by Chris Chaos
Chrissy and I were taking a Social Psychology Class (instructed by Professor Scott Plous) at Wesleyan University and one of our weekly assignments was to participate in a Day of Compassion and then draft up a report detailing what happened. Basically we were to be compassionate for a full 24 hours and to also pick a compassionate act to elaborate on. Below you will see the results.
On the Tuesday before it was due (on that Sunday) we were trying to brainstorm up a few ideas on how we would spend our Day of Compassion. Our work schedule only permited us to commit to the task on either Friday or Saturday and we were running quite a few ideas through our heads and were fighting against time and logical restrictions.
The projects were to be drafted up separately, but we were working on the same event meaning that our projects would be very similar. As my 1st concept for the project, I immediately thought of our local animal shelters and Wildlife Refuge to assist them in one of the events they host, but a quick check of the 3 places that I support, show that no events were going on this weekend. Chrissy then came up with the idea of volunteering at a local hospital to meet with the patients to talk, play games and give them cards. She contacted several local hospitals and pitched the idea but due to last minute notice and some red tape we had to pass and come up with another idea.
The idea of cleaning up a local park was formulated and we were familiar with several in the area but we decided to go with the one that is right in town and that we go to several times a month. The park is very historical but needed some tender loving care. Both of these ideas filled the need of altruism (the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others) and the acts would increase the welfare of society, individuals and the environment. The ones that would benefit from our cleaning up of the park would be the kids that use the playground, the parents that take their kids here and the animals that live within the park. We put our heads together to come up with a plan and decided on what needed to be done. Making a list of all the supplies that we needed, checked the weather to make sure it wasn't going to rain, we took to the internet and tried to enlist others into our Day of Compassion.
We targeted various social media websites to post to the public explaining about what we were doing. Adding up all the local groups and sites that we contacted potentially 300,000 people could have seen these posts. Many people seem to become inspired when they see others doing good, so we hoped that our act of compassion would become infectious. With butterflies in our bellies we enacted our plan and looked forward to Thursday to complete our task.
Thursday morning we packed the car with supplies and headed off to pick up our Aunt who was to assist us, then we drove to the park that is only about a half a mile from our house. When we parked, I first went around the park and took a few pictures of some of the various landmarks and also some of the spots that had some trash. Then we got to work and started picking up the trash and sweeping up the cigarette butts. The park wasn't all that crowded since it was a Thursday but as we saw people sitting on the benches or in their car we decided to speak to them and informed them of what we were doing. (Debriefing, reference Social Psychology, David Meyers) All that we spoke to had a sunny disposition and liked the fact that we took time out of our day to tackle this task. We hoped to lead by example and that others would soon follow. (Conformity: reference Social Psychology, David Meyers)
One gentleman related a story of how at a location that he took his boat, the other people there were just throwing trash on the ground, despite the fact that there were trash cans present. (Learned Helplessness: reference Social Psychology, David Meyers) Many of the offenders appeared to be kids and most likely learned their bad behaviors from their parents. So he and his family member took it upon themselves to pick up the trash and dispose of it properly. We informed the man that sometime in the near future we would be doing a similar clean up; we gave him our business cards and told him to keep an eye out if he wished to participate. We thanked everyone that listened to what we had to say and informed them that photos can be seen here in the photo section: www.facebook.com/discountcleaners88
I feel the cost and benefits of behaving compassionately are as follows: in the situation that I was in, the cost of cleaning up after yourself and not throwing trash on the ground is not that high. Maybe just a short walk to the trashcan or going slightly out of your way to pick up and dispose of a plastic bag that is blowing around the parking lot. That bag could potentially cause harm to an animal if it gets caught in it. The benefits are having a clean looking landscape and environment which is something to be proud of.
Although no one else outside of our group (The In Group: reference Social Psychology, David Meyers) showed up, we still accomplished what we set out to do despite the fact that no one else pitched in, did contribute to the False Consensus Effect (reference Social Psychology, David Meyers) of the situation in thinking that if people heard or saw others doing an act, considered a worthwhile cause, they would help contribute.
When all was said and done we walked around the areas that we helped clean and admired the work that we had done. Photos were taken to document this Day of Compassion and we look forward to the next time that we can do this.
In retrospect, I did like the "Compassionate Me" over the "regular me" simply because I was doing something to help others in which I had nothing to personally gain. I do hope to keep bringing this version of me out more often. I feel maybe the concept of the in and out group prevents me from revealing this side of myself in everyday life, but I do hope to correct this in the future. I feel that in a month's time my behavior would improve even more for the better because of participating in this exercise. It felt really good and accomplishing to set out on a selfless task, complete it and then look back and reflect. Reading the comments that people left on the various social media photos demonstrated what we were doing was wonderful and that people truly appreciated what we have done for the community. I cannot wait to get back out there and do it again.
Below is the second half of the Day of Compassion but it was omitted from the original paper since the essay could not be over 1000 words:
The 2nd part of our Day of Compassion was that we participated in The Ice Bucket Challenge for the ALS. (If you are unfamiliar please Google Search: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for more information) Originally we were not going to do it since it appeared to be just another mindless fad that the people of the internet were participating in. (Attribution Theory: Wondering how and why people did this act on camera: reference Social Psychology, David Meyers) So we did a little research, read up on the reason as to why people were taking this ice bucket challenge and then saw a hole. I personally watched a few dozen videos, but many of them were not explaining anything about ALS or the organization itself, so we decided to partake in doing a video, with the stipulation that we include some facts about the disease and point people into the correct direction so they may educate themselves. (Central Route to Persuasion: reference Social
Psychology, David Meyers)
Before filming the video we spent a few minutes on the various websites and came up with some facts to incorporate into the video. We planned the video out so it was a little more polished than the other ones out there doing it just for fun and then to call out who they wished to challenge. When it came time to pick up the camera we first filmed each of us speaking about the disease and then one by one had the cold ice water dumped upon our heads. I knew that it was going to be cold, but had no idea HOW cold! Once we posted the video to the internet it received 500 hits within a few hours.
The video resides here:
(Chris Chaos is a long time resident of South Jersey who once again resides in and writes from Gloucester City, New Jersey. He is a filmmaker, a business owner, writer, urban explorer and investigator of the odd and weird, a proud parent, happily taken and a connoisseur of hot wings. Chris can be reached at AxisVideo@aol.com)