What Can One Act of Kindness Do? This Project Aims to Find Out What Can One Act of Kindness Do? This Project Aims to Find Out

In the video "Can I Help You With Anything" from Kindness.org, a man sets out to help strangers, with varying responses.

How can we make the world a kinder place—and if we do, will it make us happier? Jaclyn Lindsey set out to answer these and other questions when she founded Kindness.org, a site that offers ideas on how to be kind. (Check out the heartwarming video that explains the idea.) More than offering kindness “initiatives,” such as letting someone ahead of you in line or giving up a seat on the subway, the site seeks to back up its mission with scientific research into the effects of kindness, led by researchers at Oxford University. Lindsey talks about the site and its goals.

What inspired you to start Kindness.org?

I’ve been in nonprofit space my whole professional career and got to a place in my life where I knew I didn’t want to stay in fundraising, but I didn’t know what would be next. I took some time to think and reflect on who I am and what values really matter to me. I found myself writing in really big letters in my journal, “I want to inspire kindness and generosity.”

I didn’t really tell anyone about my journal entry, but in 2015 I had a friend [Kindness.org co-founder Neil Hutchinson] also bring up kindness. He said he’d been thinking about working on an idea around inspiring kindness. It was one of those things where the stars aligned and we realized that we were both at a place where we could give this time and attention, and we decided to jump in.

Can you give an example of a particularly inspiring initiative from the site?

There’s a certain mentality sometimes where we think kindness looks like a handout. We have a partner called Camerados: They do physical spaces that are called living rooms. These physical spaces remove stigma and extend kindness by allowing people to have voice and a choice and connection with others that are there. There is no handout. You show up there as a human, as a person—not as a homeless person or a mentally ill person. (See related story: Urban 'Living Rooms' Inspire Anyone and Everyone to Give)

Colin, he was our first initiative out of the living room. He has a personality disorder. He [was] calling 999, which is the UK’s version of 911, every day, six or seven times a day, just to talk to somebody because he was so lonely. In the living room he found people who cared and who spoke to him and didn't make him feel bad about his disorder.

He discovered his passion for plants that he had as a young boy, so he started making plants for the living room as gifts for people. Then he ended up getting a job as a gardener at the local library. He did an initiative about giving a plant away. We’re [also] encouraging people to set an alert every day at the same time where they take a moment to be grateful. We’ve seen a lot of really, really amazing stories and acts of kindness come out of that initiative.

Can you talk about the research piece of this and what you hope to find there?

We found that there are actually a lot of gaps in the research [about kindness]. It wasn’t consistent and it wasn’t thorough. There were so many variables. We’re going to look at both qualitative and quantitative methods to help us understand pro-social behavior. Not only do we want to understand how to spread more kindness—really looking at the ripple effect of kindness—but how do you measure its effects? The idea is really creating these objectives and looking at people in the real world as well as social media and people through the site.

You launched just before the U.S. presidential election. Do you feel pressure to engage with current events, or are you purposefully staying away from that?

After the election we did have so many people ask us, what do you think we [should] do? Our message really has been how can you choose kindness, how can you talk to your family? We’re still in infancy, finding our footing, but we’ve tried to recognize there’s always going to be times to be mean—but what are you doing to choose kindness in those moments? We believe it’s a mindfulness, we believe it’s an intention. And it’s difficult. It’s not always easy to want to try to understand somebody else’s side. But I think it’s important. And part of what we hope our role will become is creating that mindfulness within someone where they can say alright, I don’t like what you’re saying, and I don’t at all believe what you believe, but I can still see you as a human and choose that over anything else that I might put forth.

We’re saying yes to a mission that is exciting and yet difficult. What I’m really inspired by is we’ve seen that kindness is truly transcendent of race, religion, of location, of borders and socioeconomic status. It goes beyond anything.