JoyBinge Podcast Ep. 10: The Power of Twitter and Caring
Hi and welcome to JoyBinge, a podcast where we re-learn that good things are happening in the world and celebrate those good things because we are tired of only hearing about the bad crap. My name is Kimmy Mauldin and I am not a journalist or a professional of any sort in the news industry. I’m just a Texas girl in need of some happy news and want to share what I find. Let’s binge on some joy!
Social media has become quite the large presence in many of our lives. It seems you can’t go anywhere without someone telling you to follow them on whatever platform or to find more information on some website. With all the posting, sharing, and tweeting comes a surprising amount of responsibility. Isn’t that something that’s been reported on a lot lately? The responsibility of large social media platforms to make sure fake news or false facts are being spread like wildfire has been under investigation for a while now. Honestly, this is half the reason I don’t tweet as often as I should. It takes a lot of research, which means time, making sure the things you want to tweet or retweet are in fact true. But this is a responsibility we all should take seriously. Truth matters and spreading lies helps no one.
Holly Dawson learned this lesson in a most interesting way that actually ended up being quite the journey. She wrote a really informative and well researched article with the BBC explaining a tweet that unexpectedly went viral. Her article was published on November 4th and her tweet went out to the world on October 15th. If you want to check out her tweet, I’ve got you linked here. The tweet said, “Just heard about a guy who died in my village + left 3 houses to the council, with the stipulation that they’re for young families to rent for a fixed period of 3yrs with rent of £300 pcm (in area where rent is £1000+). Because we all need to talk more about the good humans.”
Who knew a simple tweet saying there is a rumor about someone who left homes to help families with rent would go so viral? This just goes to show how difficult it is for families in Ringmer, which is in the Lewes District of East Sussex, England, to find affordable renting options. Or in many places in England it seems to be.
Dawson goes on to identify three types of comments she received on her tweet. They are as follows:
Praise for the one who left the houses
Accusations that she made the tweets up, even getting her nominated for the “Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards” which is a Twitter account called @_DHOTYA
Cynical and skeptical comments, “about the council [that manages the area], about the capitalist system, [and] also random racists” who said things like immigrants will be glad to have the housing
Dawson reflected on the comments saying, “Something which began as a local anecdote has suddenly become a story I have to prove. I find myself in the uncomfortable grey zone where something becomes ‘true’ through popularity not fact. Despite having presented it purely as something I’d ‘heard’, I feel compelled to uncover the truth as I watch comment after comment deride the landlord’s kindness with cynicism.”
So her research started. Dawson went around to the parish council, interviewed neighbors, the history group for her village, and talked to anyone who could know anything. Eventually she found some interesting and inspirational tidbits that she shared in this article.
Ian Askew is the man behind the houses left for rent. Born on May 9th, 1921, Askew lived a full life full of laughter, passion, danger, and kindness. Dawson quotes one villager as saying, “Ian could mix with everybody. He was well-known as someone who would talk with anyone, often popping into coffee mornings at the village hall and chatting with older residents. He had strong relationships with all his tenants, never raising rents or throwing anyone out. There are still people living on the old controlled rents on his estate.” Sadly, Mr. Askew passed away on April 14, 2014 but the legacy he left behind helped more people than anyone expected.
According to his obituary posted on The Telegraph’s website, he served in the 1st Battalion The King’s Royal Rifle Corps and later in the 1st Motor Training Battalion. He was wounded twice during the Second World War. He helped save his platoon sergeant when he was wounded and led the troops through the rest of their mission that day. His actions led him to receive the Military Cross award. The obituary states, “The citation for the award to him of an MC stated that he had consistently shown courage and steadiness in the handling of any situation, however dangerous, and that his company commander had had to restrain himself from continually employing him when hazardous tasks were to be carried out.”
The dedication Askew showed to his unit he also displayed to his community. Dawson found that he lived in a home called Wellingham House by himself and decided it was too big for just one person. So what did he do? He gave it to a charity for a “peppercorn rent” as Dawson puts it, and it became a place of living for those with learning differences. Askew and his brother, Gerald, owned a lot of property in Ringmer. After Gerald passed, Ian turned the Bentley estate that his brother owned into two semi-detached homes that would be rented to young families with a fixed rent so they could save to buy or rent homes that require a higher cost. These homes are now called the Jubilee Cottages, named after the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee. Dawson said, “He [saw] the difficulties faced by families in need as they languish on the waiting list [for rent fixed homes], and he want[ed] to help them, by allowing them to rent his houses for the same price as a council house (then £100 or so per month) until they reach the top of the list. The cottages [were] managed by the district council until all housing stock [was] sold off. They [were] then placed into a protected trust, managed, to this day by Ringmer parish council.”
All of that took place in 1977. The agreement Askew had with the council has been well honored since. She goes on to say, “The houses are now rented out for three years, not two, as they were in the past, and though the rent appears to have tripled to £300 it has actually halved in real terms. Families apply to the parish, outlining their circumstances and their connection to the area. Many use the opportunity to save up for a deposit to get a foot on the precarious housing ladder.”
The cottages are well maintained and even include a plaque celebrating Askew’s gift to the area. The area is notorious for being highly priced with few homes available for purchase or rent. Many people have to move at least 20 miles away which usually takes them away from families and jobs. For those of us who live in the United States and other areas might see this as simply annoying but for an island, this is a big deal. I honestly struggle to understand what this means in “Texas terms” so I think it must be what it feels like to move 60+ miles away, making you drive an hour or more to get to your job or see family. That is difficult and immediately makes any visits or travels a day’s consideration instead of a quick trip. And if there is anything our societies value now are quick trips.
Dawson was able to track down some people who lived in the Jubilee estates and learned what it meant to them. They told her, “We were so grateful for the cottage and the generosity of the Askew family and the parish. It enabled us to start our married life without the strain of money worries, staying close to our families in an otherwise unaffordable location. Being at Jubilee enabled us to start our own business, as well as prepare for a family of our own, saving for a deposit for our first home where we now live. None of that would have been possible without this legacy.”
Hopefully Askew’s kindness and generosity will help inspire others to carry on this potential trend. What is neat is that through all the research Dawson did on her story, she found that the village of Ringmer had many other untold stories of kindness. As she says, “The more I look, the more I discover that Ringmer is the village that kindness built. Ian Askew’s gift here is not the only legacy of its kind, with some acts of philanthropy going back hundreds of years. In 1787, Miss Henrietta Hay left £2,000 to be invested, the interest paid to elderly people in need in the parish in the form of small pensions. Her wishes have been carried out for over 200 years, with local residents receiving windfalls every year just before Christmas. Going further back still, to the 1690s, Dame Barbara Thomas and Sybilla Stapley bequeathed £200 to pay the salary of a schoolmaster at Ringmer Charity School. Teachers’ salaries may have changed in the last 300 years, but the endowment still exists, donations still being made to support the village school. And Ian Askew’s legacy lives on beyond Jubilee Cottages. His Charitable Fund still supports charities and organisations across Sussex.”
She goes on to outline how knowing there are people in your community who go the extra miles for neighbors and even strangers helps connect an otherwise seemingly random group of people can really help make your home feel like a real home. In a world where we talk so much about being connected online, we seem to struggle with true connections offline. I think the best way to wrap up this story is to end in Dawson’s final words of her article, “When I moved with my children into our Ringmer home, I wasn’t looking for a community, and until now I didn’t know I had one. But a random tweet has connected me to a village built on compassion and stories. A place of good humans.”
Let’s ride this Twitter train a bit further, shall we? If you haven’t followed Jonny Sun on Twitter yet, you may want to check him out. He is a super creative guy who is illustrating a book with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famed award-winning and Broadway composer, lyricist, and performer of Hamilton and In the Heights glory. Andrea Y. Henderson brings us this story through NPR on October 26th.
Sun has been writing for years, inspired by the creativity he finds and produces on Twitter. His first book is Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too which is based off a bot character called jomney sun he created for Twitter specifically. He misspelled his own name for the aliebn character, using other misspellings and phrases to express this outsider feeling he himself has experienced. The article from Henderson is part informational, part interview. I watched an interview with Jonny on Seth Meyers’ Late Night show where Sun was asked what was behind the idea of “having his words wrong,” he says, “Well, I mean, the story is about an alien who comes to earth and learns acceptance, and learns to celebrate people’s differences. I think a common theme throughout the story is learning that it’s ok to be imperfect. And sort of the idea of adding typos and the idea of creating misspellings and making sure you are not perfect is an idea of acceptance and an idea of inclusion and of just being kind to yourself and to others.”
In the interview section, Henderson asked him, “As an Asian-Canadian, what role does your racial identity play in your social media presence?” Sun responds, “Even before I started writing jokes on Twitter, I always found that I was writing from an outsider's perspective, and writing as this outsider looking in on culture and on society. When I started tweeting and thinking about this quite literal alien character, I had always pictured it as this extension or exaggerated version of myself, who was trying to just observe and learn the best way to get through life, and try to figure out what the right ways to do things were, and what the customs were, and what was normal. And I think having this Asian-Canadian or Asian-American kind of constant outsider trait is something that influences my entire perspective and worldview.”
Sun has two other bots he posts as on Twitter, one called @tinycarebot and the other @tinydotblot. They are both really cute but it’s the tinycarebot that I particularly love. There he posts sweet little reminders about self-care, things like “please remember to take time to stretch and move around the room” or “remember to take a little bit of time to ask your friends for help if you need it please.” Tinycarebot is my new favorite account on Twitter, I hope it can bring you some joy as well!
Now Sun is working with Miranda on a new book called Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks For Me & You based off the tweets Miranda sends out daily to his followers. Here is an example of a tweet that is incorporated into the book: “Good morning. Good gracious. Your smile is contagious.” The words have a small illustration underneath that is but a simple line curvature reminiscent of a smile. The next page goes on to say, “Good night then. Good gracious. You’re one for the ages.” The smile is now encased in a most elaborately styled frame. Other lines are much more fleshed out and speak wonderful words of encouragement that can be used as inspiration for anyone who needs it. The illustrations Sun provides are kid-like in nature but really touching in a book such as this.
Sun told Henderson, “...I tried to approach [illustrating Miranda’s book] in a way that the images were hopeful and positive, and were things that I had found peaceful and quietly optimistic. And then I also tried to make it very much about the imagery from [Lin-Manuel Miranda’s] life, or that he talked about when we went through the manuscript together. The spirit of hopeful, positive things is what I tried to put in those drawings.”
Being a source of positivity and encouragement is something Sun takes quite seriously. Henderson and Sun go on to talk about mental health and the openness in which Sun talks about his own struggles on Twitter. He tells Henderson,
“...I think [with] social media there is a potential for it to be this place that sucks you in...I think there is value to understanding that it’s OK to disconnect for a little bit. But on the positive side, Twitter was the first place that I really saw people talking about mental health, depression and anxiety and in a way that was normal and just everyday and without stigma. It was really informative, because I think before then I had never had the conversation with myself around my own mental health...Since I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve seen more and more people talking about their mental health and tweeting about things that were helpful for them. Over time, it made me realize more and more that maybe this is something that is deeply affecting me. It was mainly because of Twitter that I thought about seeing a therapist, because people were tweeting about therapy as well in very open, honest, normal and non-stigmatized ways. So, seeing a therapist really helped my mental health, and now I try to talk about that as much as I can. I try to tweet about therapy, my own mental health and the day-to-day of it as much as possible, just in the hopes that I continue to pay it forward in normalizing and destigmatizing the conversation around it.”
Thanks to people like Sun and Miranda, others are finding the strength to acknowledge that maybe they need extra help for a bit and learn that you can take steps to take care of yourself in more than one way. I hope this story brings some inspiration to you for pursuing your own healthy mental state and finding ways to take make sure you are doing what you need to take care of yourself. And remember, it’s ok to go to therapy, it’s good to take care of yourself. If you aren’t ok, who are you really going to help?
Progress is continuously being made all over the medical world, whether it’s with mental health strategies or physical health procedures. The Guardian’s Ian Sample brings us some exciting news published on October 31st from a group of scientists working with electrical stimulation to help those with paralysis gain the ability to walk again.
Grégoire Courtine is a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and has been able to successfully assist three men gain movement in their legs after accidents that left them unable to walk. In 2010, David Mzee was a college student in Zurich, enjoying sports and thrills like many young people do. According to an article written by Benedict Carey for the New York Times also on October 31st, Mzee “...flipped off a trampoline on and onto a foam pad. ‘The foam pad, it didn’t do its job,’ he said.” Before working with Dr. Courtine, Mzee had worked with a rehabilitation center in Zurich to regain movement and control in his upper body and right leg. But after just 5 months of utilizing the new electrical stimulation method Dr. Courtine developed with his team, Mzee was able to walk a few steps by himself.
In 2011, Gert-Jan Oskam was cycling home from work like any other day. But in just one moment, a traffic accident occurred that rendered him paralyzed. He too, after months of training with electrical stimulation, can now walk short distances on crutches. Even Sebastian Tobler, the third man involved in the study with Dr. Courtine, can walk with a harness and bike on a trike outfitted with the proper technology, due to the same electrical stimulation method despite his more extensive spinal injury. All three of these men have regained use of their legs thanks to the years of hard work by Dr. Courtine and his team.
They are not using continuous electrical stimulation but rather specifically timed pulses of electricity that help nerves in the spine make new connections by going around injuries. Then the electrodes are connected to a device in the abdomen which works like a pacemaker. Sample says, “Doctors believe the timing of the pulses - to coincide with natural movement signals that were still being sent from the patients’ brains - was crucial...In many spinal cord injuries a small portion of nerves remain intact but the signals they carry are too feeble to move limbs or support a person’s body weight.”
The electrical pulses are sent from the brain to the spine through wireless electrodes implanted directly onto the spine itself. Sample included links to Nature and Nature Neuroscience that gives more detailed information. The articles do require payment to support the journals, just so you are aware.
The scientists and doctors are still in the early stages of the experiments. Carey from The New York Times said, “The treatment is still experimental, and its effectiveness for others with complete or partial paralysis is yet to be worked out. The three men had some sensation in their legs before the trial began, and they needed months of intensive training to achieve their first awkward steps. They still rely on wheelchairs; two can walk out in the community, using walkers.” So even though the work is slow, it is showing great potential for years to come.
Sample quotes Courtine as saying, “The big challenge is whether it can really change their life. This is an important first step, but the key now is to apply this very early after an injury when the potential for recovery is much larger.” While it is easy to get too excited about important things like this and expect results on an instantaneous level, we must remember that a lot more work needs to be done before this is available to the masses. However, we can still get excited that such vital progress has been made to help people regain control over a situation that has controlled them for too long.
Celebrating the things that makes us different is a beautiful way to inspire more joy into your life. Jesse Quist did just that by writing the winning essay for the “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” contest held by Major League Baseball and Scholastic, Inc. Enjoli Francis and Susan Schwartz brings us this story through ABC News on November 2nd.
For the past 22 years, the MLB and Scholastic has teamed up and celebrated the legacy of Jackie Robinson by holding this essay contest. Students in grades 4 through 9 are asked to submit an essay describing how they have overcome barriers in their own lives and how Jackie Robinson’s example has inspired them to continue breaking down those barriers.
This year, Jesse Quist, a 15 year old from Cheyenne, Wyoming wrote the essay winning this year’s competition. He was awarded the honor at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, back in April. He also got a new laptop for himself and a teacher, shirts, books, a special visit from Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, as well as tickets to Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. During Game 2 at Fenway Park in Boston, Quist was honored again as the winner of this year’s contest.
Quist is an extraordinary young man, having faced and continues to face multiple barriers of his own. His essay reflected well the struggles and victories he has had over the years as his essay was selected from 13,000 essays submitted from the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada according to the MLB and ABC News. Born without arms or hands, Quist was adopted from Korea and welcomed into a family with seven siblings. Francis and Schwartz shared a piece of essay which read, “I have pretty much learned how to do things differently and in my own unique way. … To learn how to write, eat and basically do everything needed for everyday life, I used determination, commitment, persistence and excellence.” He goes on to write, “It can be very frustrating knowing that everywhere you go, there will always be someone whispering about you. ... There's no doubt in my mind that Jackie Robinson experienced the same thing: the pointing and staring and whispering.”
Quist found inspiration from Jackie Robinson’s life through the movie “42” which came out in 2013. According to an article on the MLB website written by Manny Randhawa, one scene stuck out to Quist most of all. When actor Harrison Ford playing the Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey delivers the challenge to Jackie Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, to not fight against the people who didn’t want him playing baseball, the scene is tense, uncomfortable, but beautifully weaved together. Boseman delivers his line perfectly: “You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.” These words and that exchange stayed with Quist who has the guts to not fight against the stares and whispers he encounters every day.
Randhawa writes, “When asked why the Rickey-Robinson scene was so poignant in his eyes, Jesse paused for 10 seconds, contemplating exactly how he wanted to respond to ensure his point got across.
‘I definitely know that it was a lot more than whispers and stares for him,’ Jesse said of Robinson. ‘He faced a lot more than that. I wrote my essay about all the stares I've gotten, and I mentioned it a few times because part of it is, you kind of have to turn the other cheek. Branch Rickey said he wanted a player with the guts to just turn, to ignore, to let it roll over him. Those words touched me. That personifies how I want to try to do things: to just ignore and let it bounce off me. I just can't let it touch me.
"Maybe they just hadn't seen someone like me before. It isn't something you see every day. It gets annoying and frustrating. I pretty much do everything like everyone else. But I try not to judge too harshly."
Enduring something like this does take perseverance, determination, and kindness. But support from family and friends is also vital to doing so in a way that doesn’t destroy your soul. Quist has an incredibly supportive family - the ABC News article reported that his mother found the essay contest and encouraged Quist to submit. Randhawa with the MLB got to speak with several of Quist’s family members. Paul, Quist’s father told Randhawa, “Our big thing that really hit my wife and me, is that we really try to teach being grateful. One of the things this essay really did, which would be a good exercise for any of us, is to sit down and really have to contemplate [our life and its challenges]. And he did.
Appreciating what we have as a family, as a unit, and as a team, as Jackie talked about, is really important. Our family motto is 'We rise by lifting.' All these values that Jackie talked about, they all result in the same thing. Jesse really personifies that. All these different ideas on how to live life and overcome barriers, it all came together in this essay.”
ABC News has a video about Quist's story where he talks about his experiences in life and shows him at Fenway Park. I am quite grateful that the MLB partnered with Sharon Robinson to honor Jackie Robinson’s legacy by encouraging kids to share their barriers and celebrate how they break through them through this essay contest. May we find ways to celebrate how we identify and break through the barriers we have in our lives, just like Robinson and Quist.
Slice of Texas
For this week’s slice of Texas, we are going to do something a bit different than what we’ve been doing. For the last 4 or 5 episodes, we have been covering interviews from the Texas Optimism Project from TexasMonthly and Frost Bank. And we are all caught up! They have more interviews coming but since those are currently in the works, we will be going back to the original format we were following before - just finding random stories of cool things happening in Texas!
And this week, since we just endured yet another Election Day last week, I thought it appropriate to talk about a senior at Granbury High School who got elected to the school board. Chris Willis has a solid history of involvement at his school. Local news outlet, ABC’s WFAA brings us this story on November 7th.
During his high school career, Willis has been involved with the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee, a committee of students selected by faculty who help develop policies for the high school, according to his campaign website. While being involved on the committee level, Willis is also a Marketing Assistant at a Chic-fil-a restaurant, is an Assistant Worship Pastor and Youth Leader at his church, and somehow still makes time for his homework and studies.
Willis secured his new position on the school board by a 41% majority vote, beating out two other individuals running for the same seat: Cyndi Wren who is a paralegal and Maureen Griffin who is a brand developer for a real estate group, according to WFAA’s article. Why would an 18 year old be beneficial on a school board? Willis says he brings a perspective no one else on the board can: as a current student in the Granbury Independent School District, he sees firsthand the issues that students, parents, and teachers face every day. He has the ability to quickly get in touch, consistently, with many people to bring issues to light for the school board. Willis can also clarify many different types of situations that may arise for his student body to the board as he is fully connected with his peers, understanding trends, how people communicate and so forth.
On his Facebook page, Willis did a live stream while standing out in front of an early voting location in his community where he encouraged people to vote, explained something he wanted to focus on if elected to the board, and used his first hand experience to explain why the issue exists. And all before going to school afterward.
This young man brings to light the importance of including students in decision making processes for school districts country and world wide. If decisions are being made on students’ behalfs, it is only fair that they are informed of the issue, why a decision is being made, and considering their point of view before that decision is finalized. Willis now has the rare opportunity to make a real difference for his community in a way that many do not get. And he has worked hard to get there. Way to go, Willis, and best of luck for your final year of high school!
Thanks for reading some of the joy found in the world this past week. If you have stories of good people doing good things in your neighborhood or anywhere, send them to me! I’ve got an email, firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at me @joybingepodcast. TELL ME THE GOOD STUFF!
The music for this podcast is "Industrious Ferret" by Kevin MacLeod. Thanks for listening and have a great week!