12 Steps to become a better person

Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman developed and tested a program to become kinder and more empathetic people. A program that encourages self-experimentation.

Illustration: Astrid Riege

They felt that they were very self-reliant. They were – as they say themselves – mostly occupied with themselves alone and hardly with what was happening around them: Jessica Walsh, graphic designer and art director of the renowned New York agency SAGMEISTER& WALSH, and Timothy Goodman, a graphic designer and illustrator with his own studio in New York, wanted to change that in themselves. Becoming friendlier, more empathetic – how could that work??

Why is it so hard to be kind sometimes?

Jessie and Tim noted that attention and kindness are qualities we can share. This costs nothing, feels great and is in our hands. But why, they wondered, is it so hard to be kind sometimes? How do we manage to judge less about others or also about ourselves?

We tend to see or hear only what we want to see or hear. we surround ourselves with people who have similar experiences and roughly the same opinion as we do. Countless scientific studies, newspaper reports, religious texts, self-help books try to make us better, kinder people. On the other hand, how often do we actually manage to put this advice into practice?

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Tips like "Treat others as you would like to be treated" or "Don’t judge others until you have walked in their shoes" sound reasonable. Two years ago, the two young New Yorkers from the creative industry decided to take this literally and apply it to their lives. Using a 12-step program designed to change behaviors, they developed a 12-step experiment that they tested on themselves over a 12-month period. Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman wanted to confront their own apathy and ego-centeredness, to widen their gaze, heart and mind to become more attentive and empathetic people. They have their experiences on the campaign site http://12kindsofkindness.com/ and triggered a lively discussion.

01 How can I help you?

Can we develop more empathy or take on a different perspective if we just consciously connect with strangers for once?

Jessie, for example, had noticed in herself that she usually rushes to the office while checking her email and social media messages, goes out to dinner with her husband after work, relaxes with overpriced cocktails, and watches whatever fits into her worldview on Netflix before going to bed.

Out of this own narrow world she and Tim wanted to dive into others. They asked New Yorkers the simple question, "Can we help you??"

02 Open your eyes, perceive consciously.

The bystander effect is a phenomenon we all know very well. Something happened and most are watching without acting.

"We put up missing persons ads of ourselves all over New York and sat right next to them for a day. No reaction. What would happen if we reported a dog missing??"

03 Change something

There are always people who don’t suit us. Or there are situations that we try to avoid – not infrequently due to our selfishness. What if we were in the skin of these people? Could we then be kinder to them in the future?

Jessie and Tim put themselves in the shoes of a telemarketer as well as people on the street promoting a good cause. Bone jobs with reactions you have to endure first…

04 Don’t beat yourself up!

We all beat ourselves up over incidents from the past – and how we dealt with them.

Tim, for example, dealt with his way of conducting relationships with women.

Jessie and Tim tried to forgive themselves by facing their experiences and the uncomfortable feelings associated with them, and no longer pushing them away.

05 Forgive and forget

We meet someone who has hurt us in the past. Can we move past the pain or misunderstanding we associate with him or her? Can we develop compassion in some form by dealing with this?

06 Face your fears

Each of us has our own fears and insecurities. We often hide behind this by judging and condemning others.

Tim and Jessi each faced a personal problem that made them feel the worst about themselves.

For Jessie, in her early 30s, it was a question of " having kids ". The ticking of the "biological clock" – coupled with the demand to be the best mother in the world – made them easily condemn other parents and their "shortcomings.

07 Take the wind out of the sails of others with goodness

They say the ultimate or most effective form of mercy is learning to love your enemies.

"We tried to understand someone we didn’t care for better by doing something nice for them."

08 Walk a mile in other people’s shoes

It’s easy to condemn a lifestyle we don’t like or understand.

Tim and Jessie immersed themselves in other people’s worlds as a way to learn more about them and their outlook on life. Timothy, for instance, grew up in a "really liberal home," as he says. He had to think long and hard about which way of life he had reservations about. With him it was the world of gyms: What is the point of being a "muscle man"?

09 All or nothing

Why do we always seem to neglect the people closest to us?

"We picked one person in our lives that we neglect on an ongoing basis and did something good for them."

10 Do something good for someone else

"We deposited filled wallets all over New York with the message that we were doing something good with them. We also performed spontaneous favors on the streets."

11 Smile

"For eight hours we walked around New York and laughed at everyone* we ran into. Could we make them smile, give them a happy moment in their life?"

12 Go inside yourself

"For this last step, we went inside ourselves to realize what we had learned and to try to rise above ourselves. To that end, we opened a platform to start a dialogue."

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