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

Can Facebook posts enhance our ability to empathize?

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."

More
Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

Last month, the Chicago Public Library system became the largest in the country to eliminate late fees thanks to Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

While the move, which was implemented October 1, was intended to "remove unfair barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons," it had another positive outcome. Since the removal of overdue fees, along with the elimination of any outstanding charges on people's accounts, libraries across the city saw a surge in the return of overdue books over the last several weeks.

"The amount of books returned has increased by 240 percent…We're very, very happy to have that. … Those books have a value and cost money to buy. We want those assets back. We also want the patron to come back," Library Commissioner Andrea Telli said at a City Council budget hearing, the Chicago-Sun Times reports.

According to a press release from Lightfoot, late fees rarely have the impact they're intended to. "Research from other fine-free systems has indicated that fines do not increase return rates, and further that the cost of collecting and maintaining overdue fees often outweighs the revenue generated by them."

Keep Reading Show less
Cities
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube

Actress Kristen Bell and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon showed off their vocal and comedic chops on Tuesday night when the performed a medley of 17 Disney songs, spanning nine decades, in just five minutes.

The duo started with 1940's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and ended with 2013's "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

Bell will reprise her role as Anna in Disney's upcoming "Frozen 2."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

We all know that social media can be a cesspool of trolly negativity, but sometimes a story comes along that totally restores your faith in the whole thing. Enter the KFC proposal that started off being mocked and ended up with a swarm of support from individuals and companies who united to give the couple an experience to remember.

Facebook user Tae Spears shared the story with screenshots from Twitter, and the response has been overwhelming.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / ESPN

Madison Square Garden in New York City is known for having hosted some legendary performances. George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in '71, Billy Joel's 12 sellouts in '06, and Carmelo Anthony's 62 points in a 2014 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats, just to name a few.

But it's hard to imagine one person holding the legendary arena in the palm of their hand quite like Pete DuPré, better known as "Harmonica Pete," did on Veterans Day.

Keep Reading Show less
popular