Power of Hugs and the Ripple Effect of Caring | Jeanie Haigh | TEDxLivermore

Translator: Ngoc Nguyen
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs
I had an opportunity
to go to Japan a few years ago
to visit a friend,
and I knew that I would have a chance
to visit a senior care facility
while I was there.
So my friend Steve arranged it for me.
He worked for the town of Nichinan,
which is on the west coast of Japan –
beautiful, wooded, country area.
We went to the center,
and it was a center that had
every stage of care for seniors,
from adult day drop-in up to hospice care.
And it was a beautiful facility –
brand new, gorgeous wood paneling,
but it didn’t have much in it.
The area was very economically depressed,
and so the residents
didn’t have much either.
So we went [from activity to activity]
and shared the stuffed animals
that I had brought.
And they were all a little leery.
“Why are you doing this?”
“What’s the catch?”
But once we explained
it was just a gift for them,
they all brought smiles to their face,
and we shared lots of hugs.
And we didn’t need to know
each other’s language.
Steve was there to interpret,
speaking fluent Japanese,
but we didn’t need him.
We were able to connect and to bond
over a simple act
of giving a stuffed animal.
So as we were leaving,
we were walking down a hallway,
and a lady we hadn’t seen yet
was being pushed
in her wheelchair by a nurse.
So we stopped and asked her
if she wanted a stuffed animal.
And her face got a little bit
distressed look to it,
and she said, “I have no money,
I can’t pay you for it.”
So I said, “This isn’t
anything about money.
This is a gift; this is for you.”
When she understood that,
she put her hands out
and she was shaking down,
her face changed from this distressed look
to joy
and an unexplainable
compassion in her face,
where she said, “You thought about me.
You care about me.”
That set us all off crying.
The nurse was crying,
I was crying, Steve was crying.
Steve is a big six-foot-four,
26-year-old guy at that time, crying.
And I’d known Steve
since he was in middle school.
So we got outside
Steve looked at me and he said,
“You know, I’ve known
for so many years what you did.
I knew that you gave out stuffed animals.
And I knew it was comfort.
But now I get it.
I really get what it means.”
And that was a huge “aha” moment for him,
that he really understood.
Once you experience something,
you understand it in such a deeper way.
And the lady that we visited summed up.
She said, “You thought
about me; you care.”
And that’s what it’s all about.
Our logical minds know that
a stuffed animal can give its comfort.
But what speaks to us?
Why? What is it about
holding a stuffed animal
that can make us think
the world will be okay,
that we will be okay?
It was given to you in love,
and somebody who wanted you
to feel comfort, to feel secure.
But why can’t they just say that to you?
By giving you a symbol,
this stuffed animal,
this symbol stays with you;
it’s always there with you.
It will take care of you
when you need help,
you need comfort,
you need security at night;
it’s there for you.
It always reminds you someone cares.
A lot of us had stuffed animals
as we were growing up –
a favorite toy.
Mine had been passed down
from my sister to my brother to me.
And there’s a 12 year gap.
So he was pretty well worn.
He was missing an eye,
the ear was gone, you know,
pretty raggedy looking.
But he was mine.
And he waited for me
to come home from school,
hear my tales of the day.
He would stay with me at night,
comfort me when I felt I needed
a little extra security to feel safe.
And he was always there.
He didn’t talk back to me;
he didn’t ignore me.
He listened and never said anything bad.
I think that we all have
something in our lives,
and whether we still have our
stuffed animal from when we were little
or we have a new one,
it brings back that well-being,
that sense of comfort,
that sense of being safe.
There’s so much attachment
and so much comfort though.
Why does this pile of fur
and fluff do that for us?
Love medical studies
about the physiological effect
of a stuffed animal.
This one is going in a chemo care bag
to somebody who has been
recently diagnosed with cancer
and is starting treatment.
My group partners with a group
that puts together the bags –
there’s a blanket, water, snacks, well-wishes,
and of course, the teddy bear.
And we’ll get letters back,
and the letters may say,
“I kept this bear with me
all the way through treatment.
I made it, I’m survivor, I’m clear.
I’m keeping this bear as a symbol to me,
as a sign that I’m strong,
that I was victorious.”
Or we get a letter saying
basically the same thing:
“I kept this animal with me
through treatments,
and he went with me everywhere I went.
He kept me strong;
he helped me get through it.
But I’m strong, and I’m going to
pass it on to somebody else who needs it,
somebody else who needs
a symbol of strength, and victory,
and accomplishment,
and conquering.”
And that’s the ripple effect.
They stay with us as long as we need them,
and then we pass them on.
But I think besides this,
it just really touches our hearts.
It brings us back
to a sense of well-being,
something that affected us
when we were little
and helps us be comfortable,
feel secure in our home.
There was a Travelodge
motel chain did a survey
of 6,000 British adults.
35% of them admitted
to sleeping with a stuffed animal.
And those are the ones
that just admitted it.
But I admit it.
I keep them handy.
But then again, I’m an arctophile.
And that’s not a bad word.
That’s your word of the day.
That’s a teddy bear lover.
So I hope there’s a few
of you in here.
But even though I have this
as my mission every day,
I sometimes need a reminder.
I need to know why I’m doing this,
and I need to be
just kind of jarred again,
because I do it every day;
it’s a part of my mission every day.
And it becomes rote,
as everything you do
if it’s a task that must be done.
So when I get a letter thanking me
for a child that got a bear
that was going to the emergency room,
that reminds me.
Or a picture of a child
with a new teddy bear
because they were
burned out of their home,
and the firefighter gave them a bear.
So sometimes I need to remember
as I’m gathering things
and our volunteers are all gathering
that this monkey may be going to someone,
a child who’s been a victim of a crime
and is going to foster care,
and this is all they have for the night.
Or that a bear’s going
to someone in an accident –
the highway patrol will give to them.
Or a senior lady is going to get this dog
and it’ll remind her of a long lost pet.
It works.
It’s stuffed love. It makes a difference.
Even non-stuffed animals
need to have a hug sometimes.
So, I want to give you
the opportunity to get it.
I want to give you the opportunity
to experience the ripple effect,
to share love, to share
this pile of fluff and stuffing
and make a difference in somebody’s life.
Give them a symbol
that they can keep with them
throughout their years.
So, as you exit both sides,
and also in the bookstore,
there’s stuffed animals.
And I ask you to each take at least one.
More if you know people that need hugs.
And be sure to give them out
to someone who needs it,
because you’ll get it.
You’ll understand
what this really means to somebody.
I have plenty.
I have bags for you to fill.
And if you need a hug,
there’s often one that speaks to you –
Dominique has his frog;
he had to have his frog –
there’s one that speaks to you,
please keep it for yourself.
Because you always need hugs.
And then as soon as you run across
somebody that needs a hug,
you can give it to them,
and share that love,
and share – experience that ripple effect,
and you’ll get it.
Thank you very much.

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