Category Archives: kindness

People for Good aims to spur acts of kindness

Flickr photo by baloozer

The Canadian “People for Good” effort has tried to encourage Canadians to do good deeds.

One bus ran a PSA with the slogan: “Need a lift?”  And below it said “You look great today.”  Here are some suggestions they make:

  1. Smile at a stranger – or wave at your fellow subway passenger
  2. Open and hold the door for someone
  3. Give up your seat on the subway, bus or streetcar
  4. Buy a coffee for your co-worker
  5. Surprise your colleagues with freshly baked brownies
  6. Cut grass or shovel snow for your neighbor
  7. Help a stranger change a tire on the road – or put in a coin in expiring parking meter for someone you don’t know
  8. Return a grocery cart after someone has used it or let a stranger ahead of you in a store line
  9. While  on Facebook, just pick up the phone and give your friend a call
  10. Simply say ‘‘Thank you’’ to someone who helped you – and really mean it
  11. Mow your neighbor’s lawn
  12. Instead of an email, send a handwritten note.
  13. Call your mother
  14. Bring home flowers.
  15. Make cookies for your neighbors
  16. Do a chore, even if it’s not your turn.
  17. Give up the remote
  18. Make breakfast for the household
  19. Go say hello to your neighbor.
  20. Tell someone you love them.
  21. Unload the dishwasher.
  22. Have dinner at the table with the whole family.
  23. Wake up in a good mood.
  24. Give someone first dibs on the morning paper.
  25. Clean out your closet and donate your old clothes.
  26. Say good morning to a stranger.
  27. Help someone cross the street.
  28. Offer to give someone directions
  29. Pick up a piece of litter.

For more suggestions, visit here. is the brainchild of Mark Sherman, Exec. Chair, Media Experts (a media strategy firm), and Zak Mroueh, President, Zula Alpha Kilo (advertising agency).

Add your own ideas by posting comments.

See also our list of 150 things you can do to build social capital.

Social capital games

The New York Times Science Times section on Tuesday had an article discussing why real life couldn’t be as engaging as games.  One section referred to games designed by researchers to spark cooperative behavior or  get people to compete on being most helpful.


…Dr. [Jane] McGonigal…has designed Cruel 2 B Kind, a game in which players advance by being nice to strangers in public places, and which has been played in more than 50 cities on four continents.

She and her husband are among the avid players of Chorewars, an online game in which they earn real rewards (like the privilege of choosing the music for their next car ride) by doing chores at their apartment in San Francisco. Cleaning the bathroom is worth so many points that she has sometimes hid the toilet brush to prevent him from getting too far ahead.

Other people, working through a “microvolunteering” Web site called Sparked, are using a smartphone app undertake quests for nonprofit groups like First Aid Corps, which is compiling a worldwide map of the locations of defibrillators available for cardiac emergencies. Instead of looking for magical healing potions in virtual worlds, these players scour buildings for defibrillators that haven’t been cataloged yet. If that defibrillator later helps save someone’s life, the player’s online glory increases (along with the sense of fiero).

[Fiero comes from Italian “pride” and refers to when the gamer lifts both arms above his/her head in triumph.]

Cruel 2 B Kind is interesting.  It takes place in a defined real world environment: e.g., it could be Central Park from 5-6 on 12/10/2010.  No one knows who is playing and who isn’t but all players have to remain in the open in that location for the entire duration.  Each player is randomly assigned a fatal weakness from a list of possibilities (e.g., being serenaded, being complimented, being cheered on). In order to slay your opponent, you have to engage in these acts of kindness frequently, willing to have complete strangers (not playing the game) be “collateral damage” in your effort to slay your fellow gamers. The result is a war of kindness within the “arena”.

Read John Tierney, “On a Hunt for What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming” (New York Times, Dec. 7, 2010)

See earlier blog post on The Extraordinaries (now renamed as Sparked)  and Thin-Slice Volunteering.

Wired to cooperate?

An interesting article in the Science Times section of the NY Times discusses research by developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello (appearing in Why We Cooperate).

At 18 months of age, Tomasello finds that toddlers almost universally immediately help out an adult who needs assistance because his/her arms are full.  What Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, doesn’t know if altruism is innate; 18 months is typically an age before toddlers are taught how to behave.

Not so fast.  As the Times points out: “It’s probably safe to assume that they haven’t been explicitly and directly taught to do this,” said Elizabeth Spelke, a developmental psychologist at Harvard. “On the other hand, they’ve had lots of opportunities to experience acts of helping by others. I think the jury is out on the innateness question.”

But Tomasello observes these same helping behaviors across cultures, despite the fact that they teach social behavior on different schedules and may have different beliefs about appropriate social rules.  Moreover, the helping that infants observe is not enhanced by rewards, causing Tomasello to doubt that it has been strongly reinforced.

In some cases Tomasello observes helping behavior with regard to information in infants 12 months old, and even chimpanzees under certain conditions exhibit helping behavior at a young age.

More specifically related to “social capital”, Tomasello finds that age 3, children become less indiscriminately helpful and are more likely to reciprocate earlier helpful behavior from another person.  In addition, they start to develop social norms, like the reciprocity at the heart of social capital.  Parents can help foster these norms through “inductive parenting”, helping children to learn the consequences of their actions.

As the Times points out:  “The basic sociability of human nature does not mean, of course, that people are nice to each other all the time. Social structure requires that things be done to maintain it, some of which involve negative attitudes toward others. The instinct for enforcing norms is powerful, as is the instinct for fairness. Experiments have shown that people will reject unfair distributions of money even it means they receive nothing.” [See discussion of dictator games and ultimatum games in this blog post.]

Read the very interesting article “We May Be Born With An Urge To Help” (NYT, Nicholas Wade, 12/1/09) about how humans try to sort out whether to behave selfishly or altruistically.