This is how it begins:
Global communities have rallied to support two terminally ill Kentucky children in the past few months. What can we learn from these collective acts of kindness, organized via social media?
Reading it, I had two seemingly contradictory responses.
At first, I could see nothing except huge potential.
Well, let me explain.
I have a vision for restoring the resources of compassion back to the grassroots and away from government, especially the federal government. And away from compulsory, tax-driven resources and back toward voluntary giving and investment.
In the days after the presidential election I tweeted this message to several influencers I engage with on Twitter:
What would happen to our political divide if everyone who voted committed the next year to helping their neighbor prosper?
As I repeated this challenge over the following weeks, I revised the time frame to the next four years.
The approach I’m looking at focuses on bringing initiative for meeting needs back to smaller social units. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Communities.
In my view, we are most effectively helped by people who know us, or who have the potential to know us. Who can actually discern what our need is, and meet it without misfiring or enabling.
The kindness of distant strangers can be powerful. But, in my experience and observation, they are often as much about the needs of the giver as they are the needs of the one on the receiving end.
It was through this perspective that I encountered What Happens When Acts Of Kindness Go Social. The article gave examples of viral responses to the needs of two Kentucky boys facing life-threatening illnesses.
Lane, a 13-year-old boy:
First, this fall, word spread of 13-year-old Beech Grove boy Lane Goodwin, who had been battling a rare form of cancer called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma since 2010. Lane’s wish was to receive more than 100,000 likes on the Facebook page his family had set up to communicate about the teen. The effort started among friends and family via Facebook.
Since Lane had always given a thumbs up in all the pictures taken of him to indicate his positive spirit through all his treatments and setbacks, the “Thumbs Up for Lane Goodwin” campaign was born. Not only did people like the page, but they were also taking pictures of themselves giving the boy a thumbs up in return. Through a community effort, soon the media and a range of celebrities alike became aware of the campaign.
Second, a nine-year old boy:
Then, this Christmas season, word spread of a 9-year-old Salyersville boy, Dalton Dingus, who has stage-4 cystic fibrosis and who wanted to break the Guinness world record for number of Christmas cards received. While other Christmas card campaigns have been organized previously for terminally ill children, what has been particularly amazing in this situation is the rapidity with which a Christmas card campaign was organized online, and the wide geographic range of those who have participated in sending physical mail to the boy in a short amount of time.
To really catch the power of what happened and get an idea of the potential, you really need to read the entire article. You can find it here.
To me, though, as I read the article, questions and concerns started coming to mind.
Maybe we can talk about it.
- How does this event play into my vision of recreating grass roots, close-community-based needs-meeting?
- Are there problems inherent in this use of social media? Or maybe limits? For instance, does attention go to someone whose circle includes people with marketing talent and social reach? Or with a talent for photography or promotion? Best jingles? Best theme?
- My initial response is that focus should be built on actual, personal connections. Social media should alert actual friends and friends-of-friends. Or strangers who have needed resources otherwise beyond the ability of existing friends.
- If I expend my resources on people far away and whom I don’t know, will I have resources left for people nearby when I become aware of them?
- What is the potential for parodies and pushback by cynics also going viral?
With great power comes the potential for great problems.
We might want to talk about it and see if we can leverage this power wisely and with a perspective toward balance.