Civil Dialogue: Everyday philanthropy?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Civil Dialogue
the live civilly approach

Click the graphic to learn more about live civilly inc.

Dialogue is words. Dialogue is action.

Everyday philanthropy is the idea that we are surrounded each day with countless opportunities to give. I learned the concept from live civilly, inc.—a community movement that began as a family project in 2009. I discussed live civilly in an earlier column. It was initiated by three young sisters who saw homelessness and hunger around them and wanted to do something about it. Today, we check back in with them to see how the movement has grown.

Does this model inspire you to do the same?

Civility starts young. Part of the mission of live civilly, inc. is to create opportunities for young children to get involved and serve their community.

“Harnessing the energy and desire of the sisters, the Buss family developed live civilly, inc. as an effort to engage children ages 5-15 in meaningful service opportunities. The evolution began in 2011 with the incorporation of the organization and since that time, through partnerships with many local and regional organizations, live civilly has embraced its slogan, ‘…people helping people, helping people helping people…’ ”

Formally incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit, the Moorestown, New Jersey, organization has expanded exponentially. (Moorestown is across the river from Philadelphia.) For example, the organization has developed relationships with the department of parks and recreation, public library, public schools, garden club, Habitat for Humanity, and many corporate partners and individuals to establish a “web of assistance.”

New programs have been established, such as the ExCELS Snack Program, the Summer Lunch Program, the ExCELS Homework Help Program, HELP Programs, Community Supported Garden programs, and much more. Every program engages children in outreach. “By providing support and strength to all members of a community we build bridges to span the chasms of inequality, misunderstanding, and indifference.”

The live civilly approach has matured and developed over time. It addresses a hierarchy of human needs: nutritional security, educational security, and life skills security. These programs “empower young people to care for themselves, care for one another and become proactive members within their communities.”

Do you engage in everyday philanthropy?

What’s it like in your community?

How could you adapt the live civilly model?

Civil Dialogue: ‘A Republican, a Democrat and a Buddhist walk into a room …’

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Civil Dialogue
United America and Sojourners

Click on this image to visit the Sojourners site and read my entire story about the Belfast Dialogue.

Is civil dialogue across the political divide possible?

It may seem impossible in today’s uncivil political environment—but I know it is possible. Why? Because it actually did happen. I call it the Belfast Dialogue, named in honor of the Maine town where it took place.

Could you use it as a model for civil dialogue in your community?

Today, I’ll give you a quick summary of what took place in Belfast. For a more detailed account, see my article in Sojourners. All week, we’ll talk about the real possibilities of changing the national narrative from divide to dialogue.

Judith Simpson, a practicing Buddhist, and Dorothy Odell came up with the idea of doing something about the political divide rather than just complaining about it. Both are residents of the seaside town of Belfast, Maine. Belfast is on Penobscot Bay, about halfway up the Maine coast.

Dorothy used her local network to recruit a diverse group of people, ranging from libertarians and Tea Party Republicans to liberal Democrats and Progressives. They met for an evening at Dorothy’s home. Judith, an expert in the practice of Dialogue, facilitated the conversation. Dialogue with a capital “D” is a group process governed by several principles. One is that everyone must put their assumptions on hold. Another is that the process must be facilitated by someone with training in Dialogue.

And it actually worked. After a simple meal, the participants sat in a circle, spoke, and listened to one another. They spoke about their greatest fears for the country, and discovered a lot of common ground. They spoke about their greatest hopes for the country, and here, too, discovered that they have a lot in common. The event lasted about 3 hours or so.

The group didn’t debate, said Judith. Rather, “the group had spoken, listened, and thought together.”

Dorothy said, “People left the evening changed. They were affected positively by the experience.”

As I travel the country, talking about my latest book, United America, I tell everyone that we are united by 10 core values, but we often fall short of living these values. The Belfast Dialogue is an example of how to live the core value of respect for others—people of different faiths, races, and political affiliations. It is a model of how to put this core value into practice.

What do you think of the Belfast Dialogue?

Are you surprised to learn that real dialogue across the political divide is possible?

How could you adapt the model for use in your community?

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

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day

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?

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

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day

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.


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.

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

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day
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?

False Truths: Can you believe this?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series False Truths
Tombstone I wish I had spent more time at the office

JUST KIDDING (but it sure makes you think). These days, Google lists a whole host of “tombstone generators” like the one that produced this mock up.

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, we welcome columnist Terry Gallagher for a series on popular assumptions that … perhaps we should question. Here’s Terry …

How often have you heard this? “No one ever said on his deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”

Most often attributed to best-selling author Rabbi Harold Kushner, the expression seems to mean that we should focus on things more important than work, like family or community.

While it may be true that you don’t hear anyone saying on their deathbed that they wished they spent more time working—you might hear it said by the stereotypical Wal-Mart greeters, retirees who are forced back into the labor market because their savings are running out.

The Great Recession has pushed back retirement plans for many workers, according to a poll released last fall by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

“Stung by a recession that sapped investments and home values . . . . older Americans appear to have accepted the reality of a retirement that comes later in life and no longer represents a complete exit from the workforce,” according to a report on the poll.

And you know what? A lot of people enjoy working, and find meaning in their work.

In a critique of the deathbed-regret cliché, career adviser Ruth Graham wrote: “The thing is, if you’re an ambitious person and/or you think you have something to contribute to the world, why is it so impossible to imagine you’d look back on your professional life and think, ‘I could have done more’?”

So what do you think of today’s False Truth?

Do you enjoy your work too much to give it up?

What other False Truths do you wish people would quit repeating?

Volunteering: Which state leads the volunteer rankings?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Volunteering
CLICK THE MAP to visit the Volunteering America website and learn a lot more about volunteerism in all the 50 states.

CLICK THE MAP to visit the Volunteering America website and learn a lot more about volunteerism in all the 50 states.

Almost 65 million Americans volunteered in 2012, contributing 7.9 billion hours of service valued at $175 billion. But these figures are not evenly distributed across the nation.

Which state leads the volunteer rankings?
Which one comes in dead last?

The Corporation for National & Community Service collects data each year about volunteering across America. Their latest report covers volunteering in 2012; figures for volunteering in 2013 will be out soon (though I don’t expect to see big differences between 2012 and 2013).

Which state tops the rankings? It’s the Beehive State, better known as Utah.

Almost 44% of Utahans volunteer, taking the #1 spot in the rankings. Utah also has the highest volunteer retention rate, the highest Baby Boomer volunteer rate, the highest young adult volunteer rate, the highest college student volunteer rate, the highest veterans volunteer rate, the highest parents volunteer rate, and the highest Millennial and Gen X volunteer rates. The only measures that don’t earn them the top spot are their older adult volunteer rate (these Utahans are #3) and teenage volunteer rates (#7).

Which state comes in last place? Overall, it’s Louisiana, with about 20% of Louisianans volunteering in 2012. The volunteer rates for young adults, Millennials, and teenagers are the lowest in the nation.

South Carolina places last for volunteer retention rates, while Nevada takes last place for rates of volunteerism for older adults, Gen X, and parents. New Jersey takes last place for older adult volunteers. West Virginia takes the bottom spot for veterans who volunteer.

Want to know where your state—or town or city—rank? Click the map to visit Volunteering America’s website.

Are you surprised to know that Utah leads the nation in volunteering?

What do you make of where your state ranks?