Violence doesn't happen out of nowhere, but kindness can.
1. Choose Your Spot for Bringing Out the Better Side in Others
At first drivers were startled on their way to work when they passed the man on the curb of an Oakland, Calif. street. He was enthusiastically waving at them with his outsized white glove and a wide grin on his face. Soon, they became habituated to this anonymous character's daily appearance. After awhile some even began waving back. Others thumbed their nose at him or worse. Unfazed, he smiled back at them. He never held a sign nor begged. Over the years, more people began waving back. The day he did not appear, many drivers were slowed down as they past his spot, looking around for him. A local newspaper reporter wrote a story about him. Sam died that morning in the shelter for the homeless where he worked to earn his keep. That news story attracted more letters than any other that year in Oakland. And Sam's spot on the sidewalk was piled high with flowers and white gloves the next day. The city's traffic engineer estimates that at least 30,000 people saw Sam wave at least once over his eight-year stint.
2. Your Good (or Bad) Behavior Spreads to the Third Degree of Separation
Who knows how many individuals had their spirits lifted and became kinder to the next people they encountered as a consequence of seeing Sam wave at them? After all, emotions are contagious, according to Connected co-authors James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis. Your supportive words and actions will be imitated, not only by your friends, but also their friends and the friends of those friends.
Hint: What distinctive gesture can you make a part of your life to bring out the kinder, more thoughtful side in others? My friend Kris Schaeffer wrote on her Facebook page, "Given today's horrible event in Connecticut, I am going to do 30 random acts of kindness." Why not give yourself a daily quota of three?
3. Don't Give Up When Hit by the Law of Unintended Consequences
Many of us were moved by the fast-spreading story of the "bitterly cold night" when police officer Lawrence DePrimo went into a store and paid $100 of his own money to buy sturdy boots for a barefoot homeless man he'd seen on the street. Days later, the rest of the story came out. When asked why he wasn't wearing them, Jeffrey Hillman, the homeless man, said he'd hidden them, "They are worth a lot of money. I could lose my life."
Hint: Don't give up being supportive because an act of goodwill goes awry. Instead recognize a more constructive way to hone your support.
4. Praise the Trait They Most Like in Themselves
Here is reinforcement for you to praise the part in someone (however small and rarely demonstrated) that you genuinely admire when you are tempted, in the moment, to "go negative." Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project:
In "spontaneous trait transference," people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about other people with the qualities of you yourself. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant or stupid, unconsciously Jean will associate that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I'll be linked to those qualities.
5. Adopt the Golden Golden Rule
An avid wine connoisseur at a client company often gives bottles of his favorite merlots to colleagues on their birthdays. Yet three of his co-workers don't drink -- two for religious reasons, and one is in recovery. The well-intended merlot lover was following the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." Yet other people are not necessarily like you. Instead, adopt the "golden golden rule": Do unto others as they would have done unto them. Give the gifts that reflect their interests and praise the character traits and actions they most like in themselves and support them in the ways that most matter to them. Obvious as that seems, our first instinct is to give what we want to receive.
Hint: Put away your smart phone and be smart. Turn every face-to-face interaction into an opportunity to discover sweet spots of mutual interest. That way, you are more likely to find ways to use best talents and temperament in ways you can savor. That's no small achievement, even if it happens just some of the time. Looking back that may be one of the most satisfying ways by which you measure your life. In that spirit, let's take every opportunity to support others in savoring this holiday.
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