Meet Cindi Decker. She has a great, fun story -- and one that also contains a vital lesson for anyone who's ever had a message they wanted to get out to the world.

Decker is a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida. A few weeks ago she took an art class with a friend, and came home with with her second-ever-in-her-life painting: an egret, or maybe a swan, on a blue background.

She didn't think it was that great apparently, but her son thought people would like it. So he snapped a photo and posted it on Reddit.


Within a few hours, more than 24,000 people had upvoted it. Another 50,000 more have done so as of this writing. But that's not the crazy part.

A commenter got the idea: "Someone paint the photo of his mom holding her painting and repost it." And an artist in Sweden named  Kristoffer Zetterstrand took the idea and ran with it.

Clever, right? Maybe you can see where this is going. A student in Canada named Laila Amer, painted a painting of Zetterstrand holding his painting of Decker holding her painting - and posted it.

Then, an artist in Chicago, Seamus Wray, raced to paint Amer holding her painting of Zetterstrand holding his painting of Decker holding her painting. 

Around there, things start to branch out. Another Canadian artist painted an Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker painting, and yet another one, Traci Sethre, painted Wray holding his paitning of Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker.

Then another, by artist Travis Simpson in Indiana, in which he displays the Sethre-Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker chain.

It goes on and on and on, as another Reddit user diagrammed in this helpful (and slightly insane) flowchart

And there's one vital reason why the whole thing worked -- something that is easy to explain, hard to replicate, and a sort of Great White Whale for so many people who have messages that they want to get out there.

The reason: Pure authenticity. By definition, it's hard to fake.

And you can see it come through in interview after interview that Decker has given about the whole thing.

  • On Reddit itself: "I am overwhelmed and over the moon how this has turned into a positive movement."  
  • "I am just a very ordinary mum who has had an extraordinary few days," she told the BBC. (I'm guessing she said "mom," but that's how they quoted her.)
  • "So many people have been so kind. They say, 'Keep us updated and post your next painting.' But I'm not going to. I don't want to wear out my welcome," she told The Washington Post, adding that she'd been nicknamed, "the honorary mom of Reddit."

So many of us are looking for shortcuts. We want the accolades and rewards, without being willing to truly give and show our true selves. But in these moments, you can get a glimpse of what truly makes people react.

Vulnerability. Authenticity. And a chance for others to create and contribute as well.