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Global Pay It Forward: What is it so difficult to ask for help?

Is it harder to give help—or ask for it?

International Pay It Forward Day was yesterday, and it depends on the willingness of people to give help. But what about the other side—the receipt of help?

This week, we used the occasion of Pay It Forward Day to discuss various facets and examples of the universal principle of paying it forward: my research showing that the practice of this principle is driven by positive emotions, how a Thai YouTube video called Unsung Hero may surpass Gangnam Style in popularity, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and free books via World Book Night US, and examples of what was occurring yesterday on the official Pay It Forward Day.

Curious about my work with the Reciprocity Ring? Click this image to visit the Humax Networks website and learn more.

Curious about my work with the Reciprocity Ring? Click this image to visit the Humax Networks website and learn more.

Today, we consider the question of asking for help.

Over the years, I’ve observed and studied hundreds of groups and have concluded that, for most people, it is much harder to ask for help than to give it. Of course, there are a few exceptions. These are the “takers” Adam Grant talks about in his book, Give and Take. Most people, however, find it difficult to ask for help.

One reason, as psychologists have noted, is the social cost of asking for help. In many places, asking for help is considered a sign of weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. Asking for and getting help might incur an obligation to pay back the favor—or even an obligation to pay forward to someone else.

The core American value of self-reliance is another reason. As I wrote about in United America, this value makes it difficult to ask for help. Could it be un-American to ask for what you need?

These are some of the reasons why companies like IDEO, the creative design firm, have strong norms about asking for and giving help. As soon as a designer doesn’t know how to solve a problem, he or she is required to stop, call an impromptu meeting of other designers, and ask for help.

Group activities, such as the Reciprocity Ring™, require everyone to make a request for something they need. Knowing that everyone will make a request makes it easier for anyone to make a request. Still, I’ve noticed that some people will only ask for small things, or for something someone else needs.

Do you find it difficult to ask for help?

Are you too self-reliant?

Have you paid it forward this week?

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Global Pay It Forward: It’s today! Got the card?

Pay It Forward Day Card

Click on this snapshot of the Pay It Forward card to visit the site where you can print a copy for yourself.

Today is the official International Pay It Forward Day.

As you read this, thousands and thousands of participants around the world are performing selfless good deeds for others. They don’t expect anything back. But each beneficiary is asked to pay it forward by helping someone else in need, creating a ripple effect of good deeds. The Pay It Forward Foundation is now predicting 3 million acts of helping.

Do you think it’ll happen?

Helping doesn’t have to be a huge affair. It can be a small gesture. Here are some examples from the Foundation:

  • Returning someone’s shopping cart
  • Buying someone a gift
  • Giving a homeless person food vouchers
  • Not charging a client for work
  • Paying for a stranger’s bus/train pass

To promote the pay-it-forward ripple effect, participants are encouraged to use the card shown here. The card is given to the recipient of help. It makes the request for the recipient to pay it forward, along with the examples listed above. The card includes 24 check boxes. A box is checked each time an act of paying it forward occurs. And, it includes an invitation to tell your pay-it-forward story via the Foundation’s web site.

Using devices like this card actually boosts the pay-it-forward effect. It’s a physical reminder of the obligation to pay it forward. It reminds recipients of the positive emotions they felt when good deeds were done for them. We know from Monday’s post that positive emotions are the main driver of paying it forward. And, the card gives suggestions. I’ve found that people want to help, but often don’t know what to do. It’s easy to run down the list and pick one example to put into practice.

Will you pay it forward today?

Which of the examples above would be easy for you to do?

Which would be challenging?

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Global Pay It Forward: Shakespeare’s birthday and free books!

Website of World Book Night US

Click on this snapshot of the World book Night US front page to visit that website and learn more about the program.

SHAKESPEARE would turn 450 this week, although the exact date isn’t known. Historians do know that he was baptized on April 26 so his birthday traditionally is backed up to April 23 to coincide with St. George’s Day, thus honoring England’s patron saint and greatest poet together.

You can read more about worldwide celebrations in The Telegraph, which reports: “Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George’s Day.” (Word of warning: If you love Shakespeare and visit The Telegraph, you’ll be gone a while—the newspaper offers lots of extra links including fun facts like the names of Shakespeare’s twins: Hamnet and Judith.)

In keeping with our theme this week—paying it forward—the bard’s birthday also is UNESCO’s International Day of the Book. What could be a better way to celebrate than paying it forward—with free books?

That’s exactly what happens today with World Book Night US. This is an annual celebration—always held on the bard’s birthday—“dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person.” About 25,000 people go into their communities and give over 500,000 books to “light and non-readers”—people who don’t regularly read because of lack of means or other constraints.

The books are selected and printed by the World Book Night organization, a nonprofit that started in the UK in 2011. It came to the US in 2012. Authors waive their royalties and their publishers pay for the costs of the World Book Night editions. The books are free for volunteers who sign up on the organization’s web site. These editions cannot be sold. They are meant to be given away freely. Each volunteer gets 20 books to give away.

An independent panel makes each year’s selections. The 2014 book list includes about three dozen books that cover the literary waterfront. For example, the list includes The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, After the Funeral by Agatha Christie, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean, Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and 100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith.

What do you think of World Book Night?

Have you participated?

Have you ever given the gift of reading—or been the recipient of the gift?

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Global Pay It Forward: Will Unsung Hero surpass Gangnam Style?

Unsung Hero viral videoDoing good deeds without expectation of return is a universal principle. Stories of paying it forward abound, and millions more are expected this week as we approach International Pay It Forward Day this Thursday.

Do you know the story of the Unsung Hero?

Unsung Hero was released on YouTube earlier this month and it’s been viewed 11 million times already. That’s more than Gangnam Style achieved in its first month. The Korean pop-music video eventually topped 2 billion views, making it the Number 1 most watched YouTube video in history. If Unsung Hero continues to get views at its current rate, it will eclipse Gangnam Style.

I invite you to view the 3 minute video and tell us what you think. Be forewarned: It’s a tearjerker. Not because it’s sad, but because it’s so positive and heartwarming.

In the video, the unnamed hero is just an ordinary guy. He helps an elderly street vendor with her heavy cart, gives money to a mother and daughter who beg on the streets, feeds a street mongrel, and more. Why does he do it? What does he get out of it? Take a look and tell us your opinion.

Oh, one more thing. The video is an official video of Thai Life Insurance. The firm has a history of making such videos.

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What’s your reaction to “Unsung Hero”?

Does it matter that it’s made by a for-profit corporation?

Would you “pay it forward” by sending today’s post (with the video link) to someone in your network? Use the links in the upper right to share via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, for your email.

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International Pay It Forward Day: Acts of kindness by the millions?

Pay It Forward Foundation logo

CLICK on the Pay It Forward Foundation logo to visit the group’s website for updates on the launch of this year’s big day.

Global Pay It Forward Day is this Thursday. Over 500,000 people in 60 countries have signed on to participate. On Thursday, each will do 1-to-3 random acts of kindness “with no expectations other than the recipient in turn does a favor for someone else.” If each participant does an average of 2 good deeds—that’s 1 million random acts of kindness in a single day.

If each recipient of a good deed pays it forward just once, we now have 2 million random acts of kindness in a day. The organizers of “International Pay It Forward Day” are hoping for even more than that.

Do you believe it will happen?

The Pay It Forward movement is worldwide. Kindness is a universal virtue. But America is the only nation that ranks kindness as its #1 character strength, according to research by the VIA Institute that I discuss in United America. Paying it forward also taps one of America’s 10 core values: justice and fairness. Paying it forward is a form of fairness and balance in human relations.

Why do people pay it forward? Why help someone who hasn’t helped you? It’s “human nature,” you might say. But so is selfishness. Paying it forward doesn’t make sense when people are selfish, taking favors but never paying them back or forward.

Evolutionary biologists have an explanation: strategic reputation building. The reason we are willing to help those who haven’t helped us is because others are watching. Others won’t help us if they perceive us to be stingy. They will help us if we appear to be kind and generous. But we’re not really kind and generous, according to this theory. Rather, we act that way in anticipation of future benefits.

I’ve never liked that answer. Alternative explanation is one that I’ve seen time and time again when I use the Reciprocity Ring™ group activity: positive emotions. You help me and I feel the positive emotion of gratitude, which motivates me to then help someone else. We pay it forward because we are grateful for help we received.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Is there any proof? There is. My colleague Nat Bulkley and I conducted a massive study to test both the positive emotions and reputation explanations. We found that both matter, but positive emotions have a stronger and longer lasting effect than reputation. Our article was just accepted for publication in the scholarly journal Organization Science. (If you’d like to read the paper, you can get it on my personal web site.)

Do you have a Pay It Forward story to tell?

Do you believe 1 million random acts of kindness with take place this Thursday?

Will you commit to be a participant?

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Pothole Nation: Symptom of an underlying disease?

WHO WILL PAY FOR THE REPAIRS? A new Gallup poll says Americans are not inclined to pay through taxes.

WHO WILL PAY FOR THE REPAIRS? A new Gallup poll says Americans are not inclined to pay through taxes.

Our long, brutal winter created a pothole problem.

This week we’ve focused on a wide range of related issues. There are many politicians, policies, special interest groups, and government agencies to blame, as we discussed Monday. We’ve covered how much it costs you in car repair and maintenance, whether legalizing and taxing pot is an answer to the pothole problem, and America’s dismal grades on its Report Card for infrastructure, given by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Today, we conclude by asking: Are potholes a symptom of a bigger problem?

What struck me about the ASCE’s report wasn’t the nation’s near-failing grade. It was the long history of bad grades. Since 1998, the nation has been averaging only Ds.

Potholes are a symptom of a chronic underlying condition. For years we’ve put off maintenance and under-invested in infrastructure. We can’t blame the recent economic recession. We’ve been doing this at least since 1998, which means we do it in economic booms and busts.

Are we reluctant to pay taxes for infrastructure? Some people have called taxes legalized theft, but the analogy crumbles when you think about it. When something is stolen from you, you get nothing in return. When we pay taxes, we get roads, education, defense, and more. Of course, we can quibble about how taxes are used, and whether they are used efficiently. But we do get something in return.

We Americans are allergic to taxes. Consider that now almost half of Americans (49%) say that that middle-income Americans pay too much when it comes to taxes, according to an April 2014 Gallup poll. That’s the highest since 1999. Those who say middle-income Americans pay their “fair share” is down 11 percentage points from last year.

The reality is that taxes have increased—but only for the top earners. Not for the middle class. The chronic problem, then, is that most Americans are unwilling to pay for better roads and infrastructure. Better to keep taxes low. Let the next generation deal with the infrastructure.

Just watch those potholes!

Are potholes a symptom of a bigger problem?

Would you support a tax increase if it was devoted to infrastructure repair and maintenance?

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Pothole Nation: What is America’s grade on infrastructure?

Report Card on America's Infrastructure

Click on this logo to read the Report Card.

America has a Report Card on its infrastructure, given by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE). What grade does the country get?

Hint: It’s not even a “Gentleman’s C.”

In fact, if a schoolchild came home with America’s infrastructure grade, the kid would be grounded for a year.

The ASCE assigns grades from A to F on the basis of “physical condition and needed fiscal investments for improvement,” according to the ASCE web site. An overall GPA is given to the nation as a whole, and to each state. Grades are also broken down by infrastructure type, such as water and environment, transportation (bridges, roads, ports, transit, etc.), public facilities, and energy.

The nation’s overall grade is a D+. The nation has been getting poor grades for many years. “Since 1998,” says the ASCE, “the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.”

Of the 16 specific categories, 12 get grades in the D- to D+ range. The four highest grades are bridges (C+), ports (C), rail (C+), and solid waste (B-).

The estimated investment needed by 2020 to fix all this is a whopping $3.6 trillion.

Are you surprised by our near-failing grades?

If you were in charge, what would you do?

What would you fix first? Where would you start?

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