One Good Turn Deserves Another

Father Daughter

As with most people, 90% of what my parents ever told me went in one ear and out the other. But a few things stuck, one of which was something my father said to me when I was learning to drive. We were making our way slowly down a road in town and a car approached an adjoining junction. As a new, nervous driver, I simply continued on my way, focusing only on my own journey. “You should have let them out,” my dad observed. I don’t remember my response but I do recall his reasoning. “If you’d have let them out, they’d be more likely to give way to someone else in the future.”

One good deed inspires another. I know giving way to someone on the road doesn’t cure cancer or eradicate world poverty, but it’s still a good thing to do. And an act I am proud to say I practice whenever I drive. But the idea of inspiring other good deeds by doing something yourself goes far beyond roads.

The title of this blog is an idiom usually related to doing good deeds for one another. For example; your friend gives you a lift home from a night out and the next week you’ll do the same for them. But the reach of the inspirations good deeds can often spread much further than just between two friends. Research by institutions around the world demonstrates that people who have experienced kindness themselves are more likely to perform a kind act for other people. Let’s explore the psychology behind this claim based on a study by James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis at the University of California and Harvard University, Cooperative behaviour cascades in human society, and other research in this area.

  • Kindness is contagious – a wave of generosity can be generated by one act. According to Fowler and Christakis’ study, cooperative behaviour is contagious, and therefore when an individual experiences an act of kindness, they are more likely to “pay it forward”. The technical term for this is the ‘law of reciprocity’ and the study suggested that one single act of kindness can inspire an average of three more.
  • The domino effect – the recipient of an act of kindness is not only more likely to perform one themselves in the future but their own good deed is likely to be bigger, better, and even more generous.
  • The acts make us happy – we all want to be happy, right? And that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you do something nice for others is addictive. So once you begin doing these random acts of kindness (or not so random, perhaps), you’re more likely to do them again in the future.
  • We are inspired – an act of kindness we experience ourselves inspires us, whether consciously or subconsciously, to do the same to others. Much like when I am driving my car, I let someone out in front of me and I have several times witnessed that same person (who waved their thanks), stop a few hundred metres down the road and do the same for others. And the act doesn’t even have to happen directly to us, according to the University of California and Harvard University’s study, even reading about good deeds can be enough to inspire.

Speaking of reading articles and getting inspired, how about taking a look at these random acts of kindness submitted to more good deeds and see whether you could follow in these people’s footsteps.

  • “I offered my seat to a woman with her little boy on the bus.” Karla Garay, Australia.
  • “Today I gave this elderly lady who was sitting on the floor my gallon of water I just brought from the store.” Jasmine Johnson, Romania.
  • “Today I helped a child for his cancer treatment.” Ajay Sharma, India.
  • “I donated money to a person in need.” Cheryl M, USA.
  • “I put a baby bird back in its nest.” Missy Hargraves, somewhere on Planet Earth.
  • “I saw a friend Angelika with her son carrying shopping bags through town heading to the bus stop so I stopped and diverted from my original destination, offered her a lift and drove her home. She was grateful.” Samba Sanka, UK.

With the exception of the bird, which as far as science is so far aware, has no capacity for understanding the laws of reciprocity, it is highly likely that all these good deeds were paid forward. Those who have been helped, research tells us, probably helped someone else as a result of the kindness and compassion they were shown.

So if you’ve been inspired by reading this blog, why not go out and inspire someone else by performing a random good deed. It doesn’t have to be big or impressive: it just has to make a difference to one person whose day your act made just a little bit brighter.