13 June, 2017

Attributing Kindness

I’m not religious, but this is the image that always comes to mind whenever people compliment me for being kind.

I purchased an Uber ride for a drunk stranger on Saturday night. After the girl was whisked off to her apartment, I received some compliments about being kind for calling an Uber and making sure this girl got home safely. Not to shun people for handing me compliments, I’m just horribly shy about receiving what I think are undeserved ones. I want to bring attention some contextual facts that people may want to consider before weighing how much personality affects my kindness behavior.

  1. I had Uber flat fare. Instead of a $25 ride, I only had to pay $7. The friction of helping is much lower than people expect.
  2. I have a full-time job. I have the luxury of being able to take $7 financial hit without an emotional hit. I think people think I would be sad to part ways with $7, and therefore assign a higher “goodness” value to me than people who do flinch when spending money on strangers.
  3. I was tepid about karaoke. My friends were going to a nearby karaoke bar. I’m not a big singer so I was tepid about attending karaoke. The cost of missing karaoke isn’t as high as people would have guessed. In Darley and Batson’s famous Good Samaritan experiments, 63% of low hurry people helped, whereas 10% of the people in the high hurry group helped. I self-identify as the low-hurry crowd, so more attribution should be assigned to the good samaritan experiments.
  4. On the question of personality, I was raised to be a polite kid. There’s not much there I can take credit for. I didn’t choose to be polite (not that I don’t want to be), it’s a habit that my parents gifted me that I just have now.

I actually do want to downplay my actions for 2 off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.

  1. I felt like other people’s good deeds deserve more recognition than mine, most notably the girl who initiated the conversation by asking the drunk stranger if she was okay. I already knew about the bystander effect, but even then I felt strong hesitation not to butt into other people’s affairs. This girl did something I couldn’t say I could do, and because of that she has my respect.
  2. I would like this kind behavior to be the norm, not the exception.

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