Scott Adams’ comic strip “Dilbert” appears daily in hundreds of newspapers world wide. His characters have also appeared in many books and motivational materials and are licensed for many uses. Dilbert has become a favorite of workers in the Corporate World. Scotts’ Dilbert also has a strong Internet presence. It was to his Internet fans that this letter was written.
What’s 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, the Art in Cartooning”. I had always wanted to be a cartoonist but never knew how to go about it. I wrote the host of the show, cartoonist Jack Cassady, and asked for 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 letters. 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 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, hundreds of newspapers and lots of books later, things are going pretty well in Dilbertsville.
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 that 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 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 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 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.