Listen: Toni Powell chats to Clare Bruce. Above: Toni Powell giving a TEDX Talk in Noosa, 2013
When Toni Powell first heard that 50 innocent people had been killed in a violent act of terror in Christchurch, she was – like most Aussies and Kiwis – devastated.
For Australians, It was hard to believe something so evil could be carried out by one of our own citizens. But it was the gunman’s attitude – being pleased with his crime – that spurred Toni into action instead of apathy.
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Chatting to Hope 103.2, Toni said she wanted the legacy of this act of terror to be the opposite of what was intended: she wanted it to spur people to do more good things than ever before.
“I decided that instead of hating him, which is what I felt like doing, I would make sure that his legacy included a lot of good,” she said. “So I started thinking, I’ll do 50 deliberate acts of good, to kind of ‘pay you back’. Then I thought it might be something other people were interested in.”
Toni got straight to work on her 50 acts of kindness.
“I got involved in a candlelight vigil, I started doing things like donating to a charity, signing petitions, just being much more deliberate about doing some positive action,” she said. “And I signed up to have a refugee family for a week while they attended a local English course. In the end, my mother-in-law died suddenly, so I didn’t actually do that, but [I did do] a whole raft of things.”
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Spurring Others On to Acts of Kindness
Those who have gotten on board the campaign have made a difference in their communities by helping those with mental health issues, supporting the elderly, making surprise gifts for strangers, helping neighbours with chores, and cooking dinners for the community.
Every week participants receive an email with suggestions of the kinds of positive actions they can take, as well as short biographies of the 50 Christchurch victims as added motivation.
“I’m finding it really useful to increase my empathy and consideration of other people.”
“I’m really finding it meaningful to connect with the personal stories associated with this,” Toni said. “I can see how devastated we are as a family with our mother-grandma-mother-in-law dying suddenly, and I’m thinking, ‘imagine these families and the community of Christchurch who are experiencing the loss. I’m finding it really useful to increase my empathy and consideration of other people.”
As someone who writes and speaks regularly about things like kindness, generosity, gratefulness and happiness, doing kind deeds is something Toni has been involved in for years. For her, it’s a kind of ‘medicine’.
“I’ve been very deliberate about changing my approach to the world and life, because I had some mental health challenges,” she said. “I’m someone who tends to go on the side of worry, panic, being overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and have had a couple of significant bouts with depression. So it’s because I’m not a bouncy, optimistic person that I do this – not because I am. I wouldn’t need to do this if I was. This is like a life discipline that changes how I experience my life.”
She said doing kind things for others is proven by science to make us happier.
“One of the things that happens when we’re depressed is we tend to shut down and go inward…but [to] spark joy and happiness, you’ve got to make choices to go outward to get that happening in your brain. The science shows the more frequently we behave in a kind way…the kinder we become.”
To get involved head to www.50shadesbrighter.com.