12 Kinds of Kindness

By Charles Purdy

Be more empathetic. Forgive people who have done you wrong. Face your insecurities. Smile more…. It’s all excellent advice, but it can be very difficult to put into practice. So designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman—two self-described “self-centered millennial New Yorkers,” developed a 12-step program called “12 Kinds of Kindness” that they hoped would help them become better people.

After wrapping up a previous collaboration, the blog and book 40 Days of Dating, Jessica and Timothy regretted the way they’d handled some things and felt sorry about the way they’d treated each other. This led them to a discussion about empathy: “We view the world through the filter of our own ego and tastes, we help people only in situations we connect to, make assumptions about those we don’t understand, and surround ourselves with others who share our same beliefs,” says Timothy. “But with a little effort, could we learn to open our hearts and minds to become kinder, more empathetic people?”

This was the foundation of an experiment they designed to confront these issues: 12 steps, addressing bystander apathy, walking in someone else’s shoes, forgiveness, and more. The pair will be revealing the results of their yearlong journey daily, from January 13 to February 11, in a series of blog posts, videos, and images that are meant, in part, to inspire others to embark on their own 12-step journeys to kindness.

Click to watch a brief video explaining the "12 Kinds of Kindness" experiment.

And not to give anything away—but do they feel that the experiment worked? Are they now less selfish and more empathetic? Jessica responds, “Since we’re doing these acts of kindness for the purpose of a public blog, it does make it feel dishonest in some way—that’s the downside of making the experiment public. However, we think the positive effects of doing it publicly outweigh the negatives. I can honestly say I’ve changed and become more aware of people around me that need help, even when I am not doing things for a camera or to write about. Even my husband commented on it the other day.”

Both designers feel that the 12 steps have affected their lives—there is clearly transformative power in reversing roles with someone who annoys you or in simply doing random acts of kindness for strangers. But as part of this self-betterment process, Timothy and Jessica also explored deeply personal issues: childhood disorders, mental illness, and broken family ties, with profound results.

They say that they hope their stories will inspire others to confront challenges in their own lives. Visit the 12 Kinds of Kindness website to learn more and maybe take a step of your own.

January 13, 2016