It’s about time that we broach the topic of altruism. This is a main point of discussion by Blackmore and I happen to have a fun social experiment to start off with. This is a fun example to begin to tiptoe into the memetics of giving.
I got together with some friends a few weeks ago with some friends for a weekend run. This is a common occasion, but this time was a little bit different. This time we brought flowers. If you run for long enough in the city you will see somebody in need; They may be asking for different things in different ways, but you will see them. Some are asking for spare change, some need a hand lifting or transporting an object, others are just sad. The original inspiration was to actually reach out a helping hand to these people while on the run. The Random Kindness Run Club was born (RKRC).
It is difficult to give effectively while mobile. Just handing out dollars seems cold. Giving out candy is creepy. Some people suggested giving out gloves when it is cold, or umbrellas when it is raining but that get expensive quickly. Fixing flat tires requires too much equipment and is a low likely hood siting. Considering that giving lotto tickets might send the wrong message we ultimately settled on flowers.
A flower seems to have a universal message of caring. It has no real resale value on it’s own, it’s not food – people generally aren’t allergic to them. If they want to drop it on the ground the next second it doesn’t harm the environment and in terms of happiness delivered they are unbeatable on a mass (kg) basis).
We ran through the streets of Boston, just looking for people who needed to have their day brightened. We took a single flower, handed it to them, and ran off. “here you go, have a nice day”. Why? Just to spread happiness, but also to plant a seed.
Rambam says that there are eight levels of charity. Higher in these are when the giver and the receiver do not know eachother. Certainly, charity is greater when there is no expectation of return. The goal here was to spread the idea of un-returnable gift. The only way to deal with the feeling of thankfulness is to pay it forward.
The idea that anybody would give something without the expectation of return, for no promotional benefit, and not as a strategy to hook somebody in has been banished from the modern urban mind. The shock and elation when this does happen is a great experience for both parties. Hopefully, people who recieve this small gift will be inspired to give to others where perhaps they would not have thought of it. This ripple effect is one of the main goals.
Now, I am under no illusion that giving flowers is sufficient. We live in a world overwhelmed by need. The easiest response is to simply give nothing and close up. It is critical that we allow our general human kindness to still show through even though we know that we cannot give to everybody.
Finally, there is a propensity to feel self-worth after even minor good deeds. Small acts do not absolve the giver from a broader purpose. Rather, the act of giving a flower should be practice.
Try this – next time you see another person – imagine that you are giving them a flower. Say something nice to them in your mind. Do this 10 times a day and see how you feel.