Civic Acts of Kindness
How to help solve the problems of policing and racism
The murder of George Floyd, and many others, has drawn worldwide attention to the problems of police brutality and racial discrimination in America. Most US citizens agree that these problems need to be solved; but they disagree about how best to solve them. And certainly, such long-standing, complicated, and seemingly intractable problems can feel overwhelming. So what can individuals do to help, right now? What are the most effective and impactful ‘civic acts of kindness’?¹
What did we do?
Our mission at Kindness.org is to educate and inspire people to choose kindness. In keeping with this mission, we collated a list of 38 ‘civic acts of kindness’ — including donating, volunteering, and other forms of civic engagement — that have been proposed by prominent civil rights organizations.² We then asked a diverse sample of US citizens³ to rate the costs, benefits, and likelihood of performing, these acts.⁴ (The survey was conducted online, from 26 June to 5 July 2020.) We calculated the average perceived costs and benefits of these acts, and then calculated which acts were perceived to be the most (and least) cost-effective — that is, the acts that generated the most benefit for the least cost.
What did we find?
According to our sample, most of the acts were considered relatively low cost, and relatively high benefit.
Surprisingly, the costs and benefits of the act were negatively correlated, suggesting that the acts seen as the easiest were also seen as the most impactful (see Figure 1). The cost-effectiveness of the act was the best predictor of the likelihood of respondents actually performing the act (over and above cost or benefit alone).
Black respondents tended to rate the acts as significantly more beneficial and reported being more likely to perform them. Democrats and Republicans tended to agree on their ratings of these civic acts of kindness.
All told, the Top Ten Most Cost-Effective Acts were:
1. Register to vote
2. Help your family and friends register to vote
3. Talk to family members, friends, and neighbors about policing and racism in your community
4. Write to your local representatives
5. Write to your state representatives
6. Learn more about racism and policing in America
7. Write to your Member of Congress
8. Write to your Senator
9. Watch films and TV shows about police brutality and racism
10. Boycott particular stores
And The Ten Least Cost-Effective Acts were:
29. Take part in a local protest
30. Donate $50 to the campaign of your preferred political candidate
31. Work pro bono for a civil rights organization
32. Take part in a national protest
33. Organize a national protest
34. Start a new local branch of a civil rights organization
35. Post bail for protestors in your community
36. Organize a local protest
37. Participate in direct action and civil disobedience (for example, blocking highways)
38. Run for political office
What does all this mean?
Overall, registering to vote, educating yourself about policing and racism, and writing to politicians, were considered the most beneficial, and the most cost-effective civic acts of kindness.
However, it is not the goal of this study to tell people what to think or what to do. Rather, the goal is to find out what people do in fact think, and what they are likely to do, in the hope that this information will be useful to individuals and organizations as they decide for themselves how best to choose and promote kindness.
For example, individuals who want to help solve the problems of policing and racism might use these ratings to help choose the least costly or most beneficial acts to perform. Alternatively, they might use this information to choose acts that they think are important, but that are less likely to be performed by others. Similarly, organizations might choose to preferentially promote acts that people are most likely to perform, or they might choose to promote acts that might otherwise be overlooked. They may choose to focus their efforts on the demographic groups most likely to participate, or on those who need the most persuading. They might focus on making it easier to perform these acts (providing ‘nudges’, or removing ‘sludge’). And because the perceived costs and benefits may not accurately reflect the actual costs and benefits, organizations might campaign to correct misperceptions, thereby making acts more likely to be performed.
You can help us here. How costly and beneficial are these acts for real? Join our Kindness community, try the acts for yourself, and let us know how you get on.
It is our hope that the methods presented here can help to make more informed assessments of kind acts; moving from acts that feel good, to acts that do the most good, thereby replacing random acts of kindness with recommended acts of kindness. Further research on this topic, and related topics, will improve our understanding of the psychology of kindness, and help to make the world a kinder and more just place.
1. For more information see: Curry, O. S., & Krasnow, M. (2020). Assessing the costs and benefits of civic acts of kindness. OSF Preprint. https://osf.io/rzb6n/
2. The resources we consulted included: https://policingequity.org, https://vote.gov, https://www.aclu.org, https://www.charitynavigator.org, https:// eji.org, https://www.futurenow.org, https://www.gofundme.com, https://www.naacp.org, https:// www.obama.org, https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials/, https://www.vera.org
3. 315 respondents from across the US completed the survey (mean age = 50.75 years; 50% male/female, 50% black/white; 65%/35% Democrat/Republican).
4. Respondents were randomly allocated to one of three conditions. One group were asked to assess how costly these act would be to perform, in terms of “money, time, effort, difficulty, or whatever comes to mind when you think about it”. A second group was asked to assess how beneficial these act would be, in terms of “helping to solve the problems”. A third group was asked “how likely it is that you would perform each act”. Acts were presented in a random order. All questions used a 1–7 Likert scale in which 1 = ‘Not at all’ and 7 = ‘Extremely’.