Take a close look at my face and tell me, dear reader, would you trust me if you met me in the streets? What about if I tried to do something kind for you? Would you accept the act of kindness, or would you start considering my ulterior motives?
Committing random acts of happiness is not an activity for the faint of heart. I’ve had a few people inquire about getting involved, and so it’s time for a full disclosure: it’s difficult to get people to accept something for nothing. It’s hard to overturn the timeless adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
I tried to show some goodness today by giving strangers ‘something for nothing.’ I placed my favorite books of summer on bench at the beach, and I left a short note asking strangers to enjoy the books.I did the candy for a stranger experiment with Justina Louise, and she commented that about 10% of people thought I was trying to harm them, 20% were too busy to be bothered, and 70% thought I was kind of awesome.
A study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning (2010) put logic behind the various reactions that I received from my encounters that day. The scientists created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win. The study found that people consider 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers are actually deserving of trust.
The good news here is that the chances of encountering a trustworthy person are much greater than the chances of meeting someone that wishes you harm. If you’re extremely cynical or risk-averse, you might say that you’d rather practice caution than encounter someone with ill intentions. That’s fine, dear reader, but if you don’t take the risk then you’ll never meet the 80% of strangers that are awesome.
“Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance toward your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now your life is unimaginable without them.”
– John O’Donoghue
If that’s not enough reason for you to reach out, consider this: the study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning also confirmed that the root of cynicism is lack of experience with strangers. What does that mean, exactly? Well, we established that approximately 80% of people are trustworthy. But, if your first few encounters with strangers involved the 20% of people with harmful intentions, then you’re probably not interesting in forging friendships with mysterious people. On the other hand, if you continuously encounter strangers from the trustworthy 80%, then ever stranger probably seems like a potential new friend.
The odds are in your favor. If you’ve had negative experiences with strangers, try reaching out and increasing your sample size – you’re due for an encounter with someone in the 80% of trustworthy people.
I’ve tried to create a compelling case for reaching out to strangers based on mathematical odds. But, dear reader, my final plea comes from the heart: I ask you to be the type of person that shows others how kind strangers can be. If someone is cynical of you, perhaps they only have experience with the 20% of untrustworthy people. Why not break that cycle and show them some goodness?After the rah rah rah, I went to enjoy my own read, Fin&Lady, on the lakeshore. After a couple of minutes, Chuck Love wandered over and asked if he could serenade me. Talk about getting lucky with strangers, right?
When I left the beach, I snapped some pictures of the people that might find and enjoy the novels I left on the bench: