show them some goodness

ImageTake a close look at my face and tell me, dear reader, would you trust me if you met me in the streets? What about if I tried to do something kind for you? Would you accept the act of kindness, or would you start considering my ulterior motives?

Committing random acts of happiness is not an activity for the faint of heart.  I’ve had a few people inquire about getting involved, and so it’s time for a full disclosure: it’s difficult to get people to accept something for nothing.  It’s hard to overturn the timeless adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

I tried to show some goodness today by giving strangers ‘something for nothing.’  I placed my favorite books of summer on bench at the beach, and I left a short note asking strangers to enjoy the books.ImageImageImageI did the candy for a stranger experiment with Justina Louise, and she commented that about 10% of people thought I was trying to harm them, 20% were too busy to be bothered, and 70% thought I was kind of awesome.

A study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning (2010) put logic behind the various reactions that I received from my encounters that day.  The scientists created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win.  The study found that people consider 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers are actually deserving of trust.

The good news here is that the chances of encountering a trustworthy person are much greater than the chances of meeting someone that wishes you harm.  If you’re extremely cynical or risk-averse, you might say that you’d rather practice caution than encounter someone with ill intentions.  That’s fine, dear reader, but if you don’t take the risk then you’ll never meet the 80% of strangers that are awesome.

“Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance toward your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now your life is unimaginable without them.”
- John O’Donoghue

 If that’s not enough reason for you to reach out, consider this: the study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning also confirmed that the root of cynicism is lack of experience with strangers.  What does that mean, exactly? Well, we established that approximately 80% of people are trustworthy.  But, if your first few encounters with strangers involved the 20% of people with harmful intentions, then you’re probably not interesting in forging friendships with mysterious people.  On the other hand, if you continuously encounter strangers from the trustworthy 80%, then ever stranger probably seems like a potential new friend.

The odds are in your favor.  If you’ve had negative experiences with strangers, try reaching out and increasing your sample size – you’re due for an encounter with someone in the 80% of trustworthy people.

I’ve tried to create a compelling case for reaching out to strangers based on mathematical odds.  But, dear reader, my final plea comes from the heart: I ask you to be the type of person that shows others how kind strangers can be.  If someone is cynical of you, perhaps they only have experience with the 20% of untrustworthy people.  Why not break that cycle and show them some goodness?ImageAfter the rah rah rah, I went to enjoy my own read, Fin&Lady, on the lakeshore.  After a couple of minutes, Chuck Love wandered over and asked if he could serenade me.  Talk about getting lucky with strangers, right?

When I left the beach, I snapped some pictures of the people that might find and enjoy the novels I left on the bench:
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16 thoughts on “show them some goodness

  1. LOL…I enjoyed this article very much and then, reading the instruction above your comments section ‘tell me something happy’…made me smile:-) This post gave me lots to ponder, and I’m very happy to say that I’ve had plenty to do with that 80% and very little experience of the 20%. And, if being kind to strangers is a stretch for some… there’s plenty of kindness can be shared with those we already know. Kindness to neighbours is a wonderful way of building community…and there is both challenge and richness in nurturing connections close by, with those we see and meet every day…AND, I’m going to keep an eye out for books on benches:-) H xxx

  2. Hi :) I just came over from Friday’s bloghop (better late than never!)
    This is such a great intro to your blog, I feel like I hardly need to read your “about me” because you seem so kind already! Looking forward to following along! <3

  3. I can certainly empathize with you! I can’t even count how many times I have walked by individuals on the street and simply offered a “Good morning” and a smile only to be looked at with a look that said “Why are you talking to me?”

    But then, there were many more times where the greeting was reciprocated and it was a rejuvenating experience. Hey, you never know whether those “cautious” souls may become just a bit more receptive to strangers with your kind gestures so keep on going :-)

    Random kindness ninjas of the world unite! ;-)

  4. I was having a really bad day at work yesterday when I stumbled upon your blog. It’s good to be reminded every now and then to take a step back and just appreciate how life is good.

    I love the idea of leaving books for strangers. Even though I didn’t get one, I feel uplifted that at least someone is doing something like that. Props to you! =)

  5. It’s me from book club! You seemed so down last Tuesday about the feedback you’d gotten so I put on my to-do list to find that email where you gave us your blog name and then come and leave something positive. This post caught my eye because it looks like you enjoyed our first two books so much that you simply couldn’t wait to pass them on to someone else!

    How long did it take for all your books to get snapped up off the bench? Did you lurk at all to see who ended up taking them? I totally would have …

  6. How I do miss Hidden Beach. On the bright side, I’ll be back in Minneapolis between September 21st and 30th. Perhaps we could collaborate on a blog project at that time. I will start brainstorming some ideas.

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