"A holiday message from Scott Adams" joke
What is the value of a kind word?
In January of 1986 I was flipping through the channels on TV and saw the closing credits for a PBS show called "Funny Business," a show about cartooning. I had always wanted to be a cartoonist but never knew how to go about it. I wrote to the host of the show, cartoonist Jack Cassady, and asked his advice on entering the profession.
A few weeks later I got an encouraging handwritten letter from Jack, answering all of my specific questions about materials and process. He
went on to warn me about the likelihood of being rejected at first, advising me not to get discouraged if that happened. He said the cartoon samples I sent him were good and worthy of publication.
I got very excited, finally understanding how the whole process worked. I submitted my best cartoons to Playboy and New Yorker. The magazines quickly rejected me with cold little photocopied form letter. Discouraged, I put my art supplies in the closet and decided to forget about cartooning.
In June of 1987 -- out of the blue -- I got a second letter from Jack Cassady. This was surprising, since I hadn't even thanked him for the original advice. Here's what his letter said:
I was reviewing my "Funny Business..." mail file when I again ran across your letter and copies of your cartoons. I remember answering your letter.
The reason I'm dropping you this note is to again encourage you to submit your ideas to various publications. I hope you have already done so and are on the road to making a few bucks and having some fun too.
Sometimes encouragement in the funny business of graphic humor is hard to come by. That's why I am encouraging you to hang in there and keep drawing.
I wish you lots of luck, sales and good drawing.
I was profoundly touched by his letter, largely I think because Jack had nothing to gain -- including my thanks, if history was any indication. I acted on his encouragement, dragged my art supplies out of storage and inked the sample strips that eventually became Dilbert. Now, seven hundred newspapers and six books later, things are going pretty well in Dilbertville.
I feel certain that I wouldn't have tried cartooning again if Jack hadn't sent the second letter. With a kind word and a postage stamp, he started a chain of events than reaches all the way to you right now. As Dilbert became more successful I came to appreciate the enormity of Jack's simple act of kindness. I did eventually thank him, but I could never shake the feeling that I had been given a gift which defied reciprocation. Somehow, "thanks" didn't seem to be enough.
Over time I have come to understand that some gifts are meant to be passed on, not repaid.
I expect at least a million people to read this newsletter. Each of you knows somebody who would benefit from a kind word. I'm encouraging you to act on it before the end of the year. For the biggest impact, do it in writing. And do it for somebody who knows you have nothing to gain.
It's important to give encouragement to family and friends, but their happiness and yours are inseparable. For the maximum velocity, I'm suggesting that you give your encouragement to someone who can't return the favor -- it's a distinction that won't be lost on the recipient.
And remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.
Have a great holiday. Thanks to all of you for giving me a spectacular year.
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