Editor’s Note: When I told friends on Facebook that I was excited to interview someone I was in awe of, people started trying to figure out who it would be: Former President Jimmy Carter? Morgan Freeman? Not one person suggested it would be Leon Logothetis. I suspect that’s because few in my circle would even know who he is. I hope after reading the following you will check out Leon’s books: Live, Love, Explore, & The Kindness Diaries Watch his documentaries. That you, too, may come to appreciate the journeys he’s made, both inwardly and outwardly. And that like me, you might also be inspired to help make the world a kinder place.
Leon Logothetis is a healer. His words, his deeds, his thoughtful way of pausing before answering a question are all traits of a healer.
Silence doesn’t terrify him the way it does some. Leon is comfortable in the quiet spaces of life. He’s like a devout monk that way, only without a religious order of any sort. If you ask him, and I did, Leon will tell you he’s an adventurer. He loves to travel, meet new people, explore different cultures and take risks most would avoid.
I first happened upon Leon via Netflix, where I stumbled across The Kindness Diaries. I was captivated from the opening lines:
“From a distance the world probably seems like a big bad scary place,” Leon says. “If you listen to the news or even ask the person next to you they will likely talk about war, poverty, corruption and hate. And they are right – from a distance. But I believe that up close, there is enough good, enough love and enough pure kindness to make the world go round and that is what inspired my journey.”
Those opening remarks resonated so deeply with me, as did the whole concept of The Kindness Diaries. Leon traveled the world in search of one thing – kindness. He took along a bare-bones film crew to document his journey and he wrote a book – The Kindness Diaries – as a result.
Some fault him for that, suggesting it’s all part of his marketing ploy to line his own pockets. (FYI: he was already wealthy). Because he is wealthy, some criticized him for the way in which he went about seeking kindness. Leon put himself in a place of humility. Throughout the journey, he was dependent upon others for food, for gas, for lodging, and for whatever other needs might arise. And, as anyone who has traveled knows, there are always moments that teeter on crises. The things people fault Leon for fascinated me – this practice of humility, this search for kindness. You might find fault in his methodology but I was captivated by it.
Leon was intentional about his pursuit of kindness. His ability to make himself vulnerable – to repeatedly ask strangers in foreign lands if he could stay the night with them, to ask for food, to ask for gas – was stirring to witness. He faced rejection again and again, but he almost always found hospitable souls along the way. Families who had so very little food of their own would eagerly share with him. A family of four who all slept in one bed, insisted he take it because “Guest is God.”
Leon lives in Los Angeles but he’s originally from England. (I didn’t tell him that my grandmother was a Shropshire from Shropshire). A graduate of Boston University, he gained financial success early as a broker in London. But the money could not diminish the despair Leon had dealt with as a child. He does not give details of the abuses he suffered, other than to say he was bullied and the pain of that abuse became the impetus for his quitting his job and seeking a new way of life. “There is a deficit of kindness, a deficit of empathy, a deficit of all these things I missed as a kid,” he recalled.
Add to that the ongoing wars and political unrest and the world can seem a very daunting place. It is easy for people, especially those who have been abused or neglected, to despair. Leon was wealthy but depressed. He was successful on the outside but empty on the inside. He needed something more.
“I think once you understand pain viscerally within yourself, you understand it in others. People often ask me, ‘Why do you do what you do? Do you get any benefit out of it?’ Absolutely. By giving and sharing, I heal myself. The more I heal myself, the more I can share and inspire others, however, imperfectly.”
Leon has no formal theology. He isn’t sure he believes in God – certainly not the God of Western consumer culture – but he is respectful of the faith of others. Whether bathing in the Yangtze River, or sitting crossed-legged in a Kosovo Mosque, or lighting candles in a Catholic cathedral, or burning incense to Buddha, Leon approaches each faith with sacred reverence. If God is love, as the Scriptures claim, then it is that which Leon seeks.
Love, he says, is his only religion.
Gratitude is his daily practice.
All those experiences – he has traveled to 90 different countries – has made him less anxious, less fearful, less judgmental. “I learned if you judge others, you have to judge yourself,” he explains.
Meeting people from different cultures, people who practice different religions and lifestyles, has expanded his heart and his spirit. It has enabled Leon to see the good in humanity and to become a more grateful person in the process.
“I am someone who loves life and who wants to share my stories in hopes that they will touch others and make them realize the magic they have inside of them. That I manage to do that while having fun is wonderful. And the story itself is universal – People matter. We all have the power to change people’s lives.”
The Kindness Diaries isn’t his first travel adventure. He partnered with National Geographic for three seasons of Amazing Adventures of a Nobody traveling across the US, the United Kingdom and Europe on five dollars, five pounds or five euros a day. And he partnered with Trivago for the #GOBEKIND series. He also teamed up with FirstBook, adventuring from London to Mongolia in an effort to buy 10,000 books for underprivileged children in America. He also drove a vintage London taxi across America, giving free cab rides to the needy and working with Classwish to bring hope back to the schools of America.
“It’s wonderful to share magic while having fun,” he says, while admitting that initially, his goal was a totally self-serving one. He wanted an adventure like the one Che Guevara experienced in the biopic The Motorcycle Diaries.
“That’s how it started. Just for adventure,” Leon says. “I wanted to see the world and I wanted to have fun. But then, over time, something in me shifted. When you go out into the world and people start offering you their homes, and their life stories, it becomes about something more than an adventure.”
He can point to the moment it all began to shift: “I was sitting on a bench in Indianapolis and I was chatting with this lady. She had such a beautiful vibe. I told her about my journey and needing a place to stay and she said, ‘Look I live in Chicago but I have to stay here tonight. If you can find your way to Chicago, you can stay on the couch in my house, and you can eat the chili in the fridge. Then just put the keys in the flower pot when you leave.’ I was dumbfounded. I asked her if she was giving me the only set of keys she had and she said ‘Yeah’.”
Leon made his way to her place in Chicago. He ate the chili in her fridge, slept on her couch, and dropped the keys in the flowerpot as he left. The kindness and trust that this stranger displayed moved Leon deeply. “You can’t trust someone and not be kind to them.”
Since then, Leon has slept on untold couches, roll-aways, and mats on tile floors, mats on wooden floors, mats on dirt floors and even crunched up in the sidecar of his Kindness motorcycle. He’s even spent the night in orphanages. His connection with children is evident no matter which country Leon finds himself waking up in. Wood scraps are fashioned into bats for pick-up games of street ball. Soccer (football) is played in narrow alleyways. Children swarm him like fireflies to towering pines.
Mention the children to Leon and the pause he takes is longer, the breath he draws is deeper. Kids will often reach out to Leon via Facebook or email. He writes back and tells them to check with their parents first before he will agree to Skype or correspond with them. A precaution. Sometimes the parents will sit in on the Skype call or email Leon themselves. Parents tell him that the message of his books or his shows has made their children more empathetic. They thank Leon for his inspiring messages to #BeKind.
It’s in those moments, that Leon feels he’s doing his best work.
“I was a sensitive kid in school, so I get it when someone tells me they’ve suffered or they’ve been bullied. It reminds me of the pain of someone being mean to me. I want these kids to see someone going out of their way to give them hope. I want them to know I see them and I believe in them. I try to say to them the things I wanted to hear when I was a child.”
Books have long been a source of understanding and encouragement to Leon. He lists off a few of the books that have helped him gain understanding of himself and of humankind: The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, Night by Elie Wiesel, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. Reading about the horrors of war and genocides may seem an odd path for someone who travels the world in pursuit of kindness, but kindness has to be an intentional act. One that we practice.
“I don’t want to get too political,” Leon says. “But the message needs to be one of inclusivity. What is happening in Europe with Brexit, with right-wingers wanting to leave the EU, sometimes I feel like we are lemmings walking over the cliff, only to realize we are in deep shit after we’ve gone over the cliff. It’s scary. We have had peace for something like 70 years and now we are opening Pandora’s box? It will not have a positive outcome. When hate starts coming out, it drives me crazy.”
Leon started his adventures when he was 27. He’s 40 now and more convinced than ever that the world needs the message The Kindness Diaries provides. “I’ve been blessed with some amazing experiences and it’s not okay if I don’t share those with others. I don’t know if the world has changed, but I have changed, and some of the people I’ve met have changed.”
In order to pursue kindness, a person must first of all strip away all pretense and be willing to be reliant upon others. “When you are humbled multiple times in multiple ways, you learn humility,” Leon says. “Humility is not natural.”
It takes commitment and humility, this pursuit of kindness. Religion alone will not make a person humble or kind. Humility and kindness are intentional actions that have to be pursued and practiced. Too often, religion is simply a tool powerful people use to control and manipulate others for their own selfish gains.
“You can live with an open heart,” Leon says. “You don’t have to do big things, or even great things, but you do have to have a commitment to approaching life with a more open heart. It requires being kind to yourself first and then to others.”
Creating a kinder world is something each one of us is capable of doing, the question is: How devoted are we to pursuing kindness?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy and the forthcoming Christian Bend: A Novel (Mercer University Press).