because when we are feeling down or worthless, like what do I really matter in this world of 7 billion people, all we have to do is to see the effect it has on all the people. So I thought, how cool would it be if we could track our cards and to actually see every person who has had the card before you and once it moves on you can see every single person after you and you can connect with them so that you recognize that what you are doing has an effect far beyond your wildest imagination. And that’s how the concept came about.
We are developing a mobile app right now and it works in conjunction with the cards. Each card has on it a QR-code. When you get the card you scan it and you get to see every single person that had this card before you. You perform an act and you pass it on to someone else and you are able to track the movement of where it is going. You can follow that person, you can interact with them and it is going to be a social network for kindness where people are able to post, or ‘to float’ as I like to call it and you never know where kindness is going to go and it is getting people excited about kindness. But more than anything, the reason why these cards are important is that kindness is very broad, but when you make it specific like “call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while”, you really start to think about it and it makes you actually act on it.
SL: We all love what you are doing with Life Vest Inside. But what if our readers would like to be part of this ripple effect and want to be involved? Do you have a suggestion?
OW: Yeah for sure, in addition to the kindness cards and the mobile app, we have developed an educational curriculum which is very easily implementable into schools. Any educators out there that are interested in piloting this program and bringing empathy and kindness into the classroom… there are such a great opportunities for them through Life Vest Inside to do that. Some of the other things that we have going on is we organize large events, so there are many opportunities including supporting us financially to keep our organization afloat. Please let them get in touch with me through www.lifevestinside.com.
SL: Orly, it is so inspiring to talk with you, you are awesome and we wish you all the love, positivity and success for your future activities. Thank you very much for this wonderful interview.
For more information about Life Vest Inside, please visit www.lifevestinside.com.
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA – SOUL LOVE FOUNDER
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