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: rats are proven to demonstrate conscious empathy. They work to help each other get out of situations where they’re trapped. It is the “rat like” thing to do. Why can’t we humans more consciously help each other out of situations where we’re trapped? Let’s choose helping each other versus seeking self gratification. After all even rats resist eating that chocolate chip cookie before helping out a fellow rat.
I read about this very interesting study in The Big Think blog. My reaction was, “Wow, if rats’ natural action is to behave this way certainly we as people are capable of more with each other.”
“Now this paper, out in last week’s Science, will make them seem even more human: it turns out that rats will take the trouble to free a trapped fellow-rat for no physical reward (though there may be a warm, fuzzy feeling). In fact, even when there was a reward (delicious chocolates for the taking, next to the trapped victim) rats in these experiments often freed their fellow-rodent and shared the food, when they could have kept it to themselves.
Rodents have been shown to feel “emotional contagion” (which humans demonstrate when, for example, they screw up their faces in a pained expression while watching someone else get hurt). But the paper, by Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason is the first to demonstrate that the animals will take action to help others in distress. As Mason points out in this video, that’s a pretty big achievement, because it requires that the Helper Rat overcome the fear it feels emanating from the Victim Rat.”
- Recognize when someone including ourselves is trapped in a situation, we need to ask for and/or give help. We cannot accept being trapped as a given.
- Take the “rat road;” be persistent until freedom from a trapped situation arrives. Stay away from that narcissistic “cookie;” it will only distract us. The reward comes from helping and getting out of that trap whatever it may be.
- If we are “helper” rats we have to overcome the fear we feel emanating from the rat needing help. Just help. Just do it. Celebrate the freedom.
I recognize that this rat metaphor is taking license by applying the learning of this experiment to people. But if rats have this ethic… well, it just makes me pause and wonder (hope you do to).
Solid “rat moves” in The Triangle,
You may recall from previous blogs that I ride a road bike for fun and exercise. The other day I was riding along and darn… I got a flat tire. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to get in a long ride. I hadn’t had a flat for while and was little rusty at changing my back tire. So I knew it was likely 15 to 20 minutes before I fixed it and was back on my bike, soaking in the sun (flat tire pros will scoff at this amount of time). There is a protocol in road biking: when you ride by someone who is off their bike on the side of the road, you ask them, “Do you have everything you need?” Or, “Do you need any assistance?” This is especially true on a country road and or when services are not easily accessible. Unfortunately, it’s not always convenient for the person riding by. We are all busy people, but it is the right thing to do. A tool or an extra pair of hands can really make a difference to a stranded biker. Ideally we go out biking prepared to be self sufficient, but circumstances can leave us in a tight spot from time to time. We all are likely to need help sometime.
On this particularity perfect day for riding, about 30 bikers passed by me while I was on the side of the road working on my tire (Mercer Island, Washington is a hot spot for road bikers). Interestingly about fifty percent asked me if I had everything I needed and/or stopped to see if they might help. One rider actually helped me with my chain which somehow got tangled up in the process. I could have managed it by myself, but the extra hands were really appreciated. This rider, as part of being generous, ended up with a hand full of grease; stopping to help meant “getting their hands dirty.” Chain grease is messy and something to be avoided. I greatly appreciated the support.
The other fifty percent rode by without saying a word and usually avoided trying to have any eye contact with me whatsoever. A few had an uncanny way of looking past me like I really didn’t exist at the side of the road. It was like I was the invisible man. Now I would be naïve not to think a lot of people who asked were actually hoping I would decline. I believe that if I did ask, most if not all, even if reluctantly, would have stopped to help. I did however become curious about the fifty percent that didn’t. Why not ask? Why not stop? There are probably lots of reasons unique to each person. However I do want to focus on and applaud those that were prepared to get their hands dirty.
Character Move: Who do you think at work may be struggling and needing a little assistance? Who might have a metaphorical flat tire? I know they are there “struggling on the side of the road.”
- Be observant. Make that eye contact. Care about them (and yourself).
- Genuinely ask if they have what they need and/or if they need help.
- Be prepared to stop and get your hands dirty. They might take you up on it.
- Helping does not mean you have to become the “fixer;” perhaps just a little encouragement, a lending hand, or a little listening is all that is needed.
- Recognize that your schedule may be impacted but your character will be too!!
Get your hands dirty on the Triangle,