She wields a digital pen and like the “butterfly effect” of the wings of its namesake creating a tiny breath, Nora Firestone is blowing change around the world. Following her longtime desire and unsuccessful quest to thank two elementary school teachers from Plainedge, Long Island who’d each had a lasting, positive impact on her life, Firestone realized in 2008 that it shouldn’t be this difficult to deliver a heartfelt and well-deserved letter of gratitude, and that there should be no obstacle to those who’ve made a difference in the lives of others to discover when, how, to whom, and why it mattered–no matter how much time has passed nor where in the world they are today. So she created the way: ThankingOfYou.com, the free Web-based forum for posting and receiving stories of gratitude (messages of thanks) for the people who’ve made a difference in our lives. In other words, Firestone is “making a difference” from and within Hampton Roads, Va., by facilitating everyone’s ability to express heartfelt gratitude for those who are “making a difference” in the lives of others worldwide.
In line with Firestone’s passion for promoting the power of the virtue of gratitude for its potential to inspire and fuel the continuum of goodness, ThankingOfYou.com enables anyone with Internet access to say the simplest of words. The words that money cannot buy; the words that have the power to naturally fuel the “machine of perpetual positivity”; the words that stand the greatest chance of penetrating even the most guarded or pessimistic of souls: “Thank you. You’ve made a difference in my life, and here’s how . . .”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the website, or rather the idea of affirming one’s appreciation, is the universality. No matter what language, country or ethnicity we are born to, everyone understands why it’s important to say the words.
“It’s a basic and universal need that people be recognized and affirmed for the value, relevance and places they have (or have had) in the lives of others,” Firestone explained, “and the expression of this gratitude doesn’t have to be on the stage of a nationally-broadcast television show or at a corporate fundraiser to be effective.” In fact, she continued, everyday people are touching the lives of others daily in profoundly meaningful ways and all they really need is the quiet, one-to-one, genuine affirmation that they’re on the right track with their contributions to humanity. A message of thanks posted at ThankingOfYou.com, in written or video form, tells them and tells the world the impact they’ve had within a respectful setting that doesn’t bump the last comment off for the newest or thrive on hype. ThankingOfYou.com is for true-life, unsolicited accounts of the lasting legacies of everyday people, and these stories are here to stay—for their recipients, for generations or their descendants, for the inspiration of others.
Firestone recalled a recent episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass which added more fuel to her passion: A man named Harel called to convey his realization that it was his belief that his place in the lives of others was small and insignificant and that he didn’t really “matter” that presented a profound block to his spiritual growth. He noted the importance of such affirmation being genuine and expressed by someone he trusts. Oprah and her co-host, Iyanla Vanzant, did their best to instill in Harel the belief that he “mattered” by virtue of the fact that his creator had given him a place in this world. Harel, who works with people with disabilities, accepted their words as trustworthy. But Firestone noted the impact it would have on this young man if the loved ones of those for whom he cares daily recognized and affirmed his contributions to their lives as nobody else could possibly do, with heartfelt, detailed accounts of how he makes a difference and why it matters. “Harel is an excellent example of why I created ThankingOfYou.com,” she said. “The detailed expressions of gratitude affirm life and life’s purpose by illuminating for the recipients how they’ve already impacted their corners of the world, created ripple-effects, and somehow changed the lives of others, in ways they wouldn’t otherwise know. This is profoundly empowering information–information which can settle anxieties and even help a person see their innate gifts in a light that illuminates an entirely new–maybe even revenue-generating–direction for them. What a gift it is, then, to thank others for their gifts to you. It’s the kind of re-gifting we all should be doing!”
Back in the good ole days, children were cornered (but perhaps not often enough) and instructed by their parents to craft elaborate letters of thanks, with ink on paper. Some of us even made fanciful cards of folded castles or flowers and scripted inspired messages with special implements purchased for such special occasions.
Now relegated to the back of the closet or sold off long ago at yard sales, old-fashioned paper cards and notes have been replaced by digital devices offering instant connections and virtual contact with others worldwide.
Although the method of expression may have changed, the need has not. It may be necessary now more than ever, in this hurried, computer-oriented world, to focus on the one aspect of our humanity that cannot be replaced by tech devices or any other yet-unimagined invention: our recognition and declaration of praise for the good deeds bestowed upon us by another human. It can, however, be furthered by this evolution of technology.
ThankingOfYou.com also removes the obstacle of not being able to find a person in order to thank them. Everyone–even strangers–can receive their messages of thanks once posted, either by direct or electronic delivery by the authors or via simple on-site or browser searches of their names, dates, event descriptions or any number of categories and keywords. People who’ve directly received or indirectly discovered their stories of gratitude have told Firestone that learning of the lasting impact they’ve had on the life of another has had a profound impact on their lives today. One woman wrote that the “Thank you” she received brought her “closer to God.” Another said that the ability to take her time and write and deliver her heartfelt “Thank you” to her long-estranged sister bridged the gap between them after years of misunderstanding and no communication. Firestone’s own gym teacher, Mr. Sybil, one of the two who inspired the creation of ThankingOfYou.com, said that he re-reads her detailed “Thank you” every time his “feet are skimming the mat” and he’s “tempted to forfeit,” benefiting now in retirement from the very same advice he gave her decades ago: “Hang in there; you can do it.”
Locally Firestone has been campaigning for people to thank the charitable organizations—scholarship and mentorship programs, health research and support foundations, food banks, non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity, etc.—for having made a difference in their lives. This public affirmation, unsolicited by the organizations, not only details the impact for the hard-working staff and volunteers, but increases awareness of that impact for others in search of like services and for donors seeking evidence of the kind of direct impact their resources would support when deciding where to contribute next.
Realize, Firestone said, that “it’s typically not money that motivates founders, staff and volunteers of nonprofits; most often it’s the desire to know that they’re making a difference. So give them what they want; tell them how they do.” Gratitude, she believes, “is the most sustainable and renewable of all human resources” for its power to inspire such goodness and fuel its continuum.
“I was passionate about this from the start,” Firestone continued, “but witnessing more down-heartedness than ever in recent history–with folks losing jobs or feeling like they no longer offer what the world is looking for–people need to know more about their true life’s purpose. These messages are the gifts of a lifetime. They’re uplifting, revitalizing and they’re free to give and to receive.”
“If you knew it would make a difference in their lives,” she asked, “would you take the time to thank those who’ve made a difference in yours?”
What is your “Thank You” story? Who has had the greatest positive impact on your life? Now you can say it and pay the greatest honor to someone special, whether it was decades ago or yesterday, and the breeze created by your story becomes a part of the positive wind of change around the world.