Featured Creature: Ben Little
In the comfort of his apartment, Ben Little dons his signature fuzzy robe, smiles, and turns his camera on himself. He takes a deep breath as he settles on what exactly he’s going to say, and then he begins.
“The truth is that love is all around you – well, that’s the first quote from the movie Love Actually, but what I’m trying to get at today is that people like to help others…so always tell people they’re appreciated, and do an act of kindness back.”
Little continues his motivational musings for another minute before shutting off the camera and posting his video – the latest of dozens – to his Facebook group. Within minutes, the likes and “Thank you!” comments from friends and fans begin rolling in. This, he reminds himself, is the reason he does it.
The bubbly, freckled math major from Hermosa Beach who “practically lives to help others,” is a busy man – he teaches weekly differential equations classes to UCI undergraduates, free of charge, and is a volunteer math tutor on the side. But perhaps his best-known and most misunderstood endeavor is his UCI-based Facebook group, “Moments of Inspiration by Ben Little,” a page of short videos featuring Little spouting positive advice and motivational pep-talks to student viewers.
When Little began posting his motivational videos to the UCI class Facebook groups last summer, he intended them not only as a personal confidence-booster, but as a means of encouraging fellow students to stay positive.
“Earlier last summer I was going through some difficult family issues, and so I decided to start making videos – I wanted to look back on them and say ‘Ok, Ben, this is advice for you,’” Little says. “I initially posted them to the class pages because I thought that if I’m having these issues, I’m not the only one. I thought that it might help other people.”
The videos – minute-long snippets of Ben talking to a camera about everything from mental health, to maintaining friendships, to keeping commitments – soon gathered a cult following of UCI students who eagerly awaited each Wednesday’s post.
Then, in September 2015, the project proved controversial when an anonymous Facebook user campaigned to ban Ben’s videos from appearing on the UCI pages, claiming that they qualified as spam.
“It got to me for like, a day or two,” Ben admits, “but then I thought, ‘those people are stupid,’ and I agreed not to post my videos on the UCI page.”
The setback was short-lived. Little decided to start his own Facebook group for fans of his videos, and it worked out even better than he anticipated – now boasting 82 dedicated followers on “Moments of Inspiration,” Little is looking for ways to spread goodwill beyond Facebook.
This quarter he started teaching an unofficial differential equations class for struggling students on a purely volunteer basis. He doesn’t teach “diffy Q’s” the same way UCI professors do, but he argues that his methods might just be better – albeit unconventional.
“I always have had a rebellious personality, and a lot of people in the math major don’t,” Little shrugs. “I’ve been challenging the way they do things in the math major and questioning it more, and I’ve gotten some negative reactions – but I really don’t care.”
He scrolls through pictures on his phone of the latest quiz he wrote for his students – a two-page spread of algebraic equations, with the word “annihilator” scrawled across the middle of the page.
“I’m so proud of this,” he grins. “Professor Little does not go easy!”
Little hopes that his personable spirit and love for helping others will support him in his postgrad career – not in mathematics, but in the hospitality industry. He says that it speaks to him in a way that math doesn’t – helping people, dealing with people, and, he laughs, “knowing when to be nice even if you kind of want to kill them.”
Until then, he plans on maintaining “Moments of Inspiration” and doing what he can to support everyone around him – including himself.
“I’ve had negative energy around me in the past, so I want to keep putting forth positive energy, not only for myself but for other people…I’ve wanted to change people over the years, but I’ve realized this year that I just can’t,” Ben shrugs. “Really, you can’t change anybody except yourself.”