The 3-Degree Ripple Rule

image from istockphoto
image from istockphoto

You probably know that when you do a kind act, the impact goes farther than the person whom you have helped. But I suspect you hadn’t considered that each simple act of kindness you do might actually be affecting around 16 people.

So how do I come up with that number? Well, it’s based research into kindness contagion, aka – the ripple effect of kindness.

Research suggests that an act of kindness spreads out through 3 social steps.

That means that when you help a person, that person then helps other people, and these people, in turn help other people. I call it the ‘3-Degree Ripple Rule’. It’s Pay it Forward in real life.

So let’s do a wee bit of maths. Say you help a person out who’s struggling in some way. You raise that person’s spirits. Chances are that person will help a few other people out, even if it’s a simple thing like a few words of encouragement, holding a door open, letting a person in front in a queue or even letting a person in front in traffic. Often, they will do more. Let’s say that person, through the sheer number of interactions they have throughout the day, shows kindness to 4 people as a consequence of feeling lifted by your kindness to them. That’s a bit of a conservative estimate, but we’ll go for 4 to make it easy. That’s 4 people and we’re at 2-degrees.

So to continue with the same rate of kindness, each of these people are kind to 4 others. That’s 4 times 4 equals 16 and we’re at 3-degrees. Chances are many acts of kindness go farther.

And suppose you did 4 kind acts one day. You’d have impacted 64 people!

This, to be honest, is a very conservative estimate. Social networks are quite complex and many people have a lot of interactions throughout any given day, from family members to people at work, people in shops, and even with random strangers. And it’s unlikely that acts of kindness stop at 3-degrees. That’s just what some research shows where it averages over a number of people. In practice, a single act often ripples farther.

In fact, there’s evidence of ‘kidney donor chains’ that stretch the length and breadth of a country, altering the lives of several families. It’s where a Good Samaritan walks into a hospital and makes a donation of a kidney to whomever needs it.

With donor chains, a potential recipient will register along with a family member who wanted to donate one of their kidneys but wasn’t a match; for instance a man might need a kidney and his wife wants to donate one of hers. If she’s not a match for her husband she pledges to donate one of her kidneys to someone else as soon as one is found for her husband, in a ‘pay-it-forward fashion. Once a recipient is found for hers, that person’s partner or other loved one then donates one of theirs, and so on.

The longest kidney donor chain so far recorded involved 30 donors and stretched throughout 17 hospitals in the United States.

It began with a Good Samaritan who donated a kidney at Riverside Community Hospital, in Riverside, California, zig-zagging across the country and eventually finishing in Loyola, in Illinois, forever altering the lives of 30 families.

So don’t ever underestimate the effects you have each day. I’m not suggesting you go out and donate a kidney, although if you feel drawn to you will be saving lives, but each of us makes a difference even with the small acts of kindness we do.

Imagine how many people you could be positively affecting every day. I think it’s quite empowering to know that we can make a difference in more people’s lives than we think. Random acts of kindness every day can set a lot of balls of kindness rolling.

You are affecting the world in many more ways than you think. Most kindness is inexpensive but the net gain to the world is breathtaking.

It’s the simplest of my philosophies for life: Be kind!