A Case for Goodness!
Can modern technology powered by social media engagement power the human race towards more good deeds? Can this help create a better society that is leveraging social media for good? Can social media truly be effective in bringing meaningful mass social change towards positive actions? Can we avoid the onslaught of social media misuse by diverting it towards good deeds instead? Yes, we can indeed create a social media happy place for good deeds.
Goodness is as old as our civilized, conscious human society can go back in time on. We are all touched by it. We are inspired by it. Many live by it. Many live to feel moved by it. Goodness is a simple social action to do something of value or help to another being, usually done with minimal or no material reward anticipated in return. It doesn’t really require a case to be made for goodness, as we are innately built as humans to do it by either instinct, culture, religion, society or sheer empathy. However, in the modern world, we are rather stuck in our own small world by our rampant march towards unabashed individualism. In other cases, we just don’t feel like or do enough to make a meaningful impact to our fellow living beings, animals included!
The Challenge for Humans
Today’s human society is going through immense changes at an unbelievable pace compared to any other time in history. These transformations have pushed the boundaries of human success while constantly challenging the status quo. While these changes powered by superior technology, thanks to the knowledge economy, are transforming lives for the better, they are also posing a grave challenge to the humanistic idea of social living. While we are becoming more and more isolated and independent in our daily lives, we are also longing more for social connectedness. Humans have an innate desire to do good for others, even for a stranger. However, we live in a world where technology hasn’t striven enough to give opportunities at scale for enabling this.
People aim for goodness in life but lack a consistent, trustworthy social medium for learning, identifying and creating opportunities to help society. While good deeds continue to exist in the offline world, there are no powerful drivers of goodness that leverage the power of the online social media in an effective, consistent, convenient and scalable fashion. There is a need for an omnichannel social media platform for do-gooders that removes the shyness, hesitation and confusion around supporting society while making it a fun, repeatable and aspirational experience for everyone involved. How can one reach out and do more in this modern technology-enabled world with a familiar collective of friends, family and colleagues?
Giving vs. Goodness
Unlike traditional giving programs and platforms that focus primarily on a cause and its outcome, there is a need to place emphasis on the “action” of an individual and celebrate it among a group of people, hence completing a triangle of goodness. However, the majority of corporations, foundations, non-profits and even individuals get stuck in the act of giving, thereby making the entire experience “transactional” in nature.
There is a need to make the experience more human as it should rightly be among a group of people, in spite of technology being in the hot seat. This group of people could be a small team of like-minded people or a larger corporation running CSR initiatives for its employees.
The Triangle of Goodness
An ideal goodness ecosystem would have the following players. We can look at this ecosystem from beyond the typical eyes of an individual, a company or a non-profit. Every team or group of individuals make a change in their own unique way and are interconnected for an effective outcome.
Imagine this story:
You are Richard, a thirty-year-old professional working in a leading software company based out of Palo Alto, California. You like to go by the nickname, Rich. You have a small team under you and make great products that people love. You spend about fifteen hours on average during a day doing what the company promises its customers. Over the weekend, you are a hiking enthusiast. You take off to the numerous hiking destination around the Bay Area and camp out with a few close friends of yours. You also volunteer at a local soup kitchen that helps the homeless. At times, you take a break from relentless hours of coding, to spend time at the kitchen, talking to people and sharing your experiences with them. As the weekend comes to a close, you know you have company targets and milestones to meet. You are back into your professional circle, focused on the things that build your career.
You seek ways to express yourself with your network of known and unknown friends too. Like everybody else, your Instagram account is flooded with happy images of you with the homeless or you sitting alone watching the skyline from a tall peak. You update your status on Facebook and also ensure that you like what your friends are doing in their lives. After all, you want to be appreciative of everything you have had in life. You are not much active on Twitter but send out the occasional tweets promoting the soup kitchen in the hope that strangers who want to help but don’t know how, get the lead from you. You are not an email junkie. However, you maintain an active list of subscribers to your blog where you write about the joy of giving and the need for everyone to have a purpose in life. You also make the effort to be active in a local WhatsApp group that calls out for help whenever a homeless person is in need of a shelter. This group calls for volunteers to help with providing monetary support or if better, an option to take the victim to an affordable foster home, if it is a kid, or to a community shelter where it is safer.
You know you can’t be everywhere doing everything. Moreover, your work keeps you busy. Sometimes, work even eats into your weekend schedule. You feel a sense of guilt whenever you miss an opportunity to help. Moreover, you also know that there are enough people who want to help but they don’t know how! If somehow, you could find a way to motivate and guide these other good people with their good deeds, you are sure of making an impact in the lives of many. Of late, you have also realized that your Facebook feeds are flooded with too many cat pictures. Your messages on helping others at the soup kitchen get lost as the feeds get flooded with other things that compete for attention. Birthdays, hobbies, weddings, selfies and so on.
You try hard to push for attention from those willing to help in social causes like you, but it requires a lot of concerted effort and trust building. But, there is something that is bothering you. You recently spoke to a friend, Annie, who also teaches at a local elementary school. The two caught up after a long time. You explained all the things you do at work but more importantly, the exciting things outside of work. After listening attentively, she appreciates you for the all the good work you are doing. You felt rejuvenated after that interaction. Endorphins were released back into your system and you were in a high. This was the same emotion you used to have whenever you went and served food or talked to the homeless at the soup kitchen. When the energy was back, you were motivated to do more. Annie promised that she would meet you one day at the soup kitchen and volunteer her services. You felt pumped up. It felt like you won the lottery. That night, you slept well.
The next morning, you woke up uneasy from thoughts that bothered your mind. The adrenalin boost from the previous day already died down. You were now in a contemplative mood.
I seem to be leading a very fulfilling life with this great job at a great company. Yet, I keep getting this urge to do more for people around me. If I don’t do enough, I feel down. Why?
I don’t always have the time for this. If there is no goodness in life, it feels empty within. I seek more and more of it. Why?
I can get Annie on board. But, there are so many “Annies” who want to help. How can I get them to help? Who are they? Where are they? There are even more people who need help. What more can I do? When more hands join, we can even move mountains. Why can’t I make it happen?
Why do I feel the need to talk about the work I am doing? Why do I want others to know about my campaigns for doing good? Why does sharing my experiences make me happier?
Why do I feel more confident and energetic not only when I do something good, but also when others recognize my effort and even appreciate it? Why does the halo behind the head make me feel peaceful?
You bundled all these thoughts but found no satisfying answers. Reluctantly, you stepped out of home and proceeded to go through the grind of yet another long predictable day at work.
Does being Rich make you a happy person? What does Rich need to make him lead a richer life?
According to the historian who has imagined interesting futures for the Sapiens species-Yuval Noah Harari, suffering is the most real thing in the world. Humans create shared stories to organize and live in societies. Sapiens became who we are because of our ability as a species to flexibly collaborate in large numbers.
As long as there is a shared “story”, people will believe and cooperate even in their fight against suffering. Goodness stands out as it serves the urge within humans to tackle the “real thing”. Every time we do something good to our fellow Sapiens, we feel invigorated. We want to do more. We don’t manage to do more though. Many a times, we don’t know how to do more. Or worse, how to even get started.
There is a little science to why Rich seeks richness in life through things outside of a job even though apparently it is making him materially rich. Goodness such as charity activate regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust[i]. This “warm glow” effect makes people happy and naturally, is good for their health. Endorphins are released in the body when a good deed is done and is called as the “helper’s high”. The act of goodness, for example, promotes cooperation and social connection. This is where the power of social media is also realized.
Goodness is simpler said than done. Many people at an individual level do a lot of good to their fellow humans and animals. Many of the work they do largely goes unnoticed. Its impact is certainly for real and is felt among the people who benefited from that act of goodness. However, in order to motivate another person to do a good deed, similar or otherwise, it is required that the word about goodness is spread across the world. Like a compelling “story” that connects humans, a goodness campaign can have the effect of attracting more people to collaborate in the act provided they get to know about it and have the means to follow through on their actions.
Several Governments, NGOs, philanthropists and well-meaning yet unknown individuals are already creating a great impact in today’s society. Across the globe, millions of these agencies are pushing ahead with their work through a donor and volunteer network to serve people through good deeds. While there may be mixed results in terms of actual impact, the intent is itself worthy of praise. In India alone there are about 2 million NGOs (1 for every 600 people) operating in various sectors of society[ii]. This is about 20% of the global NGO base of 10 million. Private funds for social causes in India was about 10 billion USD in FY18. This indicates a growing interest among individuals in the idea of doing good.
Many NGOs operate with the assumption that giving is as tough and inconsistent as it is about serving the underprivileged. Even volunteering time comes at a premium and is not always guaranteed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the US, about 14% of average hours per day is spent by an American at work while barely spending about 0.6% of hours volunteering for a cause[iii].
An act of goodness is not just about someone helping another person in need. More importantly, it is not a one-sided flow of positive energy from a person doing good to the person receiving goodness.
It is possible that people do good deeds also to serve a growing need on their side – RECOGNITION within the “tribe” or rather the need for SELF WORTH.
Random acts of goodness increase the perception of self-worth. It is powerful as it is being reciprocated from even strangers. This emotional need may be hidden from plain view and is usually not orchestrated when good deeds are talked about. Addressing this emotional desire is the biggest opportunity in a modern world where our craving for pleasant sensations and staying socially relevant is ever increasing.
A theory: LinkedIn is several things for several people. It is also marketed as a professional social network. LinkedIn’s success can also be looked at as based on giving a channel for professionals to feel rewarded and recognized. The constant checks we make to see how many people viewed our profile, documenting our entire career history for the world to see, are all behavioural traits of a person trying to feel “valued”. This lure of self-worth is possibly bringing more and more repeated users to LinkedIn than just the idea of it being a place for jobs or merely for networking with other professionals. Likewise, so are Instagram and Facebook “likes” that many crave for.
Similarly, there is the human need to feel emotionally fulfilled with the act that they have “helped” someone and that they have been “recognized” for it. All the do-good agencies (Government, NGOs, philanthropists, Technology giving platforms, crowdfunding etc.) focus religiously on the “help” part but not the “recognition” part. The Government does its job by providing a tax break, but it isn’t worth holding dearly to your heart. Marrying the two ideas by figuring out how a “help” can lead to a meaningful “recognition” can be the blueprint for a new social media experience oriented towards enhancing self-worth and spreading goodness.
This writeup laid out the building blocks for a Power Project that was recently completed. The goal was to conduct research on the potential of using technology for good with an omnichannel customer journey.
The artifacts created were a high-level business case and a low-fi prototype for a mobile social app. It was a two month project that was completed in May, 2019. This Power Project was named SUKARMA, a Sanskrit word for “Good Deeds”.
[iii] Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey, 2017