Response to Sandy Hook Shooting by Saving Others

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, California, 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 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.” In discussing David Meyer’s book, Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project, of this rule of human behavior, it “gave me another reason to stop being so critical.” “Inspontaneous trait transference,’ people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about other people with the qualities they then see in you. 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.”

“Ever wondered why people want to kill the messenger who brings bad news? Trait transference. So by being more generous and genuinely enthusiastic, you will improve other’s behavior as well as my own.

5. Spur Them to Act Nicer When Around You

Here’s what also happens. Whatever behavior you most remark upon in someone else is the trait that person is most likely to exhibit more of when around you. Compliment him on his planning that weekend trip (never mind that it is the second time he has done so in years) and he is more likely to plan more. If he does something that peeves you and you remain silent, rather than commenting, then those irritating behaviors are most likely to dissipate, rather than increase. Talking or acting against a behavior is akin to underlining a sentence on the page.  You give the thought more energy and memorability.

“Underlining” the actions of another with your reactions motivates that person to react to you. That deepens the rut in the memory road for both of you.  It reinforces a behavioral script you meant to erase.  Such action evokes the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Amy Sutherland wrote about a variation of this effect in her New York Times article, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage. “ For weeks her article remained the newspaper’s most popular link and led to a book deal.  In conducting research for her book, Kicked Bitten and Scratched, she… See the rest of the tips to bring out others’ side at my Forbes column.

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with Kare Anderson

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