‘Be kinder than necessary’ continues to inspire

A message that began as a way to honor a friend has taken on universal appeal.

The sticker makes an appearance on various locations around the Island. Photo courtesy of John Martin

There is a story behind the ‘Be Kinder Than Necessary’ purple sticker that may be seen on cars and businesses around the Island.

It begins with Elaine Gouras. In April 2012, Ms. Gouras worked for Verizon as an executive director in the IT Portfolio Management Usability & Field Support office in Boston when her doctors told her she had a number of tumors, including one on her pancreas. Despite her belief and hope that she would be able to live much longer than the doctors predicted, she lost her fight against pancreatic cancer three months later, in July 2012.

Elaine’s friend and Verizon co-worker John Martin, an avid photographer known for his ability to capture candid portraits that represented his subjects in a happy frame of mind, decided to take a portrait of Elaine so that her children would have a positive image, one to remember her by free of the devastation caused by cancer. While at Elaine’s house, John saw a sign that resonated with him because it embodied Elaine’s outlook on life in the face of cancer. It said: “Be Kinder Than Necessary.”

Exactly six weeks later, Elaine died. John decided to create a sticker with the words he had seen at her house, because he thought that there was a message to be spread. He and another Verizon co-worker designed two stickers. Purple was the color he chose because it is the color used for pancreatic cancer awareness.

The first people to receive the stickers asked for more to send to their friends. Without any planning, the stickers went viral. The stickers are now on every continent, including Antarctica, and John has since lost count of the number of states and countries where people drive cars spreading the message that was so much a part of Elaine’s life.

“She was deeply loved by all the people she worked with at Verizon; she was constantly going out of her way to help others, always understanding.” John Martin told The Times in a phone conversation.

There is now the option of a white and purple background, and the newer stickers have the URL of the website, which is be-kinder.com. There are also magnetic versions of the sign, and T shirts are on the way.

The stickers arrived on the Island via Caitlin Graham Kane, who rented an Edgartown property that John rented in the past. That connection led to an exchange of emails. The end result was that John gave Caitlin some stickers, and she decided to start spreading them around the Island.

“I used to take pictures of the cars that I would see with the sticker and send them to John, as he gets very excited,” Caitlyn told The Times. “John usually sends out a box with the stickers, and I give them out as well as leave the stickers at some businesses on-Island. There is no charge, unless you purchase the sticker from the website.”

There is much synchronicity when it comes to the sticker. John recalled the time he saw a car parked at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport that he didn’t recognize, bearing the sticker. He left a note and came to find out that the person was a cancer survivor, and had put the sticker on the day before. John invited the gentleman for dinner, and they have since become friends.

For Caitlin, the sticker represents many things. “‘Be kinder than necessary,’ to me, means helping a stranger find something at the grocery store, baking an extra loaf or two to give to my grandparent’s friends when I bake bread, chasing down someone else’s umbrella at the beach when the wind takes it or they have gone on a walk, cleaning a co-worker’s car off when it is covered in snow and you are out before them … not eating all the skin off the turkey before everyone sees it on Thanksgiving,” Caitlyn said. “Being kinder than necessary is trying to remember that making life better for others makes your own life better.”

Caitlyn said it is wonderful to see the stickers and message spreading across the Island. For John, the response has been overwhelming and unexpected.

“It is overwhelming, I can’t believe what it has become; it was supposed to be this tiny little thing. I work at the headquarters at Verizon; when you walk around the building the stickers are up everywhere. At first I didn’t think anyone would put the stickers up, as it is a very sterile environment, but now there are hundreds of them. Sometimes on the highways I see cars with it — I am overwhelmed by how this message resonates with so many people.”

Asked what he thought Elaine would say, he said that Elaine was too modest to take any credit. “She believed that this is how everyone should behave,” he said.