About a year ago I learnt the kindness lesson twice in one day. If you believe in coincidence or that the teacher (or the lesson) finds you when you need it, then kindness found me.

Lesson #1: From the head

A link from a newsletter sent me to a game to play called The Evolution of Trust by Nicky Case[1]. It’s an awesome, 30 minutes animation about how trust develops. He uses game theory — the umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals and computers — to let you try out being a different type of player. [2]

His opening screen asks the questions:

Why, even in peacetime, do friends become enemies?
And why, even in wartime, do enemies become friends?

He shows how different types of people do better in trust games than others, depending upon circumstances and who they’re playing the game with. If you’ve ever played Monopoly with a family-in-law you will know that some people are just bastards when it comes to playing games. Other people are pushovers (me).

The lesson is that the game we’re playing defines what the players do. In other words, a gentle person playing a hard game can get beat up pretty bad, and a hard person playing a gentle game can walk all over the others. We should probably learn to change our game strategy to suit the game.

Now, this idea — that the game defines the players — is a short term view. In the long run the players define the game, as we are the environment of everyone else.

Let’s look at a couple of the most well-known types of players in Nicky’s take on the classical, iterated prisoner’s dilemma type game.

Copy Cat (tit for tat) — has a great strategy where he does to you what you do to him — like it says in the bible. This is a FAIR strategy. The problem for copycat is that if the opponent makes a mistake they are punished. And we all make mistakes!

Copy Kitten (tit for two tats) — gives you the benefit of the doubt and only cheats back AFTER he’s been cheated on twice in a row. This is a very forgiving — kind — way to play.

The other players in this excellent animation are Always Cheat, Detective, Cooperator, Cheater, Grudger, Random and Simpleton. They each have their own strategy, or in the case of Simpleton, no strategy.

Researches have found that trust is built by three things (my thoughts in italics):

  1. Repeat interactions — you need to know you’re going to bump into your opponent again. You know, like your clients, friends, family, Facebook and LinkedIn peeps.
  2. The possibility of actually winning — it must be a non-zero-sum game — both parties can win. There’s got to be something in it for you both.
  3. Low levels of miscommunication. You are clear, and make sure you are understood AND you take the time to understand others.

In most relationships 1 & 2 should be givens. But 3 is almost always a problem — we sometimes screw up asking for what we want, explaining our needs or understanding others. In this case it pays to be Copy Kitten — to be a little bit more forgiving. Copy Kitten is always kinder than she needs to be.

The second lesson I learnt was when I was reading the book Wonder by RJ Palacio (read it — my command!) and came across the quote:

“Always be a little bit kinder than necessary.” by JM Barrie, from his 1902 book The Little White Bird.

This phrase hit me hard in the stomach. I stopped reading, and when you read Wonder you will see why that was such a surprise to me.

Be Kinder Than Necessary.

I have always tried to be kind, but have I been kinder than necessary? Can I be kinder? I think of myself as a kind person, but I’m also judgemental and cranky, a control freak and bossy, lazy and self-absorbed. Can I be kinder than necessary? Is it a good idea?

Then that bloody game appeared in the link — the same fecking day — and I realised it was a sign to me. Be kinder than necessary.

Cut out the IFTTT[3] type thinking. Stop copycatting. Change the game. Change the environment. Be kinder than necessary.

So, I made myself a card, stuck it on my desk, looked at it whenever I felt like being mean or saw someone being an arse.

Copy Kitten (aka: Irregular Cat) says: Be Fecking Kind!

In this world of taking sides, division, separation, competition, lies and fakery — #BFK. We’re all doing the best we can, sometimes we make mistakes. Perhaps your #BFK will help someone come over from the dark side and enjoy kitty videos again.

  • How can you #BFK today? Right now?
  • What can you do for others without expectation of reward?
  • How can you #BFK to yourself? Your kids, your partner, your parents, your pets?
  • Can you #BFK to clients or colleagues?
  • Where can you hold out a hand, offer advice, share a compliment?
  • Then, how can you #BFKer?

Everything in moderation except kindness. (And lust. And wine. And books.)

Debs Jenkins

[1] Nicky Case has some very intellectually interesting stuff on his site, games you can play, videos and cool drawings — set aside a couple of hours before you go there! He’s also got a thing about cats!

[2] Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of strategic interaction between rational decision-makers.” John von Neumann (really important guy in computing! and the inventor of MAD theory, you gotta love him) and Oskar Morgenstern came up with the mathematical theory of games in 1944 and of course, wrote the (imaginatively titled) book on it: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. For an easier (mentally, not emotionally!) read/watch try A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash.

[3] IFTTT stands for If This Then That — cut that out! Don’t cut out the website ifttt.com — that’s really useful!