A Canadian artist started a Facebook page for a year-long experiment. Her goal is simple and worthy.

Kim Smiley is sharing a photo and a story a day for one year.

The Toronto-based artist, social entrepreneur, and scholar of religions started the project on June 8, 2015. It's an online social experiment she calls The Empathy Effect.


Photo via Kim Smiley.

"Each post profiles a subject or object that is transforming the world through acts of empathy — large or small, random or planned, local or global," she said in an interview with Upworthy. "I feel the Internet has become a place of merciless judgment, and I wanted to create a counterforce to the callousness and negativity."

Here are a few stories Smiley has shared that are especially meaningful to her.

Day 5: Smiley tells the story of Matthew Morton, a husband, dad, and doctor suffering from brain cancer.

Photo via The Empathy Effect.

Morton's prognosis was dim — he was told he had 12, maybe 18 months to live. But seven years later, he was still alive and still working as a physician. And despite his ongoing fight with cancer, he and his wife even made time to have two more kids.

On day 81, Morton was once again the subject of Smiley's project when she learned that he had finally succumbed to cancer. She reposted the photo of Morton and his wife with a heartfelt eulogy.

Day 26: Her subject is veterinarian Faith Banks, who runs a mobile hospice for pets.

Photo via The Empathy Effect.

This photo is of Banks and her dog Smudge, whose struggle with early dementia inspired her to start the hospice. "After a good life," Banks told Smiley, "a pet deserves a good death."

This story stood out to Smiley because hospice brings to mind almost exclusively human end-of-life scenarios. But Banks reminded her that "empathy is empathy, period," even if it's elicited by an animal.

Day 66: Smiley profiles Jean-Paul Bédard, an athlete and survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Photo via The Empathy Effect.

It took 30 years for Bédard to tell someone about his experiences. When he finally opened up to his wife and son, he thought it was because he was buckling under the weight of his secrets. But he later realized he was wrong. "It turns out, I wasn't falling apart," he wrote. "I was falling back together again."

Bédard has since taken up ultra distance running to raise money to help other survivors of sexual abuse. He once ran the Boston Marathon twice in one day and plans to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times in a day to support the cause.

"Life can be unkind and unfair, but it is so much more beautiful when glimmers of empathy punctuate the darkness."

Smiley's hypothesis behind sharing these stories is that empathy is infectious.

She may not be adhering precisely to the scientific method, but that's OK because the proof is in the pudding, as they say. And the pudding here is her audience response.

In just 137 days, Smiley's page has attracted over 65,000 followers, and the social interactions have been nothing but positive. Those are pretty stellar results for a digital campaign being waged by just one person.

Image via Michael Coghlan/Flickr.

When the project wraps in June 2016, she'll award a cash donation of $5,000 to a nonprofit representing the cause that generates the most engagement (measured in Likes and shares). Smiley hopes the gift "transmits a little more empathy into the world" beyond Facebook.

"Life can be unkind and unfair," said Smiley. "But it is so much more beautiful when glimmers of empathy punctuate the darkness."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.