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Connecting in kindness during troubling times

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(BPT) – The theory that the world is interconnected to such a degree that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wing in Africa could cause a tornado in Arizona has been debated for over a century. One man wanted to try a similar experiment, but in kindness. Could one random act of kindness have the necessary ripple effect to impact the world?

Changing times

After the 2016 election, Egyptian-Canadian Entrepreneur Tarek Mounib became increasingly concerned about the polarization and negativity he saw in the world, and particularly from his American “neighbors.”

“I was becoming really afraid of where the world was going. I was starting to fear Americans,” Mounib says. “Then I realized that I don’t want to start fearing people, I don’t want to start judging people.”

Mounib searched for something he could do to help relieve his fears — and to make a wider impact.

“What could I do instead of pointing fingers at these people and being angry at them? Why don’t I offer them something kind and move toward them instead of away from them?” Mounib asked himself.

The birth of an idea

Sitting on a tram one day, Mounib had the idea to offer people a free trip to Egypt. And not just any people, but those who were least likely to actually want to go, due to suspicion or fear.

Mounib began his search by traveling across America, looking for everyday Americans. From the streets of Manhattan to Vidalia, Georgia, and many places in between — including a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky — Mounib was determined to find the very people he thought might fear him.

The trip is documented in “Free Trip to Egypt,” directed by Ingrid Serban. The travelers were a diverse group, including a Christian missionary, a Marine Corps vet, a former Miss Kentucky and a retired Jewish teacher from New York. All experienced an eye-opening, emotional journey as they connected with their Egyptian hosts, finding their common humanity despite their differences.

What happened next was beyond Mounib’s wildest dreams.

The ripple effect

The film was screened in 500 theaters, and was viewed by groups such as interfaith communities wanting to start a dialogue about human connection and understanding.

The global #PledgeToListen movement was born, and tens of thousands of people came together to watch the film and unite, despite their differences.

This also inspired very diverse thought leaders and celebrities to come together watch the film and discuss how to bring more kindness to the world. These included Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Rabbi Rami Shapiro; Marla Maples; CEO of Alliance for Peacebuilding Uzra Zeya; director Tom Shadyac; Oscar-winning director Peter Farrelly and actor Sela Ward.

Athletes and celebrities have taken the #PledgeToListen and have asked their followers to do the same. A group of musicians were so inspired by the film that they created a song celebrating its theme of shared humanity. Singer-songwriter team Glen Philips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) and Jason Karaban (Ani DiFranco) wrote “Look Me in the Eye,” and many well-known musicians joined them in singing it.

But what touched Mounib the most were the audience reactions and comments he has received from around the world. One particularly special comment posted on the film’s vimeo page:

“This is the most powerful film about kindness and connecting that I have ever seen. Hopefully, it will set off a wave of caring about each other — so needed during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

What you can do

As the world confronts the realities of a global pandemic, the film’s message of human connection is even more vital. Mounib shares lessons he learned making the film, which are especially crucial during a time when face-to-face meetings may not be possible.

Dare to be kind

  • Don’t react from a place of fear when you hear something unkind
  • Remember you are safe, breathe, be at peace, listen and then offer your opinion
  • You may be surprised at the connection that can occur when you don’t react from a place of fear

Shift your focus

  • Many of us might feel lonely and fearful at this moment; instead of focusing on your fear and loneliness, think of your friends and reach out to them to alleviate their fear and loneliness
  • It’s amazing how much happiness we can achieve when we shift our focus from our own problems to caring about someone else

To see how it all started and how the lives of seven ordinary Americans were forever changed by making connections with others, rent and watch “Free Trip to Egypt.” Invite family, friends, and your social or faith group to join you for a virtual “watch party” and conversation.

Visit the #PledgetoListen Facebook page or website to join the movement.

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