In addition to all of the beautiful, touching stories I’ve heard about Generosity Day, I’ve also heard some very honest, usually light-hearted stories about people who tried to be generous on Generosity Day and failed. People reached out to help and their hand was slapped away, often by an unknown stranger.
What we know about feedback (e.g. product reviews) is that the people who speak up are at the extremes, so I know that the stories I hear about Generosity Day are the best ones and the worst ones, the most moving ones and the failures.
The failures are quite interesting, and they are teaching us something. There’s a certain class of spontaneous generous action that is all about taking social risk. This is why taking these actions makes us feel uncomfortable. We are breaking social norms and our own patterns of behavior. We are practicing deciding to take a social risk and keeping our promise to ourselves. And we have the chance to reflect on the validity of that pattern and, maybe, to decide to break it.
Guess what? The new behaviors usually work out, and even when they don’t it isn’t all that bad.
So we add another layer in our understanding of why a deliberate practice of generosity might be transformative: because it is a safe opportunity to take social risk and to explore the difference between our terror before the risk and the actual experience of taking that risk.
Behavior changes don’t come from what we read or from what people tell us. Behavior change comes from behaving differently, having something positive happen, and wanting more.
For those of you who had some generosity failures in the midst of your generosity day, I hope you keep at it and I hope the failures showed you that failure isn’t all that bad. Better yet, I hope there were also some great successes that keep you coming back for more.
(HT to Keith Ferrazzi for helping me see the relationship between generous acts and social risk).