In December of 2005, a 50-foot female humpback whale was entangled in 1,200 lbs of crab trap lines off the coast of California. A 3,000 pound anchor hung off her tail, and she was quickly drowning. Despite the danger of the situation (one slap from a whale this size can kill you), four trained rescue divers got in the water to cut the ropes free. As they cautiously approached the whale, she stopped struggling and started to help them. She carefully brought her tail up to one of the divers as he tried to untangle the ropes; and even opened her mouth, allowing one of the divers to reach in and grab the lines. Once the whale was free, she swam up to each diver and nuzzled him in the chest. She then circled all four divers, breaching, and swimming in figure eights.
Although our Founder, Anne Kubitsky, was not present at this rescue, she is trained in marine biology and had been working in marine research at the time. She was so inspired by the story that she stopped what she was doing to learn to paint so she could retell this story in a children’s book called Gracie’s Catch. Even though she never got to publish her original manuscript (she eventually did publish part of it in a book called Opening to Good), the story itself is what inspired her to turn her attention to gratitude.
Here’s what she did:
On October 13, 2011, she gave up trying to get Gracie’s Catch published and left 500 invitation postcards in bicycle baskets, park benches, pumpkin patches, and library books asking people to share a “glimmer of gladness” on the postcard and to mail it back to her. She didn’t think anyone would write back, but it made her more grateful just leaving these around.
Within a week, people started writing back. Not just on the invitations that she left in Connecticut, but on their own materials too. Watercolor paper, cardboard, photographs, glass, clay, wood, metal, fabric, coconuts, flip-flops... creativity flooded her PO Box from all over the country. As word spread, she began getting invitations to share the cards in the newspaper, on the radio, and even on TV. In the first three years, 22,000 people shared their gratitude with Anne from all over the world. The project was featured in Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping Magazine and HuffPost as well as on MSNBC, NBC-CT, and FOX-CT. She hosted over a hundred exhibits to showcase the postcard art, including a highly visible public installation at the largest state beach in Connecticut. If you'd like to see some of the postcard art, please check out her book, What Makes You Grateful: Voices from Around the World.
By 2014, so many kids were asking Anne to visit their schools that she incorporated the Look for the Good Project into a 501C3 nonprofit organization to specifically serve schools.
“When I started this project, I felt trapped and entangled in my own baggage, kind of like this whale. This is why all these people sending me postcards meant so much to me. Each day, each grateful message that arrived in my PO Box was like a little spark of purpose... a little joy that reminded me that I mattered. Now that I am feeling more grounded, I am giving back by empowering kids to experience this in their own lives. I can’t think of anything more rewarding!”
Since the whale had originally been entangled in crab trap lines, we use this story in our school program to help normalize crabby thinking. We all get stuck in the "Crab Trap" sometimes!
Once the “Crab Trap” concept has been introduced to students, counselors can help students navigate through “crabby” emotions. For example, Jennifer Deleon, a social worker at Sunnyside School, built a crab trap to put in her office and then sent this message to the staff:
"As discussed at the kick off assembly — we will all begin to use the same language to describe when a child may be having a difficult time (frustration, anger, upset, etc.) in order to help them turn their 'crabby thoughts' into 'hero' thoughts. In doing so, we can encourage students to get the negativity off their chest by writing out what’s bothering them. This can be done by writing out the scenario, using a word that describes how they are feeling, or even drawing a quick picture to get their negative emotions out. Then, in turn, they can more easily use a Calming Strategy to help replace the “crabby thought” with a positive emotion.
"What we’re trying to get across is that it’s normal to have difficult times, and sometimes the 'crab' gets the best of us. These feelings are okay, and should be validated. An easy way to validate them is to give your students the opportunity to get their thoughts out on the crab paper and throw it into the bucket — ie. 'getting rid of it!' Students have the option of writing their name on it, or not, it’s completely up to them & what they are comfortable with!"
"We can't always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection. But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen."
- Dr. Brené Brown, Author of Dare to Lead
Having learned about the whale rescue through our school program, Lucy Mitchell began pledging acts of ocean kindness to raise money for the organization (including starting a recycling program at her school). She has already raised enough money to sponsor a Look for the Good Program at a low-income school... and cleaned up a lot of trash too!