good deed, help old lady cross streetDo the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve all heard it, but how many of us actually practice it? At its basic root-level, I’d say that statement is a pretty good philosophy to live by, regardless of your religious beliefs. The ‘proper etiquette’ adoption of this rule, however, is where I vehemently disagree. Why is being proud of a good deed such a bad thing?

Let me make my case…

Isn’t that the point of a more connected world?

By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices. Fiddy. Billion. So with a more connected world, there has to be a gazillion (accurate, but no data supporting claim of accurate) things we can improve, right? Power conservation, home security, family picture sharing — like I said, a gazillion. But I want to focus on one thing: good deeds.

Social signals are becoming an integral part of the Web as we know it, and moreover our lives. Here are some wow stats:

  • There are approximately 3.2 billion likes and comments on Facebook a day
  • 80% of pins on Pinterest are re-pins
  • Justin Bieber averages 32,000+ RTs on every one of his tweets
  • Instagram has more than 75 million daily active users
  • YouTube hits 1 billion unique visitors every month
  • Tumblr has over 113.6 million blogs posts a day
  • In 2013 Reddit had 56 billion page views with 4 billion votes

So if we’re all more connected, wouldn’t it make sense to share more good with each other as a form of positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement

What is positive reinforcement and where did it come from? B.F. Skinner is regarded as the father of Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning is a type of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its antecedents and consequences. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning was based on the work of Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect. Skinner introduced a new term into the Law of Effect – Reinforcement. Behavior that is reinforced tends to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); behavior that is not reinforced tends to die out-or be extinguished (i.e. weakened). Skinner identified three types of responses that can follow behavior: neutral operants, reinforcers and punishers.

Skinner classified reinforcers as: Responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated. Reinforcers can be either positive or negative. Positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding. The Law of Effect supports that by providing consequences an individual finds rewarding, the behavior will be repeated.

So what does that mean in our digital age of social signals?

Here is my hypothesis: sharing good deeds that you have done through your social profiles online will provide the behavior of others following your lead in search of a rewarding consequence. Thus, your act will be copied by others producing a greater outcome of more good deeds.

Change your default to praise, not hate

I’m going to use a recent example of a good deed shared online as to why I think people need to put down the Hateraid and try a cup of the Praiseaid. DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers posted on Instagram, unbeknownst to the U.S. Marine, that he had traded his business class seat with the Marine. Williams then tweeted the image with an explanation that he always gives up his seat to members of the U.S. Military. It was a very kind gesture, on Independence Day no less, and you would think that it would make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, right?

But the Internet quickly found fault with Williams sharing the image, saying that he posted the image for PR purposes and may have given his seat to a man only posing as a Marine. Seriously? People thought that Williams might have gone as far to have someone dress up like a Marine and/or scoured the airport to find a Marine in order to post the picture. (I can’t make this stuff up.)

Since when did we become so cynical? Since when did we default to hate not praise? I wonder how many of those people throwing ‘shade’ or questioning his motivation for doing the good deed posted via the same social media channels something related to Happy Fourth of July, God Bless our men and women who have served, etc.? Wouldn’t that be, as the old adage goes, talking out of both sides of your mouth?

Does intent matter if outcome is positive?

I’m not even going to argue whether it was, or wasn’t, a orchestrated PR move. I’m not, because neither you nor I can know 100% for sure what the truth is here. I just have one simple question.

Does your better judgement say that MORE or LESS people would be motivated to do a similar act because Williams posted it to his Instagram, Twitter and other social media accounts?

It’s a simple question with only a more or less answer allowed, and therefore I hope you see the point. The answer is undoubtedly more, and I cannot think of any educated arguments to the contrary. (By all means, if you have one share it in the comments below.) So regardless of his intent, the outcome of his action produced a positive outcome.

[turns to editor: Is this where I drop the keyboard and walk away?]

Why does sharing a good deed have to be considered bragging by default? Why is it that doing a good deed and sharing it is “not proper etiquette”? If the produced outcome motivates others to seek a similar consequence they find rewarding, shouldn’t we be sharing more good deeds and not less? I’ll analyze my personal sphere of influence. I feel comfortable going on the record that of all of the positive acts of pay it forward, random acts of kindness or good deeds that my sphere has done over the last month, greater than 90 percent of those deeds they’ve shared ontheline were done for the right reasons. So with a greater than 90 percent return on investment of good deeds, doesn’t that make for a better world?

I have been categorized both by myself and others as someone who leads by example. So as far as example-setting goes, I like the idea of putting more good into the world and challenging others to follow my lead. It’s how Feed The Kids, Inc. got started — by me realizing I could activate others to pay it forward. Oh by the way, it’s how at least 11 good deeds were ‘motivated’ to happen in the last month. I know that only because those good deed doers let me know privately.

So I’m sorry ‘proper etiquette’ when performing good deeds. While I agree there are times to do it anonymously, I choose to live in a world where I assume right reasons first, and wrong reasons second.