Dancing Her Way To A Good Turn A Day
Staying light on her feet helps one tap dancer undertake a year of good deeds
Sometimes, just witnessing other people’s collective distress is enough to inspire action. For Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, seeing the nation react to the 2016 presidential election was enough to stir her to create a new routine. “I woke up the day after the election and realized that part of the reason that I felt so concerned for all of us wasn’t whether I was disappointed by the result or not,” she says, “it was that our society seemed to be in a very, very negative place.”
“I realized that I had spent most of the previous year paralyzed, and I didn’t feel that I had done much to help,” she told Good Turns. “I probably couldn’t have done anything to change the results of the election, but I didn’t do anything to change the anger and discord and negativity and the fractioning of our society, regardless of whether I was happy with the results.”
I wanted to wake up in the morning feeling I was part of the solution and not part of the problem
“So I thought, Okay, well, I can do some small thing every day. I can just commit to one small thing. I felt like if I did 365 small good things, then I would not wake up 365 days later feeling that I hadn’t done anything.”
But being a bit of an over-achiever, Lyster-Mensh (who is a consultant, a writer and podcaster, and also helps run a nonprofit devoted to children’s mental health) decided to make a project of it. “I happen to be an amateur tap dancer, so I thought, Well, that analogy works for me, I’m going to do one ‘good turn’ every day on my feet too, and that would structure my project.”
And so her year-long undertaking began. “I get up every morning thinking of what dance I’m going to do, that I’m going to have a moment of moving my feet, and I’m going to have one good deed, and I’m going to tie them together and make a gif of my feet. It’s just a silly thing to do,” she says, laughing. But she’s been doing it, every day, and recording the results on her Twitter account.
While some of her good turns are as simple as taking part in a “successful neighborhood doggie search party,” others are more involved. Among other things, Lyster-Mensh has showed up at Congress to lobby her representatives. “I do a lot of faxing and writing to my congresspeople, and I normally lobby them a couple times a year, not as a registered lobbyist, I just participate as a citizen with a bunch of other people who are there for mental health causes,” she says. “People don’t know that you can just walk into the halls of Congress. You don’t have to make an appointment, you can just walk into your representative’s office, and they have to listen to your opinion.”
But her project is not meant to have a political impact. “I just wanted to wake up in the morning feeling I was part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she says. “Not in a partisan way, I just wanted to wake up feeling positive. I want it to be about my taking steps to do positive things for society.”
“Sometimes I get to the end of the day and say, Crap, I haven’t done anything. There have been some near-midnight moments, notably one in Las Vegas at a conference where I ended up overtipping my Uber driver. It was a bit of a last-ditch effort, but I want to make it 365 days of doing it. I’m not doing it to show off or make other people do the same thing — although if someone else saw it and went, ‘Yeah, I could do one thing a day,’ then I would be happy.” Even if that doesn’t happen, we can all be happy knowing Lyster-Mensh is dancing her way through a year of good turns.
Posted May 19, 2017