We’re Sometimes Kind Without Reason, Or Are We?

Posted by | Kindness Is Contagious, Making A Difference, Science, Success | No Comments


I produced the film Kindness Is Contagious to use principals of science to hack human behavior and make the world a little better by spreading kindness. The idea of my film is that if kindness is contagious, then by distributing the film to a large group of people, we could “hack” this hardwired behavior to virally spread kindness throughout the world. Well here are more kindness hacks by researchers at the University of North Carolina and the underlying science behind them:

In a series of four different studies, the authors [Larry Sanna and his associates] found consistent support for their predictions.

In the first study they found that twice as many mall shoppers who had just ridden an up escalator contributed to the Salvation Army than shoppers who had just ridden the down escalator.

In a second study, participants who had been taken up a short flight of stairs to an auditorium stage to complete a series of questionnaires volunteered more than 50 percent more of their time than participants who had been led down to the orchestra pit.

A third study took yet another approach. Participants were to decide how much hot sauce to give to a participant purportedly taking part in a food-tasting study. Those who were up on the stage gave only half as much of the painfully hot sauce to the other person as did those who were sitting down in the orchestra pit.

In a final study, participants watched film clips of scenes taken from an airplane above the clouds, or through the window of a passenger car. Participants who had watched the clip of flying up above the clouds were 50 percent more cooperative in a computer game than those who had watched the car ride down on the ground.

Use with abandon!

Via Scientific American, Photo by Stephen Ritchie.

Why Does Eastern Philosophy Foster Kindness?

Posted by | Cooperation, Philosophy, Science, Social Networks, Success | No Comments


Studies show that growing rice tends to foster cultures that are more cooperative and interconnected.

Ask Americans to describe themselves, and chances are you’ll get adjectives like “energetic,” “friendly” or “hard-working.” In Japan, the responses would likely be much different. “Dependent on others” and “considerate” might pop up.

Psychologists have known for a long time that people in East Asia think differently, than do those in the U.S. and Europe. Easterners indeed tend to be more cooperative and intuitive, while Westerners lean toward individualism and analytical thinking.

Now psychologists have evidence that our ancestors planted some of these cultural differences hundreds of years ago when they chose to farm rice.

“We call it the rice theory,” says Thomas Talhelm, a graduate student at the University of Virginia who led the study. “Rice is a really special kind of farming.”

Growing rice tends to foster cultures that are more cooperative and interconnected, Talhelm and his colleagues explain Thursday in the journal Science.

Why? Because farming rice paddies requires collaboration with your neighbors. Self-reliance is dangerous.

“Families have to flood and drain their field at the same time,” he says. ” So there are punishments for being too individualistic. If you flood too early, you would really piss off your neighbors.”

Rice paddies also require irrigation systems. “That cost falls on the village, not just one family,” he says. “So villages have to figure out a way to coordinate and pay for and maintain this system. It makes people cooperate.”

Wheat, on the other hand, as well as barley and corn, doesn’t generally require irrigation — or much collaboration. One family alone can plant, grow and harvest a field of wheat, without the help of others.

Of course, proposing this rice theory is easy. Demonstrating that farming styles actually drive cultural changes is much harder.

To start to do that, Talhelm and his colleagues turned to a country that historically farmed both wheat and rice: China.

For generations, the people in the northern half of China have generally grown wheat, while those in the southern half have focused on rice.

And guess which people people tend to think more like Westerners? The northerners whose ancestors farmed wheat.

Talhelm and his colleagues gave simple psychological tests to about a thousand college students from both parts of China. Students in the north answered the questions more like Americans and Europeans: They tended to be more individualistic and use more analytical thinking. Those in the south aligned more with the cultures in Japan and Korea.

One test, for instance, asked a person to draw his social network, with circles representing himself and his friends. Americans tend to draw themselves bigger than their friends, about a quarter of an inch bigger. But Japanese draw themselves, on average, a bit smaller than their friends, a previous study found.

“America is No. 1 when it comes to self-inflation,” Telhelm says. “We draw ourselves much larger than friends. We take that as a measure of self-inflation.”

When Talhelm gave the same social network test to Chinese students, the amount of self-inflation depended on where the students lived. People from wheat-growing regions drew themselves slightly larger than their friends, on average. Students from the rice-growing regions drew themselves smaller than their friends. Like Westerners, people whose ancestors farmed wheat tend to inflate their own importance more.

Of course, the rice theory isn’t the only hypothesis for why Easterners and Westerners tend to think differently.

Some scientists have chalked up these differences to wealth and modernization: As societies get richer and more educated, people become more individualistic and analytical.

But that idea doesn’t explain the cooperative cultures in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea — which, in some ways, are richer than the U.S.

Via NPR. Photo by Whl.travel.

Creating A Pay It Forward Economy

Posted by | Kindness Is Contagious | No Comments


Rachel Hatch, research director for the Ten-Year Forecast program, asks the question: what would it take for quirky, pay-it-forward prototypes to go from novelties to tools so commonplace that they function as the infrastructure for a new currency?

According to Hatch, three three things that are happening right now will play a big role in making kindness an actual currency:

 1) Stories of kindness are becoming more compelling, and mobile social tools for tracking them are becoming increasingly inexpensive, lightweight, wearable, and shareable. For example, consider Socialcoin, a web-connected currency that can be passed from hand to hand to track acts of kindness. As discrete acts of kindness leave digital trails, we will start to use visualization tools to track complex chains of network behavior.

2) Social contagion research shows that kindness is subject to network effects. In 2010, Christakis and Fowler provided the first laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior and acts of kindness are contagious and spread from person to person in a social network.

3) And decision science from a 2013 UC Berkeley/UC San Diego study found that customers actually pay more when given an option to pay-it-forward rather than paying what they think something is worth.

As this future starts to manifest, Hatch predicts that new tools will arise:

Kindness as a Reputation Metric: Just as we measure social reach today, we might measure kindness reach tomorrow. We might expect the Klout of 2024 to include a kindness score. Kindness to become a new measure of citizenship or even kindness metrics might even appear on job-seekers’ resumes. But what if kindness becomes a form of competition? Is it even altruism if it’s tracked?

Kindness Profiling: Acts of kindness may well become traceable and tradeable. The increased visibility that amplifies a culture of kindness could well be turned into a foundation for yet more profiling, with advertisers and political parties alike using big data to identify target nodes on kindness networks.

Monetization of Kindness: Because pay-it-forward systems will exist alongside our existing competitive monetary systems, kindness transactions may well be absorbed into the familiar balance sheet and turned into commodities, or even a kindness debt.

One can only imagine the impact such a currency would have on the world. I can’t see any downside and it would surely make the world a better place for everyone. Maybe as our current system repeatedly fails, we should think about replacing it with a system like Hatch is proposing.

Via The Institute For The Future Photo by Matre

Maybe It’s Time To Make Work More Rewarding

Posted by | Making A Difference, Pay it Forward | No Comments


Currently it’s not economically viable to do many jobs in America when labor is cheaper overseas. But maybe we can compete by thinking differently. Maybe it’s time for a new kind of work, a more rewarding kind of work that people will willingly do for less money and thus making american labor more competitive internationally. If people put as much thought into making work rewarding as they do with simplifying tasks, what would the results yield?

Could factories and call centers be made fun to work at? Or have educational components?

Read economic theorist E. F. Schumacher thoughts about wealth and money in his seminal 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

There is universal agreement that a fundamental source of wealth is human labor. Now, the modern economists has been brought up to consider “labor” or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a “disutility”; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment

The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice are, of course, extremely far-reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that “reduces the work load” is a good thing. The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called “division of labor”… Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialization, which mankind has practiced from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases, unskilled movement of his limbs.

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

Excerpts via “Brain Pickings” Cool office Photo via Inc.

50 Ways To Do Well By Doing Good

Posted by | Kindness Is Contagious, Nice Guys Finish First, Success | No Comments


My mantra is of course, nice guys finish first! So here is a LINK to your roadmap. Bruce Kasanoff is my new hero & I noticed that he is a professional “ghostwriter for entrepreneurs and executives”. What is telling about this is that we tend to think all successful people got that way by being ruthless. Since Bruce ghostwrites for what I am assuming are very successful people (successful enough at least to be able to hire a ghostwriter) he must have the inside scoop as to what makes them successful.

Anyway, my favorite are:

2. If a person is too selfish, nasty or scary for you to help… at the very least do your best not to hurt them.

5. Always be yourself, unless you are a self-absorbed and self-centered person. In that case, act like someone else for a change.

9. Don’t try to teach a starving person how to fish. First, give them a fish. Teach them how to fish when the pressure to eat is gone.

33. We are only human, and we make mistakes. We see the world through our own biases and preconceptions; that is not going to change. Let’s all be a bit more humble and open-minded.

41. Do something 21 times, and it becomes a habit. Do it 210 times, and you become “lucky” to be so successful, healthy and…

I am going to reread this list every day!

Via Forbes. Photo by Michael

Below is the complete list. Please read the post at Forbes, I’m only including it here because if the link ever breaks, I don’t want to loose the list.

Read More

The Benjamin Franklin Effect

Posted by | Making A Difference, Quotes, Success | No Comments


Here is an interesting article from the ever amazing blog “Brain Pickings“.  posits the we think that we do nice things to people we like and bad things to those we dislike, but that  the psychology behind the effect  is quite the opposite, a reverse-engineering of attitudes that takes place as we grow to like people for whom we do nice things and dislike those to whom we are unkind.

It seems Ben Franklin understood this quite well & used it to turn a rival into a friend and supporter.

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

-Ben Franklin

What I like about this concept is that it gives us another tool that will help us, the kind ones, succeed in life. So please check out her post for a fascinating read.

Via Brain Pickings


A Kindness Hack

Posted by | Kindness Is Contagious | No Comments


Using science to make people Kind and consequently the world a better place is my thing, and when I ran across this piece in the Atlantic I was very intrigued at the possibilities. I like to approach Kindness as a tool to empower us and I love finding little tricks that I can use to further my knowledge and goals:

Infusions of nature don’t merely calm the mind, they alter our attitudes, making us more trusting and generous toward other people.

Read this article carefully, as it is very critical at times. I try very hard myself, to focus on the positive and stay away from the negative. Perhaps as a survival mechanism. So if you dive deep into this, there are some interesting tricks and hacks that might be useful not only to yourself, but everyone around you!


Photo by Martin

Finding Our Altruism
(as Opposed to Never Losing It)

Posted by | Kindness Is Contagious, Pay it Forward | No Comments


In the mid-1990s, when I first wrote the novel Pay It Forward—the adult version on which the movie was based—I was laboring under a misperception about humans. I thought that as we grow up, we lose our altruism. And by lose I mean irreparably lose. I thought we started out youthful, glowing, and filled with kindness and goodness. Then, somewhere between kindergarten and high school, all that good stuff was quite thoroughly stomped or kicked out of us.

That’s why I made Trevor, the character who changes the world through simple acts of kindness, twelve years old. I thought this was something a grownup couldn’t—or at least wouldn’t—do. I thought grownups would come up with an idea like Pay It Forward, and then sit down with a pen and a legal tablet and list all the reasons why it would never work. Then, having talked themselves out of even trying, they would be relieved of the burden of changing the world. I could imagine the happy sighs of adult relief.

I was wrong.

I quickly learned that I was wrong by watching altruism wake up in grownups when they read the book or saw the movie. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to take credit for anyone else’s altruism. And I’m not suggesting that lots of other factors aren’t at work inspiring people at the same time. But one conclusion is inescapable: You can’t awaken what’s irreparably gone. You can only awaken that which is merely sleeping.

Now I have a different theory about losing our altruism as we grow. I still  think we often lose it. But more the way we lose our car keys.

I’m not a psychologist, a scientist, or a researcher of any kind. I’m just a fiction author who’s been alive for a while and has spent much of that time observing human nature.

Here’s what I’ve seen.

As we grow, we want to fit in. We want to be loved and accepted. We want to avoid criticism. We want to learn about the world, so we can more safely make our way in it. So we look to those around us for signals.

Parents and teachers may not realize the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages they send regarding the world. Sometimes we feel overpowered and overwhelmed, unable to change the things that trouble us. We may not want to say—or even think—that we just don’t have the energy to try. So instead we pass a message on to kids: “That’s just the way the world is.” Kids are like sponges for knowledge of the world. It’s their job to soak it up. Tell them you can’t change anything, and they’ll not only believe you, they’ll prove you right.

How much of the world as we know it is a mass act of self-fulfilling prophecy?

At a certain age (in my own experience it was around middle school) we notice that the people around us are getting more… for lack of a better word… cool. We may have a spontaneous thought related to changing a situation through kindness, but by that age we’ve become careful about filtering what we say. We look at those around us, and they don’t seem to champion kindness. They don’t seem to think kindness is cool. We don’t stop being kind, in my opinion. We stop openly expressing it. We bury it down where no one can see. After a few years of that, it becomes the proverbial ring of car keys. We haven’t seen it for a while, and often wouldn’t quite know where to locate it if we tried.

But this is great news, in my opinion. We still have everything we need. We just have to do a little finding. And we have to get braver about saying the things we know are right. Even if the people around us aren’t saying the same.

My thoughts on social courage have evolved quite a bit lately. I used to think people should just push their way through fear and speak their minds, placing far less importance on any resulting criticism. I’m still not against that plan. But I think I was not taking into account how deep-seated these fears can be. The fear of being ostracized is a very primal thing. Again, I’m no expert, but it seems to trace back to that ancient tribal societal structure: To be forced out of the group is to die. That’s a big one. So maybe I was being dismissive to suggest people just buck up and speak. Maybe a better answer is to create safer spaces for people to speak. Surround them with the safety of knowing they are an accepted part of their society even when expressing new ideas.

Like radical kindness.

Which leads me to the upcoming book release that I hope might make a difference.

I am pleased—thrilled, actually—to announce that fourteen years after the publication of my novel Pay It Forward, Simon & Schuster will soon (August 19, 2014) release Pay It Forward: Young Readers’ Edition, edited for middle grade students.

One of my very few regrets in my career involved the age-appropriate “rating” of the original book. I wrote exclusively for adults at the time. I never imagined anyone but adults reading it. So it contains a fair amount of adult language and material. The American Library Association included it on its “Best Books for Young Adults” list in 2001, a stamp of approval for students 12-18. But parent sensitivity being what it is, most teachers won’t use it in the classroom unless students are at least 14 or 15. Which, let’s face it, is past the age when we’ve misplaced those altruistic car keys.

What if a book like this new Pay It Forward edition made its way into middle school curriculum just about everywhere? What if students were reading it and talking about it at that crucial age, the one during which the push is on to be “cool”? It might create a safer space for altruism. Students might be more comfortable expressing their feelings about kindness. They would have more support for altruistic thinking and actions.

Instead of having to relocate their altruism as adults, what if the next generations never had to put it in hiding in the first place?

What would happen when that generation moved into the workforce, the polling place, the government, the teaching professions? How much would their openly-displayed altruism change the world?

I don’t know, and I don’t know if anyone can accurately say they know. But we may be about to find out. And whatever happens, that can only be a good thing.

Photo by Christian