The Staged Kindness concept popped in my mind after a trip to New Zealand. Residents there are world-renowned for their kindness. And they did indeed seem to be especially kind-hearted.
But why are they that way? Certainly it cannot be their genes. In my Cognitive Science studies at UC Berkeley, I remember reading papers that suggested that people within groups tend to adopt the characteristics of their group. For example, subjects in an "elite" task group will perform faster than those assigned to the "dunce" group. Even if both groups were identical in skill.
It makes perfect sense then to suggest that New Zealanders are friendlier because that is part of their group characteristic. They think of themselves as being friendly, so they are.
This begs the question: how can we get Americans to think they are friendly? For a long time we've been exposed to nightly news reports of youth violence, murders, robberies, road rage on the rise. We rarely hear anything about people being good to one other. As TV shapes more and more of our world, the picture it paints becomes our group characteristic. We start thinking we live in a world of angry people. And this shapes how we react to and interpret the actions of people around us.
So we're quicker to jump to anger - thinking that the person who just cut us off on the highway did it on purpose out of malice. So we react in anger, by honking, or worse, acting more aggressively. This other person sees your actions, and this further defines how they see their group characteristic. Their unconscious mind accepts that Americans, like them, are an angry lot.
It's a spiral of anger that can only lead us to a world like that depicted in Blade Runner. That doesn't sound very good to me.
We could keep our eyes open for the perfect moment to play the kindness card - but these moments are far too rare and hard to spot. Besides, people within the spiral of anger are suspicious of acts of kindness - thinking you expect something from them in return. After all, Americans like us aren't kind without expecting something, right?
What we need to do instead is create a situation where the people giving and receiving the kind act are in alliance. We can stage kindness anywhere, anytime, in any way. It's fun to do, completely safe, and may just indeed improve the world. Because as people see acts of kindness around them, they will think the people in their community are kind. So they will be too. Because people in their community are friendly, and they're part of that group.
Let's pretend to make the world a better place.