Kindness is a Chain Reaction

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As much as we think we live in a vacuum, that our words and actions have very little sway over the tides of life, the opposite couldn’t be more true. Our choices, thoughts, and actions affect everyone around us. In particular, kindness ripples outward in a chain reaction, no matter who we share it with.

For example, in the distant past of 1972, researchers conducted an experiment to see the chain reaction of kindness. They left a dime in the coin return slot of a payphone in a mall. Moments after an unsuspecting shopper discovered the dime, a man would drop a folder full of papers nearby. People who found the dime were more inclined to help pick up the papers and lend a hand. In fact, 84% of people who had found the ten-cent piece stopped to help. Of those who did not find a dime in the payphone coin slot, less than 5% stopped to help.

This study showed how an act of kindness (or even just a dime!) could alter someone’s mood in such a way that they would stop to help someone else. It exemplified how easily one act of kindness could be a catalyst for a chain reaction.

When we stop a stranger on the street to give them a compliment, they carry that ray of sunshine throughout their day. Furthermore, when someone goes out of their way to help us, we are more likely to help someone else, creating chain reactions everywhere.

Pay-it-forward drive-thrus are great examples of a kindness chain reaction. At one Starbucks in Connecticut, more than 1,000 people participated in a chain of paying for the order of the car behind them. A Starbucks staff member said, “We hope that it will continue on, even if it doesn’t continue on here, we just hope that it will inspire people to do greater things and inspire people to do more for their communities.” And isn’t that what life is all about? Finding ways to bring others joy?

The Dark Side of Chain Reactions

One of the reasons why this topic is so important in our current global landscape is that although kindness is quick to spread, meanness, bullying, and maliciousness can spread just as quickly.

In 2017, a team of psychologists studied 500,000 tweets to see what common threads lead to their popularity. They found that the angrier and more outraged the tweet, the more likely it was to go viral. Anger, outrage, and judgement, what researchers called “moral emotion,” created a chain reaction, prompting more posts and replies like it. Furthermore, a tweet’s popularity (views, comments, retweets, likes) gave the original poster more validation, encouraging them to amp up their outrage in their following posts in order to receive the same recognition.

Tristan Harris, a former ethicist for Google, believes that social media not only preys on our weaknesses, (vanity, fear, and need for approval) but these platforms were intentionally designed this way.  She co-founded the Center for Humane Technology to encourage developers and investors to build “regenerative,” rather than extractive, online platforms.

Extractive technologies are shaped by shareholders and financial goals that focus on generating views and hits, no matter the cost, rather than making users happy and healthy. For example, Youtube has consciously chosen to promote extremist views like conspiracy theories and clickbait through algorithms and recommendations because that kind of content encourages more views.

Moving Forward

Harris believes that our capacity for empathy runs just as deep as our vanity, outrage and fear. SeeKindness is an example of regenerative technology: we celebrate empathy, encourage thoughtfulness, and promote kindness by creating opportunities to deepen community and connection.

This is how SeeKindness is changing the face of social media. Instead of celebrating users for and promoting chain reactions of maliciousness, outrage, and anger, SeeKindness is focusing on users’ ability to be kind, thoughtful, and socially aware and promoting the chain reactions that grow from there.

Kindness can spread like wildfire when we put a little conscious effort into it. Just like how a dark mood can rain on someone else’s parade, kindness can ripple outward and affect everyone we meet. Being cheerful, sharing a good mood, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, can create a chain reaction that unites all of us around the world.


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