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An experiment in social change

People are mean.  If you know someone, you can be very nice, considerate, and all and all a model citizen.  If your talking about the same situation with a stranger though, it’s an entirely different story.  Easy example: when you see a merge area on the highway, and someone coming down the ramp, do you try to adjust your speed to make it easier for them to get on, or do you just keep on going about your business?  Most people react in a way akin to how you react when it seems like someone’s trying to take advantage of you.

So, how might this be changed?  Well, there probably isn’t a solution, because there’s too many con-men, thief, and other sorts of neer-do-wells out there, that make it a bad idea to drop our guard, however, I thought of an idea today that I think might cause some change, and ‘ere it is.

  1. If someone does something generous, reciprocate the favor in some meaningful way.  This means that if someone, say, holds a door for you, don’t just smile nicely, but perhaps hold the next door for them, or verbally thank them with sincerity (a simple “thanks” isn’t good enough).
  2. Do things for other people, regardless of whether you think they’ll follow rule number 1.  The key to this though, is to make it not look like your a sucker, but to make it look like your doing them a personal favor.  Sadly, simply holding a door for someone doesn’t work here; these items need to be more meaningful.  The idea is to show people reason to start doing number 1.  This is the toughest one.
  3. Make people aware in a non-threatening or critical way that they did something to be a jerk when they are.  This one’s a bit difficult as well, since usually when someone’s a jerk, you want to just sock’em in the face, but you’ve got to be strong, take the hit, and kindly tell them: “Hey, I don’t mean to be a bother, and I know it’s kind-of stupid, but did you ever think that if you just let me in front of you in the line while you where trying to make up your mind, that maybe my day would be a little bit nicer?  Then I might return the favor somehow, and then your day would be a little nicer too.  Anyway, thanks for listening, and have a nice day!”
  4. If strangers are worth 1 point for every time you do number 1, then when you do it for a friend, it’s worth maybe a hundredth of a point.  The idea here is that your friends know you, so if your a nice person (I’m assuming you are if you’ve read this far), your not really striking social change here.
  5. Don’t expect change to happen right away, or even within months of doing this.  If your going to commit to striking social change, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.

The whole idea is to make people realize that they can be nice to strangers without it being a bad thing, something that takes away from their lives.  One reason why I don’t hold the door for everyone I see: not many people do it for me.  But, if I sit down and decide to do this, I’m going to have to deal with that by accepting that people aren’t necessarily going to let me merge with traffic or what have you, and that being a jerk back isn’t going to make things better.

Anyway, what’s your opinion?  Do you think I’m too much of an optimist, or do you think with some work, and enough people on the idea, that this sort of thing might work?  What are your ideas for more rules?  Examples?

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