Bob Hoffman: The Art of Being Nice

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It’s the most ordinary of settings; the post-work commute. You’re merging onto the highway, traffic is at a standstill, you finally move your foot off the break and — someone cuts you off. There are your typical reactions: honk, shake your fist, grab your cell phone and dial the nearest contact to let them know the world’s biggest idiot is in the car in front of you. Then, there’s Bob Hoffman’s reaction: get out of your car, give the person who cut you off $50, share a smile and wish them well for the evening ahead. “I was so worried about getting home that day and doing the laundry, doing the list — so I thought, what if I got out of my car and gave (the person who cut me off) $50,” said Hoffman. “And I started laughing, envisioning what it would be like if that happened to me … and I started to feel that joy again.” Though Hoffman didn’t get out of the car on that day merging onto U.S. 127, this ordinary experience generated an entirely original concept: if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, simply do something nice for someone else — it’s that easy to feel better. Hoffman considers this his epiphany — and naturally, he couldn’t wait to share it with his friends and family. “I just thought, ‘you know what? Why don’t I call five of my friends, we’ll all get together some Saturday; we’ll each put in $10 and we’ll go find someone who needs to have their ball of stress burst,’” said Hoffman. Being surrounded by an open-minded, inclusive group of friends, Hoffman soon found himself making an e-vite to share with his contact list — curious to see who would be interested in joining him. More than 800 RSVPs later, the first ePIFany Now (Pass It Forward) event was conceived. “It’s called ePIFany Now because it was an epiphany I had,” said Hoffman, “and you can have an epiphany — right now — just by doing something nice for somebody else.” On Jan. 31, 2009, more than 200 people gathered at Dublin Square in East Lansing with one mission at hand: do something nice. It was suggested that people form small groups, personally donate $10 (or as much as they wanted) and then use that money to make someone’s day. “It was hard in the beginning because people were asking, ‘well, what can we do?’ The biggest lesson to me was that you don’t have to spend any money to burst somebody’s ball of stress,” said Hoffman. “It’s not about money, it’s not about any material things. It’s about the one-on-one human connection — going up to someone and saying, ‘I’d like to help you,’ or saying something kind and saying it genuinely.” Since 2009, Hoffman and his supporters have successfully completed 10 ePIFany Now parties (six in mid-Michigan and four on the west side of the state) including more than 2,000 participants. Activities completed by ePIFany Now participants range from purchasing someone’s groceries at a grocery store, to buying a meal for someone who might be hungry, to sharing a smile with a stranger and everything in between. “I notice that so many of us are caught up in our own head, and I am one of them,” said Hoffman. As public relations manager at Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, communications committee member at Capital Area United Way, foundation board member for Lansing Rotary and an active community volunteer, it’s not always easy for Hoffman to find those quiet moments. “I’ve got so many things going on; trying to be a great worker, trying to be a great partner, trying to be a person who volunteers to give back … there’s a lot of responsibility to being human,” laughed Hoffman. “I know I catch myself every day living in my own head and not paying attention to the things around me that are most important. So, that’s what ePIFany Now does, it breaks that. It doesn’t’ necessarily have to be stress … it’s just allowing you to step outside your own head.” A key concept of the ePIFany Now parties lies in the story telling. After participants complete their activities as a team, everyone reconvenes at the starting location to share their stories (and epiphanies) as a group. Hoffman believes this is where the magic truly happens. “When you come back … you are validated because people are listening to you — and people know that you did something kind for someone else,” said Hoffman. “When you share (your story) with somebody, you help spread it. There are so many people who do nice things for others and they don’t share it. But how else do we learn? How do kids learn about (being kind)? How do adults learn about (being kind)? Share every good deed you do.” Currently, Hoffman is working on ways to share inspirational stories and spread tales of kindness beyond the ePIFany Now parties. Recently, Hoffman began a personal blog (www.BobHoffman.org) to highlight mentors and the impact they have on the world around us. Hoffman also has plans for an ePIFany Now book. Blogs and books aside, Hoffman has so much to be proud of already. As the recipient of the 2011 Mid-Michigan Civility Star award, presented by Mieshel Image Consulting, Hoffman now has an outlet to share his message and mission with people beyond the ePIFany Now family. Civility Counts is an initiative of the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) and recognizes an individual who “promotes a world in which people from all walks of life embrace and practice graciousness, generosity, kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness, nurturing, respect, restraint and responsibility.” “I was just really honored,” said Hoffman of winning the award. “Also, in a way, I have to say I’m a little sad that we have to have an award for civility. I’m sad that it’s something that has to be recognized because, for me, it’s so much an inherent part of who I am.” Though Hoffman will be the first to tell you he’s human too and it’s not always easy to practice civility 100 percent of the time, he encourages others to step outside of themselves and remember that everyone struggles. “What I think a lot of us forget is that it’s so important to treat other people the way that you want to be treated. Because you don’t know what the person next to you is going through,” said Hoffman. “I think that we always have to be aware that we all wear masks, which is fine, but underneath the masks we’re all wonderful human beings who have feelings and emotions, who don’t like pain.” Above all, Hoffman believes that that the easiest way to brighten your day is to brighten someone else’s. It may take a little work, it may be uncomfortable at first, but as Hoffman says, “it’s the best legal drug out there.” And the greatest part is, everyone can do it. “No matter where you are, no matter how much money you have, no matter your situation, your burdens, your problems — you’re here for a reason, and you have the ability to make someone else’s day … and in turn, you make your day. If you help somebody else, you help yourself,” said Hoffman. “And maybe that just means smiling.” CELEBRATE CIVILITY Join Hoffman as he accepts the 2011 Mid-Michigan Civility Star award from Mieshel Image Counsulting. Civility Star Award Luncheon, $20/person Tuesday, May 24, 2011, Noon Walnut Hills Country Club RSVP to Mieshel Image Consulting: (517) 203-4900 PASS IT FORWARD Feeling inspired to pass it forward and have an epiphany? Join Hoffman and friends at the next ePIFany Now party. Sunday, June 12, 2011, 2-6 p.m. Reno’s East, East Lansing For more info visit www.epifanynow.org.
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Tags: Bob Hoffman, ePIFany Now, Mid-Michigan Civility Star, mieshel image consulting