“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” - William James Have you ever longed for your spouse, parents, siblings, children, boss, colleagues, neighbors to tell you how much you are appreciated, respected and loved? Instead of being put down, would you like to be built up and encouraged to make your dreams come true? How important would it be if this culture existed in our homes, workplaces and schools?
I was 36 years old when I dreamed of creating this culture through the power of acknowledgment. I am now 74 years young and making this dream come true. To date over 40 million people throughout the world have been impacted by the “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® Blue Ribbon acknowledgment message I created. In a minute or less, this tool has saved lives, eradicated bullying, enhanced health, reduced violence and helped make dreams come true.
I was born in 1942 to wonderful hardworking parents. My upbringing was fun, loving and encouraging. My mom and dad always cheered me on for my dreams, hugged me and let me know that I was cherished. I thought that my future, with a new husband and a new life as an adult, would be as wonderful as my childhood. WRONG!
While my husband was revered as a brilliant entrepreneur, behind the scenes, he controlled my every move, put me down and never told me that I was loved. Despite this, I had a very successful career, maintained our household and cared for our two beautiful sons.
To the outside world, our lives looked perfect. We had worked hard and became millionaires. We built a magnificent home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Our two beautiful sons surfed the waves below---what could be better. Yet no amount of material wealth could ease the emotional abuse I endured during our 18 year marriage. Feeling lost, alone and invisible, daily thoughts of suicide took over my being.
On the day I decided to take my life, I fell to my knees sobbing and screamed to the heavens. In that instant I heard a sweet voice within that told me that I could not take my life because I would make a difference for people.
Suddenly I began to search for ways to make a difference and discovered The Hunger Project. After learning that 21 children were dying every minute for lack of food, Ivolunteered to co-chair The San Diego Hunger Project. My heart knew we could do something to help solve this problem.
During the next 8 months, I built a team of 24 adults who helped enroll 10,000 people to do something to end hunger. My speeches at assemblies reached thousands of children and adults, offering ways to end world hunger. After my talks, people approached me with their stories of pain. “My dad just lost his job and we don’t know what to do.” Roberto cried. “My mother has cancer and we’re terrified,” whispered 10 year old Oliva. “My brother just overdosed on drugs,” sobbed Molly.
In the face of such overwhelming need, I felt helpless. How could I help anyone? The pain of my divorce proceedings showed me that I couldn’t even figure out how to take care of myself. Instead of people around me starving for food, perhaps they might be literally starving for love just like me. When my parents showered me with their love, I always felt happy, healthy, and creative.
I suddenly came up with an idea that would satisfy the craving to be acknowledged, respected and loved by creating a button that said “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® After purchasing 1,000 buttons, I began to tell my children’s teachers, my neighbors, friends and even strangers how much I appreciated, respected and valued them. I’d pin my button on their shirt, just above their heart and cheered them on for their dreams. Soon everyone wanted a button.
Once I completed my volunteer position, I traveled out of the country for over a year. Upon my return, something absolutely unexpected happened. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone running up to me telling me how much my Button meant to them. Almost everyone said that they were rarely…if ever… told how much they were appreciated, respected and loved.
Hearing how this simple, yet powerful gesture of love and empowerment made such a huge difference, in 1983, I founded Difference Makers International, a non-profit educational organization that would help me spread the mission that all people would know that Who They Are Made A Difference.
A year earlier, the Button was transformed into a royal blue ribbons with the words “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® inscribed in gold lettering. A sticky backing replaced the pin and helped people place the ribbon over the hearts of people everywhere. Later the ribbons were placed on their computers, walls or visors of their cars. They were visible everywhere!
To help people honor others, I formed a team of kids, grandparents, parents and businesspeople. Each team member was given a package of 10 “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® Blue Ribbons. They were to honor someone in their community and return to my home the following week and tell me what happened.
After receiving the Blue Ribbon, a businessman attended a meeting at my home. I invited the dozen people present to take the next 2 hours and help write a proclamation that would bring our entire city together using the Blue Ribbon Ceremony. Wecompleted the proclamation in 1 hour. At the conclusion of the meeting, the businessman wrote out a check for $20,000 and handed it to me. My response to him was simple, “I cannot take your money. I simply don’t know what I’m doing.”
He responded, “Lady you’re the only one around who does know. I just paid $50,000 to marketing company. to come up with our vision, mission and goals statement. They took 3 months to make this happen. You said you’d have the proclamation completed in 2 hours. Itwas done in 1 hour.” With that he told me never to say where I got the money from, put the check in my hand and left.
His money made it possible for me to purchase Blue Ribbons and begin presenting programs in elementary, middle and high schools. In the next 3 months, over 35,000 people were honored. In the coming months, we learned what worked about the Blue Ribbon and what did not. From this I created the 7-Step Blue Ribbon Ceremony that only takes one minute:
1. Honor someone: Say, I have a Blue Ribbon that says “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® and I want to honor you for (Tell them the reason they make a difference).
2. Ask: Would you accept my gift?
3. Ask: May I have permission to put it on you?
4. Place: Affix the Blue Ribbon above their heart pointing upward toward all their dreams coming true.
5. Cheer: Say, in order to get the cheerleaders on the ribbon jumping for your dreams, I’m going to point to them and shout BING!
6. BING! The BING! Is the sound that makes dreams come true (sound effects!)
7. Gift: Gift them two extra Blue Ribbons to honor others.
This One-Minute, Blue Ribbon Ceremony has been used to end violence, eradicate bullying, enhance health and improve performance in the workplace, schools, families and neighborhoods, around the WORLD.
Since 1983, the “Who I Am Makes A Difference”® message has been translated into 12 languages. Because of this ceremony, I have spoken on the same stages as the Dalai Lama and other world leaders. I have worked with rival gang members in the same room, different religions and back grounds in the same room, the abused and abuser in the same room. In all cases, I showed them how to fall in love with themselves and one another.
Then came the New York Times best-selling book, Chicken Soup for the Soul. A deeply moving Blue Ribbon Story was published