In America, many believe, nothing succeeds like material success. Leon Logothetis tried that. He was a Wall Street broker.
“On the outside, it appeared like I had everything,” he states. “But on the inside, I had nothing.”
A movie changed his life; The Motorcycle Diaries, an Oscar-winning (for Best Song) dramatization of the early life of future revolutionary Che Guevara, who embarked on a motorcycle trip across South America that changed his hedonistic ways and opened his eyes to injustice, inequality and the indomitable spirit and kindness of strangers he met along the way.
Logothetis quit his job and embarked on a global journey of his own that profoundly transformed his own life and taught him that nothing succeeds like kindness. On April 24, he brought that message to Field Junior High School in Northbrook and Henry Winkelman Elementary School in Glenview.
His presentation, he said in an interview conducted prior to his appearances, reflects the profound power of kindness.
“Everyone likes to be treated respectfully,” he said. “When you treat someone with kindness, they feel less alone.”
Logothetis knows this first-hand. As a teenager in his native England, he was bullied. He spent two years eating lunch by himself in the school library, he said, until one day a student invited him to have lunch with himself and his friends.
“That changed my life in many ways,” he said.
And that cuts to the heart of a question he poses to young audiences: “Everyone can make a difference in someone else’s life. Do you want to make a difference in a positive or a negative way…for better or for worse?”
Logothetis, who lives in Los Angeles, has become a global kindness advocate and motivational speaker. On a vintage yellow motorcycle (Kindness One), he traveled the world without food or money in his pockets relying solely on the kindness of strangers. His six-month odyssey across 20 countries is chronicled in the 13-part series, “The Kindness Diaries” which can be accessed on Netflix. Through extreme conditions, setbacks and bike breakdowns, kindness prevails and is paid back in kind by Logothetis. For example, he provided sports equipment, books, and water purifiers to a Calcutta orphanage that had offered him refuge.
Kindness, Logothetis believes, is universal. His presentation is rich with teachable moments. For example, he said, he invites children onstage to talk about their pets and how much they love them and what they do for them. And then he tells them, “Everyone who came up here and shared, you just proved to yourself that you know how to be kind. If you know how to be kind (to your pet), then why can’t you be kind to each other? There are no more excuses.”
Kindness is all about commitment, Logothetis emphasizes. “I’m not a perfect being,” he said, “no one is. “I never espouse to people they have to go out and be kind all the time. If you’re having a bad day, you’re having a bad day. You just have to have that commitment to follow the path of kindness and empathy. If you fall off the wagon, try and get back on when you can.”
Logothetis calls his in-school presentation, “I See You,” a reflection of the imperative of not being judgmental of strangers and endeavoring to learn their stories. He recalled meeting a homeless man who, at the age of eight, was thrown naked out of his home by his mother and forced to sleep in the snow. “How do you recover from that?” he pondered. “There is strength in fighting your way through adversity, but sometimes the adversity is too much and can’t recover.” The best we can do, he suggested, is “to find a commonality with others based on the human spirit and to try and touch lives in a positive way.”
Logothetis’ kindness crusade has taken him to 90 countries. When asked whose people were the kindest, he quickly answered Bhutan, ironically a country mired in repression and reported human rights abuses. (It was recently ranked 97th out of 150 countries in the World Happiness Report 2017, issued by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations).
“The people are so lovely,” Logothetis affirms. “All I can I tell you is my experience, and in my experience is that the people I met (deal with you) from the heart.”
Here in America, the time seems right for promoting kindness, which, from the divisive partisan political climate to trolls on the internet, seems in short supply. But to paraphrase Hugh Grant in the film “Love Actually,” Logothetis is testament to the notion that if you look for it you’ll find that kindness actually is all around.
“I have faith in America,” he said. “I have faith in the people. I have faith things will improve.”