Zak and I looked at each other in confusion: What did they want from us? I’ve never had a stranger offer to buy me a bottle of wine for no reason. The list of possibilities ran through my mind: Are they contractors looking for future business? Did they overhear that I’m a designer and need work done? Are they swingers, hitting on us?
So, Tim and I have been going all over the city dropping “pay it forward” wallets. We're going to continue to drop the wallets the week this post is out, so if you are in New York City, look out for one! Each has anywhere from $1 to $100 in cash inside, as well as a little “pay it forward” note. The notes suggested that kindness can be paid forward in many small ways — through a smile, by helping a stranger carry their bags — and that we'd hoped they’d pay it forward. We also included an email address for the recipient to use if they wanted to let us know what they did with it.
Here are some of the responses below. (I've changed the names to respect the writers' privacy.)
These responses made me wonder what I'd do if I had found one of the wallets. What would you do if you found one? Would you pass it on, or keep they money for yourself?
I've felt conflicted about this project knowing that we’re doing these acts of kindness often with a camera following us and the intention to write about them here on this blog. Does it devalue what we’re doing? Will I continue to pay it forward after the project is finished? Though I am suspicious of my own motivations and intentions and have inner conflict about it, I have noticed what seems to be a real and genuine change in my behavior.
Even after the day we went out and dropped wallets for the project, I’ve continued doing these random acts spontaneously on my own. I’m more alert to those in need, and this whole kindness thing has truly felt addictive.
In fact, these good deeds have made me feel so great that I’ve started to wonder about the science behind it psychologically, and it turns out it's not just me who finds kindness to be addictive. Studies even show that kindness is contagious: a single act can lead to dozens more.
Sure, maybe its because I’ve realized how good it makes me feel to change someone's day or mood with small gestures, and maybe thats in part selfish; but the more I read about altruism, the more I've come to believe thats just human nature. We're programmed through evolution to be altruistic only as a self-motivation for survival in groups. In fact, many of the top philosophers have shown how every act of altruism has some selfish motive at its core, whether we're conscious about it or not. However being suspicious of my own intentions is not a good reason to not do good, either. I’ve had some amazing experiences this past month that I wouldn’t replace for the years of apathy prior.
Based on these experiences, I made a little list of "Twelve Ways to Pay it Forward" list based on some of the things I've been doing this past month. I hope you'll pay it forward as well.
02. Compliment someone: I know compliments are such a basic thing to do but for some reason I never do it, even though I know how much it makes my day when someone compliments me. So I complimented an old lady on her really oversized, funny hat. It wasn’t trendy or cool but it was weird and she seemed to be confident and just really own it.
03. Don't snap at someone who is an asshole: A women with a unruly toddler cut in front of me in line to get lunch. Instead of snapping back at her like I might have in the past, I smiled gently and let her pass. She probably just had a bad day and my rudeness would only evoke more rudeness.
04. Cover for someone who forgot their credit card: That same person who cut me in line went to pay but her credit card declined and she was on the verge of a melt down. So I told her to go ahead and not to worry, that I’d take care of it. It was amazing to witness her change in demeanor, her hard shell melted away and she spoke softly and warmly as she tried to refuse a few times and then eventually accepted, walking out the door with a faint smile.
05. Give up a preferred seat to someone in need: A client bought me a business class seat and when I was standing in line I thought of that hilarious Louis CK skit, and I challenged myself to give my ticket away. When I saw a women who was sobbing while on the phone waiting in the economy line, I knew it had to be her.
06. Write a positive review for a restaurant you like: I tend to only write reviews for places that give me horrible service. So I went down the list of my favorite go-to spots and wrote them a nice review on Yelp or Google.
07. Foster pets: This is something I did for years, when I found out that in NYC many local shelters need temporary foster homes on the weekends for puppies or kittens. During the weeks the animals are brought to pet stores in order to try to find them permanent homes. It was kind of a win/win because I love pets, but I work too much during the week to really care for them full-time.
09. Give someone the benefit of the doubt: When people are an asshole towards me I tend to take it personally. However I also know I am not the center of the universe, and maybe that person had other reasons for their actions that I don't know about. Keeping this perspective is something I'm trying to do on a regular basis now.
10. Promote peoples work you admire: In the creative industry I've been saddened at how competitive people can be, and how much people shit-talk others. So this past year I've been trying to constantly promote people whose work I love or admire. A simple tweet, Instagram post, or even emailing people when you appreciate their work can go a long way.
12. Call your mom: Read our step 9 post for more information about this one.
We'd love for you to participate in this 12-step journey with us. Step 10 is all about paying it forward. Pay for the person's coffee in front of you. Give up your basketball tickets to a friend. Give someone a compliment. Comment below or tag #12kindsofkindness on social media and let us know your stories. We'd love to hear them!
Feel free to use the artwork / quotes above to share your story on social, you can download them all on the 12 Kinds of Kindness Tumblr.