On Tuesday, October 23rd, I will be giving a short speech to a room full of adults who are all gathered to raise funds for the Children’s Orthopedic Foundation. The fundraising organization chooses books written by a couple of different authors to be sold at the event, and the authors come to give a speech about why they wrote the book and their inspiration behind it all. My book is the only children’s book being featured at the event and to be completely honest, I have never gotten up in front of a room full of people to give a speech like, EVER, so I’m a bit nervous. In junior high and high school, if we had to get up in front of the class for a speech or an oral report, I would just take an F because I was too afraid to get up there, but I’m finally okay with doing this now.
Over the years, my fear of speaking in front of others has slowly diminished, a huge part of that due to me reading my book in front of people in schools, or bookstores, or at conventions. But this speech is just me, not reading from my book. Just me and my thoughts. There won’t be any kids there but I have always felt the message of my book needed to be heard by adults as well, so I’m speaking from the heart (but also from notecards because I wrote it down in case I panic and my brain goes blank).
This morning on Twitter, I asked if I was the only one who has been feeling frustrated, disappointed, and just…sad..seeing our government intentionally cause harm to our people. The majority of comments were from people who’ve felt the same way I do, but a couple of them were from people who say the very things that make me so disappointed in some of humanity. Because of that, I thought I would take this opportunity to just share my speech here today because I believe it’s something people need to hear. I do talk a bit about my book, Piggy and Pug, seeing as that’s the reason I’ll be at this event, but the overall message goes beyond that.
“As a child, I learned a lot about empathy by watching a show called Mister Rogers. Mister Rogers spoke often about celebrating the uniqueness of every individual. He also spoke about how, in times of trouble, we need to look for the helpers. So often, those troubles are caused by a lack of empathy, by those who choose to harm others for the very uniqueness that Mister Rogers taught us to celebrate. Empathy, to me, seemed to be the key to compassion, to kindness, and to being someone who helps during the scary times.
My first vivid memory of having empathy for someone happened at five years old, when an orange tabby cat followed me home from a friend’s house. He was very talkative and affectionate and when we got to my house, I asked my mom if I could keep him. She could tell he belonged to someone else so she said no, but she let me give him a bowl of food and water out on our porch anyway. In the evening, he was still on our porch so I made a little bed for him and by morning when he showed no signs of leaving, my mom asked our neighbors who he belonged to. She found out the people up the street from us had moved away and left him behind, so she said we could keep him.
As a five year old, I couldn’t understand why someone would move away and leave behind this sweet cat who was obviously part of their family, but I didn’t focus on that. What I did focus on is how the cat knew they were gone for good, so he took it upon himself to go out in search of a new family. I thought about all the adventures he must have had before choosing us, and how I wished there was a story book I could read about something like this happening. That experience opened my eyes to the world of animals in need and as a result, I became the person in my family who constantly helped animals. Even now, my friends refer to me as a Disney princess because helpless animals somehow always seem to find me.
Nine years ago, I started doing fundraisers for the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA in memory of my dog who passed away suddenly from cancer, and four years later I accepted their invitation to join the Board of Directors. I had spend a lot of time walking around that shelter visiting with the animals and when the housing market crashed, I noticed the shelter was mostly filled with animals that were owner turn-in. At first I was really upset by that, but then I quickly realized it was actually incredibly responsible of the owners to do this. Instead of leaving them to wander the streets and fend for themselves, they gave the pets the opportunity to receive care and be adopted into a new home. This experience at the shelter sparked my childhood memory of the orange tabby cat, so the combination of the two became my inspiration for writing Piggy and Pug. This delightful, heartwarming (and beautifully illustrated) story is about the journey that brings together Pug, who’s searching for a new family, and Piggy, who’s searching for a new friend.
But Piggy and Pug is so much more than just their journey. It’s teaching young readers about empathy, compassion, and the bonds of family and friends. It’s about understanding that some people make decisions that have quite an impact on those around them and when someone needs help as a result of those decisions, empathy and compassion is what drives the helpers to step up and do something. Without empathy, I wouldn’t be able to put myself in the position of the families or their pets, to truly see how the situation impacts them. Children will be faced with a variety of situations in their lives which can impact themselves and others around them. Standing up to bullies, lending a hand when a person needs it, or helping a stray animal, all stem from empathy. It is essential that we teach empathy young so our children grow up knowing how to be the helpers Mister Rogers described.
Writing a book that teaches children not only about empathy and compassion, but about kindness, responsibility, family, and friendship, opened my eyes even more to what kids are being exposed to these days. There is so much divisiveness, anger, and violence spreading like wildfire in our country with what we see on television, hear on the radio, and witness in our daily interactions in-person, on social media, and even in online video games kids play. Children desperately need to be taught empathy, compassion, and kindness now more than ever. When members of their family, their neighbors, and their nation’s leaders are intentionally causing harm, we need to counteract that by talking with our children about compassion, reading stories about empathy, doing acts of kindness, teaching how we take responsibility for our actions, and showing them that when they see scary things happening, to look for the helpers. We may not be able to stop those who hurt others but when we have empathy, we can see beyond the pain that drives them to hurt in the first place, and do our best to react in a more positive way instead of out of anger.
Whether it’s human or animal interaction, we are in this life together. Kindness matters, helping matters, empathy matters, and when we teach our children that whether it’s an in-person or online connection, our words and our actions matter. I’d like to end this with a reminder I think we could all use now and again, from a speech Mister Rogers gave back in 2002. He said, “Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel, a facet of that jewel, and in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never pretend that we are not.”
If you would like an autographed copy of Piggy and Pug, scroll to the bottom of this post and place your order. All proceeds from sales on October 22nd and 23rd will be donated to the Children’s Orthopedic Foundation.