A Pathway To Kindness, In 12 Difficult Steps | KUOW News and Information

A Pathway To Kindness, In 12 Difficult Steps

Jan 17, 2016
Originally published on January 17, 2016 11:02 am

For lots of people, New Year's resolutions don't last. Two New York designers wanted to change that — and they wanted to change themselves at the same time.

So, Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh, best known for the viral blog and book 40 Days of Dating, created a yearlong social experiment to see if following 12 steps could make them more kind and empathetic people — and they're releasing details about each step on their website.

"We created the steps based on what we read and learned that psychologists say can make you more empathetic," Walsh told NPR's Rachel Martin. "And then after we had the steps set up, we asked ourselves what we wanted to explore for each of those."

Their first step was called "Can I Help You?" The pair took the opportunity to ask every New Yorker they saw how they could help in some way.

"We talked to so many people that day," Goodman recalls. "From people who were losing their apartments in New York, to people that just wanted to talk about broken family ties. Relationship issues. Homeless people. I mean, we talked to so many people, it was pretty amazing."

"The idea was really just to start out the project by taking a survey of what other people around us might be going through on any one day," says Walsh.

In other experiments, the two tried their hands at being telemarketers or canvassing. They left wallets all over the city with money and notes asking people to use it to do something nice. They hung missing person signs and sat next to them. They noticed how people reacted.

But for other steps, they focused on their personal lives.

Walsh says the fourth step, "Don't Beat Yourself Up," about "learning not to beat yourself up about things from the past," was the most challenging for her.

"Psychologists say you need to forgive yourself for things you are angry with, otherwise you can transfer that on to other people," Walsh says.

"So I've always had this secret that I've carried with me that I haven't really told anyone, which is that when I was much younger I went through a lot of mental health issues," she continues. "So on the step, I end up opening up about all of those, and I'm creating a platform where other people are going to be sharing their stories, as well."

For Goodman, the most difficult step came next.

"I went out and tried to find my biological father who I've never met in my entire life. That's for step five — and that was about forgiving someone who may have hurt you in the past, and coming face-to-face with that and trying to maybe better understand their situation," he says.

They made some physical changes, too. Goodman approached step six, about facing fears and insecurities, by shaving his head.

"One of my insecurities is going bald, because my hair is slowly thinning in the front. And so we shaved my head down to the scalp, and I had to live with that experience," he says. "It was very hard; I was not happy."

But he says the experience helped him be more empathetic by "being happy with who you are, whoever you are."

And sometimes things got a little weird. They tried just smiling at people on the street for one full day. People didn't smile back.

"I think it came off creepy. Maybe that's why people didn't smile at us," Goodman laughs.

"Then we thought, 'OK, what happens if we start frowning at people?' And then everyone was cracking up," says Walsh.

The experiment helped them to take a step back, to think about their place in the world.

"That's one of the biggest things, when it came to those kind of steps that we did, the less personal stuff, was just witnessing yourself in relationship to society," Goodman says. "Every day, you know, there's a heartbeat, and feeling yourself a part of that is truly amazing at times."

"We just get caught up in our daily routines and doing the same kind of things," says Walsh. "And this experiment really allowed us to do things we would have never done before."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're more than halfway through January, which means many of us may have realized how easy it is to just sort of forgot about our New Year's resolutions. We're going to hear now from two people who stuck with it, designers Timothy Goodman and Jessica Walsh.

They're the creators of the blog and book "40 Days Of Dating."

For that experiment that went viral, they dated each other for 40 days and blogged about it.

Last year, they embarked on a year-long resolution to become, quote, "kinder, more empathetic people." The project is called "12 Kinds Of Kindness," and they're releasing each step they took on and the results of that on their website. They're releasing it a step at a time. They join me from our studios in New York to talk about what they discovered. Welcome to the show.

TIMOTHY GOODMAN: Hi.

JESSICA WALSH: Hi.

MARTIN: Thanks for talking with us.

GOODMAN: Yeah, it's good to be here.

MARTIN: So you both committed to implement these 12 steps as a kind of year-long resolution to become more empathetic people. You want to work through a few of these with me? What was number one?

WALSH: The first one is called "Can I Help You?", and we literally just went out on the streets of New York and just started asking people how we could help them.

MARTIN: How did you decide who to ask that question to? New York is a big place.

GOODMAN: Everyone.

WALSH: Everyone.

MARTIN: Everyone you came across?

GOODMAN: You known, we talked to so many people that day, from people who were losing their apartments in New York to people that just wanted to talk about broken family ties.

WALSH: Or relationship issues.

GOODMAN: Relationship issues, homeless people - I mean, we talked to so many people. It was pretty amazing.

MARTIN: What did you do with that information? Was it just you're having a conversations and so it - the value of it was in just being an ear for someone who clearly needed to talk?

WALSH: Yeah, I mean, we did try to help as many people as we could on that day. But you know, of course in one day, it is not like Tim and I were delusional enough (laughter) to think that we were going to make any real difference. The idea was really just to start out the project by taking a survey of what other people around us might be going through on any one day.

GOODMAN: Yeah, it was a discovery of sorts to kind of measure ourselves against what was going on around us.

MARTIN: Without walking through all 12 steps, can you just talk a little bit about which ones were the hardest for each of you?

GOODMAN: I mean, there were certainly ones that were very difficult for us because we explored a lot of topics with this project, from talking about mental health issues, broken family ties.

I went out and tried to find my biological father, who I've never met in my entire life. That's for step five, and that was about forgiving someone who may have hurt you in the past and coming, you know, face-to-face with that and trying to maybe better understand their situation.

MARTIN: Jessica, what was toughest for you?

WALSH: Probably step four, which is about learning not to beat yourself up about things from the past. Psychologists say that you need to forgive yourself for, you know, things that you're angry with. Otherwise, you can kind of transfer that onto other people. So I've always had this secret that I've carried with me, that I haven't really told anyone, which is that when I was much younger, I went through a lot of mental health issues. And so on the step, I end up opening up about all of those and I'm creating a platform where other people are going to be sharing their stories as well.

MARTIN: So you guys knew that when you set out to do this, you were going to go to some deep, at some times dark, places.

WALSH: Actually, when we created the project, we didn't know what we were going to do. We created the steps based on what we read and learned that psychologists say can make you more empathetic. And then after we had the steps set up, we asked ourselves, you know, what we wanted to explore for each of those.

GOODMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: We've talked about the serious stuff, but was there some fun in this year?

WALSH: (Laughter) Yeah...

GOODMAN: There was certainly a lot of fun.

WALSH: ...There was a lot of fun.

GOODMAN: And there were certainly things that were light but still felt very heavy. Like for instance, step six is about exploring your own fears and insecurities and maybe, you know, people that you judge. And one of my insecurities is going bald because my hair is slowly thinning in the front. And so we shaved my head down to the scalp (laughter). And I had to really - you know, I had to live with that experience...

(LAUGHTER)

GOODMAN: ...And it was very hard.

MARTIN: How did that make you more empathetic?

GOODMAN: Well, I think it's just about being kind to ourselves, you know. This project is just as much about that as it is about being kind to others, and it's about being happy with who you are, whoever you are.

MARTIN: Jessica, what surprised you the most about the experiment?

WALSH: We did do one step where we went out on the streets of New York and we smiled for the entire day...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

WALSH: ...At different people.

GOODMAN: Eight hours, constant.

WALSH: And I was really - like, trying to be very friendly and smiling.

MARTIN: Like, what kind of smile? There's a lot of different kinds of smiles.

GOODMAN: Well, I think it came off creepy.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GOODMAN: Maybe that's why people didn't smile at us.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And were you just standing there smiling or...

GOODMAN: We did...

WALSH: No, we were walking about a bit...

MARTIN: OK.

WALSH: ...And, like, giving compliments and smiling. People were kind of were freaked out a bit.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

GOODMAN: Yeah.

WALSH: But then we thought - OK, what happens if we start frowning at people? And then everyone was cracking up.

GOODMAN: Yeah, then everyone smiled and...

MARTIN: (Laughter) Reverse psychology, but the point being just engaging with people...

WALSH: Exactly.

GOODMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Just interacting with the people around you.

GOODMAN: And that's one of the biggest things when it came to those kind of steps that we did, the less personal stuff, was just witnessing yourself in relationship to society. And every day, you know, there's a heartbeat, and feeling, yourself, a part of that is truly amazing at times because oftentimes we do not. We just go on.

WALSH: Yeah, we just get caught up in our daily routines and doing the same kind of things. And this experiment really allowed us to do things we would have never done before.

GOODMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Timothy Goodman is a designer and illustrator. We also heard from Jessica Walsh. She's a designer and partner at Sagmeister & Walsh.

Thanks so much for talking with us, you two.

WALSH: Thank you.

GOODMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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