Kindness is magical. When you are the recipient of a random act of kindness it can amaze you, leave you in disbelief, and make you feel connected to something greater than yourself. Unfortunately, the associations with kindness can also be kind of negative. Often, people associate being kind and seeing the good in the world with naivety: a lack of awareness of how things really are. It’s as if choosing to see the good in the world means we blind ourselves to the bad.
Magic also has some negative associations: being a magician isn’t a real job, being into magic is childish or immature, magic is just for kids’ birthday parties, magic is just a trick, it’s not real.
“One of the concepts I like to introduce people to is abracadabra,” says Andrew Bennett, magician, motivational speaker, professor at American University, TEDx speaker, and organizational consultant, coach and transformer. “As a kid, I thought abracadabra was goofy, I never used it in my magic shows. But later, I found out that in Arameic, abracadabra means what I speak is what I create.”
Andrew invites us to consider the power of our words, “It’s important that what we speak influences our experience of life. Not only ours but the people we speak to as well. Being mindful of our words and speaking kindness is so important.”
Andrew uses magic to illustrate his message of overcoming tremendous loss with kindness, mindfulness, and a touch of the extraordinary. His mission is to show people that the three tenets of magic, appear, disappear, and restore, are universal. With this lens, we can push through the fear that disconnects us and reach a place of deeper empathy, compassion, and acceptance of ourselves and each other. His message and magic help people think and act in ways that enrich their lives.
“My life has been a series of real highs and real lows,” Andrew says. “My mother and older sister were killed by a drunk driver when I was almost 3. My father remarried a year later, started a new family, and left me with my mother’s parents.”
Andrew remembers his childhood fondly despite the tremendous loss he experienced. He was loved by his grandparents and he loved them in return. At 7 years old, his grandfather gave him his first magic kit. “My grandfather was my hero and my biggest fan. We’d sit at the dinner table for hours, me practicing a new trick, him telling jokes. The next morning, my grandpa would have written a script for the new trick that I would memorize and perform. He was my agent, chauffeur, and my writer. But more than that, he was my best friend.”
When Andrew was 13, his grandfather had a mental breakdown and later took his own life. Andrew’s grandmother, whom he called “Nin” took over as his agent. “I was just thinking about Nin because I recently went to this magician’s convention in Michigan. It’s in such a small town that they don’t even have a hotel. Nin would drive me to that convention and sit around and wait for me all day, while I went to lectures and hung out with magicians. She did that for me,” Andrew says, touched by just one of her many acts of kindness. “My grandparents would drive me to my shows. We even had a magnetic sign we would slap on the car, Andy Bennett and Co. These are some of the highs.”
When Andrew was ready for college, he pursued a career in business instead of magic. At 23, he started working as a personal assistant to US presidential candidate, Ross Perot and worked his way up the corporate ladder. One year he performed magic at the office Christmas party. “It was a hit. Then Ross Perot turned to me and said, “That was pretty cool. You have to do magic in your business presentations.” So I did. Huge success.”
“I ended up running a $65 million dollar account. I had some huge accomplishments, big successes in business. But at the same time, I was wrestling with grief, depression and why life was so hard.” Andrew explains that these two parallel lives, big financial success but deep personal losses, eventually came together.
“When I hit rock bottom, I lost my home due to toxic mould. I took the builder to court and I ran out of money to fight the case. I went bankrupt and so I moved to a 3-story apartment. Then lightning hit the roof above my bed. I lost everything financially and materially in three months. Then my marriage of 15 years ended. It was too much,” Andrew recounts.
“One night, I was laying in bed, reeling from all these losses, and I looked at the ceiling and I asked, “God why did you leave me?” And I heard a voice. It was internal, not a booming voice that shook the apartment, but a small voice from inside me that said, ‘I never left you. You left me. I’m always here and I’ll always love you.’” At that moment, Andrew said he felt a spiritual awakening. That moment inspired him to return to magic in a deeper way.
“The next morning I woke up and decided to return to magic. I had become, no pun intended, disillusioned with magic. I had thought, ‘What’s the point?’” Andrew explains that magic had lost some of its, well, magic. It couldn’t do the things he wanted most: bring people back from the dead nor restore his marriage, and magic also wasn’t helping the world in a big way by creating world peace or ending world hunger. Why would someone with magic powers do card tricks, or pull rabbits out of a hat, when there were so much bigger problems to solve?
“I hadn’t given up on magic, but I wasn’t into it either. So I started researching. And in that process of learning what magic is and where it came from, I remembered the three lessons in that first magic kit I had at 7 years old: appear, disappear, restore.” This was the turning point in Andrew’s life. These three pillars would guide him and help restore his connection to magic as a sacred practice, rather than a type of entertainment.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, what do I want to appear, disappear, and restore in my life?’ I just went to my journal and started writing a story about the kind of life I wanted to have. What did I want to appear in my life? What would I stop doing? What commitments would I want to keep or disappear? What relationships could be restored or healed? And then everything changed.”
The basic tenets of magic helped restore Andrew’s life. He now passes his message of hope, healing, and restoration on to others in his keynote speeches and workshops. He also founded Magic on Purpose, a group of magicians from around the world that use magic to communicate important messages. Together they illustrate what it takes to be a leader and make magic happen in an organization. He also runs a consulting business that focuses on organizational transformations.
“It’s hard to explain what I do. That’s why I direct people to my TEDx talks,” Andrew explains. It’s true; how do you explain using magic to illustrate big, complicated ideas about self-growth and self-kindness? It doesn’t seem like kindness and magic could go together in this way, but Andrew’s talks are inspiring and truly magical.
Andrew told me about one person to whom he had been recommended, but she was skeptical about a magician performing at her fundraiser, due to some of the negative connotations associated with magicians. After watching his TEDx speech, she said to Andrew, “I had no idea magic could be so powerful. I couldn’t believe that this illusion, that totally fooled me, also gave me such an important message.” You can watch one of his TEDx talks, Practical Magic, here.
It’s possible Andrew believes in the magic of kindness because he’s tuned in to the magic of the world. When asked if he had experienced any recent acts of kindness, his face lit up and he smiled, “Yes, all the time. Everywhere.” He described receiving an email from a student in his leadership class at American University. “The email said how much he appreciated the class and how it had a real impact on his life. As much as my ego appreciated it, the fact this student took the time to reach out and let me know that I made a difference for him made me feel valued and connected.”
“I think life is a big expression of kindness. We get to be in this world, and when we look for all the goodness, it’s incredible. It’s just this big act of kindness and we get to be kind in it.”