Key Point: Be generous because the action makes you feel good, not because it will create a positive chain reaction of goodwill. But is “paying it forward” the right thing to do? Research published here by the American Psychological Association notes that “paying it forward,” a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you, may not always work. Unfortunately it is more common to repay greed with greed. In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to be greedy to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction.
The published article states, “We all like to think that being generous will influence others to treat someone nicely, but it doesn’t automatically create a chain of goodwill. The researchers conclude that to create chains of positive behavior, people should focus less on performing random acts of generosity and more on treating others equally — while refraining from random acts of greed.”
On the other hand, researchers at UC San Diego and Harvard University published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which provides laboratory evidence that those who benefit from kindness tend to find it contagious, and “pay it forward” by helping others.
Recently our daughter took our 5-year-old grandson on an extended “pay it forward” journey. It involved many random acts of kindness and an opportunity to focus on positive, caring behavior without expecting reciprocity. My daughter describes how our grandson literally jumped and skipped with joy through the process. Her heart did the same thing. The researchers in the first study above would likely discourage this because their data suggests that no big “pay it forward” chain would occur. The other study reinforces that we need to further examine the outcomes of “pay it forward” activity.
Even if the APA research is more “true,” it is NOT the reason to discourage random acts of kindness. Frankly, we need a lot more of it. We shouldn’t do it because it’ll lead to something from someone else in return, we should be generous because it is a great way to treat others and good for our own hearts and souls. Giving because you expect anything in return is not the true spirit of generosity.
- Every season is a good season to offer random acts of kindness. But if you want to create a sense of contribution and personal value this holiday season, just go out and give without expecting anything in return. There is a 100 percent guarantee of generating a sense of personal well-being. Just give!
- Never pass greed forward. The most important reminder from the APA study is we can get sucked into feeling compelled or justified in passing bad behavior forward. “I got screwed, so I am going to screw over the next guy…” Wow… Stopping “screwing you forward” would perhaps be as meaningful as “paying it forward.” We can consciously stop the negative behavior cycle.
- Just give and become aware of how you feel about it. Do your own personal research. My guess is that random and/or non-random acts of generosity will put a little “five-year-old” skip of joy in your heart. That’s the reward you should be looking for.
Acts of kindness in The Triangle,
Key Point: I want to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to retell a story from when my dad, Leo Rubis, was dying in the palliative care unit, first posted here in May, 2010. It’s the perfect example of living with Character this season.
My mom gets a call from a friend of my dad who is in her late 80′s. She insists on visiting my dad in the hospital to say goodbye before he dies. So she talks her nurse into driving some 60 miles in the dead of a Western Canadian Winter so she can get to his bedside. Why?
Apparently some 80 plus years ago, my dad and his neighbor friend, Alice, the lovely gal referred to above, had to walk three miles to and from school. One miserable blizzard, with frigid temperatures below -30 degrees, found my dad and Alice struggling to walk home. Alice said her hands were so cold she was weeping in pain. Her mitts got wet sitting on the classroom radiator and froze along with her hands on the trek home. My dad, 7-years-old at the time, gave Alice his mitts to wear instead. She never forgot that generosity.
- Don’t forget to “give up your mitts” sometimes. You may get a hug 80 years later. Your generosity matters.
Key Point: Taking deliberate action is a key element for effectively leading under the emotional heat of extremely stressful situations. As noted in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, acts of violence are not the only extreme situations that a leader may need to confront. HBR asked the following: If the unthinkable unfolds, “How can you practice leadership if you don’t know when or where you’ll be called to lead?”
The author asked Col. Casey Haskins, the former Director of Military Instruction at West Point, what his recommendations might be. His comments included:
“When we make decisions very quickly under stress, we don’t usually have access to a full understanding of the situation, and we don’t have access to all of our calm, rational resources.” He goes on to note: “Even if you don’t know the specifics, your odds are much better if you act than if you don’t.” Why? Because, “If you’re already acting, that by itself helps you remain calm.” And more…
“You have to train so that what you’re really practicing is staying calm, thinking quickly, and problem-solving. Deliberate thinking itself becomes a drilled, automatic response. Your decisions will still have a very high error rate — your error rate making decisions under stress is much higher than when you’re calm, rational, talking like we are right now — but that is still better than the error rate you’ll have if you do nothing.”
- We need to PRACTICE staying calm, thinking deliberately, and critically taking action. By doing this, we will be practicing leadership. The key thing is to practice when we don’t think it counts. Practicing in “smaller” situations will prepare us for the moment the “big one comes.” And that big moment, which hopefully does not involve violence, will come to all of us. We need to be ready.
- If we look for it, there are opportunities to practice taking deliberate action. It may be a stressful meeting, a traffic jam, a loved one needing emergency medical attention, etc. The key thing is to recognize that there is a space or gap between stimulus and response. (See my previous blog on utilizing the space). When we effectively use that space to measure our response, we are likely to make more deliberate and better action-based decisions.
- Remember that taking action under stress is much better than paralysis and taking no action, (the proverbial “deer in headlights”). As Col. Haskins states above, if you’re already in motion, (but NOT panicking), that by itself contributes to being calmer and more deliberate. If we make the space noted above too big, we might become slow and stuck.
- Practicing to take advantage of the “space” between stimulus and response, will also help you take into account others in your presence. The brave, beautiful, loving, teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, practiced for a school lock down and as a result took deliberate action that saved many lives. And that is heroic leadership under the most extreme, and deadly stress.
Leadership under extreme stress in The Triangle,
Key Point: The indescribable hurt we feel from the horrific shooting at the Newtown, Conn. school this week is palpable. Sometimes “enough” really becomes “enough.” Americans, and to various degrees, the rest of the world, must have a crucial conversation about the devastating relationship between mental illness and assault weapons. We cannot close our eyes and hope “it” goes away. We know this is going to happen again and again if we do not allow ourselves to discuss the situation, with a meaningful path of action towards a more acceptable future state.
What can you and I do? What is in our control? At the most basic level, the one thing we can do is set an example by learning and practicing the skills required to participate in conversations when the stakes are high. We have the tools and knowledge, but it also means possessing the will and respect to be open to the possibility that it’s not just “my way or the highway.” We have to be open to the prospect of other views and paths suggesting a better way.
- Recognize your worldview is only one. We consciously or subconsciously filter what we see based on our deeply held beliefs. At best, this anchors us. At worst, it closes our minds to possibilities and promotes intellectual dishonesty. This kind of ignorance has contributed to much of our inhumanity. As an example, a movie like Spielberg’s Lincoln, gives us a window into how much we gave to change views on slavery.
- Commit yourself to learning and practicing how to manage crucial conversations. There are numerous very good models for doing this. Check this out as an example. This is not about how you can learn to convince another person that your view is right, it is about mutually finding a better way to a more desirable state.
- Learn how to apply this at home and work first. If we can all get better on a “local” level, perhaps we can increase our ability to effectively have crucial conversations on a broader scale. The alternative is to allow the unacceptable to repeat. If we allow that to happen, it’s because we do not have the will, focus and competence to change it for the best. And that is definitely living without character.
Inspired by little angels in The Triangle,