networked for kindness

In 1967, psychologist Stanley Milgram famously declared that there are six degrees of separation between all people.  Eman Yasser Daraghmi and Shyan-Ming Yuan of Chicao Tung University hypothesized that the degree of separation is shrinking due to online networking.  The scientists incorporated Facebook networks into the six-degree theory and found that the average number of separation between two individuals is actually 3.9
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Networked communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are narrowing the distance between global citizens. If you’re anything like me, working on your computer and consistently checking various social networks, then you’re having daily interactions with people around the globe.  Chances are high that you’re interacting with your Internet connections more than your geographical neighbors.

Social networks connect individuals based on affinity rather than geography.  For the first time, we can choose our friends based on interests and similarities rather than proximity.  If you’re one of the millions of city dwellers living in a community without a connection to your neighbors, then you might even feel more comfortable interacting with your online social networks than your next-door-neighbors.

The geographical distance between the people that we share our daily lives with is expanding, and that means we need to re-evaluate our definition of neighbor and community.
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Small towns are famous for their hospitality.  The kindness stems from the knowledge that they will inevitably run into the same people time and time again.  Chances are high that the person you smirk at in the grocery store will become your new co-worker or, worse, future boss.

The density of the city almost guarantees that we interact with new people on a daily basis.  But exercise caution: chances are high that you’ve interacted with these ‘strangers’ on digital networks in the past.  Chances are even higher perhaps, that you will interact with them in the future.

And so, what is the proper course of action for these strangers that we encounter in our urban communities?  Kindness.  Be kinder than necessary to everyone that you meet at the market, the café, the park and the bus stop.  You may not meet again in the exact same space, but chances are high that you will reconnect in a digital sphere. Image
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the wisdom of the duck & the owl

ImageWe can do a little bit of good on our own, but surely, if we work together, we can do much more.  Unit yesterday, all my random acts of happiness had been simple projects intended to make strangers in Minneapolis smile.  That all changed on Friday when the rah rah rah projects went on a road trip to Milwaukee.

Kaitlyn and Sarah, also known as the TheDuck&TheOwl, reached out to me with a brilliant idea: why not expand the happiness projects across the Midwest?  Spread the cheer and goodwill just a bit further than Minnesota? The idea was excellent, but I worried the execution would be tricky: how would the rah rah rah projects make it out of Minneapolis?

This is where the wisdom of the duck (Kaitlyn) and the owl (Sarah) came into play: they suggested that we plan a rah rah rah experiment (code name for random act of happiness) and then execute on the project in our respective Midwest cities.  (See that delicious cookie up up up above? That was made by Kaitlyn and Sarah.  I know, I know, I want them to be my best friends, too.)

I had such a fun time making ice cream with strangers that I suggested that we do a similar project with cookies.  For the collaborative rah rah rah, we would both bring sugar cookies and frosting to the park, and then we would get strangers to decorate the treats with us.  Sounds fun and delicious, right?
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Well.
Well.

The Duck, the Owl, and the Apartment Wife may be the only people who think so.  I organized the cooking making station and then asked people if they wanted to join me. 30 minutes passed without any takers, and so I started using my phone to play on Pinterest.  I wondered how the project was going for Kaitlyn and Sarah. 

 And then.

 A nice man wandered over and asked if he could sit down with me.  He said that he was a painter, and I looked like an interesting subject: a girl sitting alone with cookies and frosting.  I giggled and asked him if he’d like to decorate a sugar cookie with me.  The man agreed, and we spent the next 30 minutes decorating cookies and talking about art.  A somewhat perfect afternoon, right?Image
After he left, I asked a couple girls heading to the beach if they wanted some cookies.  They said it sounded a little strange, but they were up for it.  We swapped stories and sprinkles, and then we hung out in the grass for a bit before they ran off to work on their tans.
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It was a pretty fun day in Minneapolis, but the best part was that Sarah and Kaitlyn were doing the same project in Milwaukee.  Their project went a bit differently, and you can read all about it on their blog, TheDuck&TheOwl.  They provide a revealing account of the trials&triumphs of doing random experiments with strangers.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes you improvise 🙂

The three of us want the projects to keep expanding, so if you’re interested in being involved in the next one, let us know and we’ll involve you in the planning.  It might be successful, it might be a flop, but it will definitely be interesting – and hopefully a little fun. 

 Have a great Saturday, everyone!