Why we do nice things for people we don’t know:

Nice lade Moves large Tree.

Nice lade Moves large Tree.

Rachel asked me to blog about my last TT project Bots and Robbers and I wanted to write a bit about what these Transition town project have meant to me and offer some thought on why I think the Transition Town idea seems to be working. So I will have a go at answering this bazar question:

Why do all these people want to give their time for nothing?

On the 24th of May Kevin Monk and I held a stall at the market designed to help people Load some free software onto their computers that would make it possible to track them if they get stolen.

The software is free and open source. If you can read the code you can check it and see that they don’t put any malicious code on your machine. The advantage is that if your device is stolen you can go on to the website and register the device as stolen.  It will then automatically start sending you a report with images from the laptops camera and it will give you a map of where it is.

The more laptops that are protected the better.  50% of laptops are stolen at some point during their existence and most crimes, particularly more serious crime like burglary are conducted by a small number of individuals. The idea was that hopefully word will spread that laptops in this area have software on them that report the devises location, so you can tell the police where your things are.

Thieves will either target a different area, or being a criminal will just get a bit harder. So there is a herd immunity element to it as well. Mostly we just wanted to lend a hand to people who may not have the confidence to get the programme installed themselves.

The day of the event was fantastic. There was a steady stream of people who came up and asked us for a hand. Most did not bring their laptops, however many brought smart phones and we got half a dozen protected: Which is something I am really proud of.

Bots and Robbers is the second event I have run in the area. The first was Keep Palace Pedalling. Bots and Robbers was the more successful of the two things I have done. I imagine that this is because more people have smart phones and laptops than cycle. So although I know much more about bikes than computers, there was a bigger market to help people with their computers than there is to help people with bikes.

That’s why I am so grateful to Kevin Monk for being the IT back bone behind this project. Kevin has used Prey (the software in question) to get his stolen laptops back in the past and he was the person who gave me the confidence to do this event with him. I wouldn’t have run it on my own.

Generally running these things at the market has made me feel, the Transition Town is a great thing to get involved in. I am reading this book at the moment: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Why-brains-wired-connect/dp/0199645043

It makes a really interesting point about altruism that particularly struck me after doing these two projects with the transition town. The idea that people act only in their own self-interest is not true but is so pervasive that it has now almost become self-reinforcing. When people do something nice, they feel under pressure to generate explanations for their behaviour that appear “self-interested” even though these explanations are so out landish that on further inspection they don’t make any sense.

Certainly when I did Keep Palace Pedalling, it was really funny to see some people treat me with total suspicion. I would say: “do you want to use the stand?” and they would say: “no thanks”. I would say; it’s free: it’s just there for you to work on your bike if you don’t have space to do it at home. These people would very slowly and suspiciously, approach and start working on their bikes. You could almost feel the tension as they questioned in their heads, why is this guy doing this?

On Bots and Robbers, it became very clear to me why I was doing it. Or more to the point I found a reason to do something like this again. It feels really great to meet people, and to do things for other people, especially when a very small effort on my part elicits appreciation from the people you help. The next day Kevin and I both seem to be walking on air.

Years ago Hayley my wife and I started dancing Tango. Very quickly a question kept being asked. Are you guys going to start entering competitions? The answer was “no”. We just wanted to do it for fun, to have a hobby.

It irritated me, because it cast my interest in being able to dance as some kind of attempt at a currier change. Another pervasive idea is that everyone needs to specialize. We are more productive if we specialize. I am sure that is true but humans and therefore the economy our activity creates are biological systems. Most biological systems are not exponential. I am sure economic specialization is more productive than everyone doing every task. But there is also low hanging fruit, and the law of diminishing returns.

I wander if the same assumption that leads people to ask if I was becoming a professional Tango dancer, a few weeks into taking lessons is the same reason why people are gripped with a mix of terror and confusion when a stranger offers to do something nice for them. As a society we have decided that people who want to be nice have to specialize and enter caring professions. The rest of us who are required to be money grabbing, can only help if we find an explanation that can be shown to be self-interested. I.E. You know I did Keep Palace Pedaling to promote my company Wine Rides. I didn’t. I did it cos I know what a ball ache it is to clean a bike in my flat, and thought other people could probably make use of a free space to clean their bike up as well.

Think about it: isn’t it sad that there are very few places that are available for people to just do nice things for each other. Yes there are food banks for when you are on the edge of destitution, but there really aren’t many places where you can just dabble in being nice to other people for no reason other than, it will make you feel good about yourself. Sometimes it’s fun to just chat and shoot the breeze with someone you don’t know.

We are very very lucky in Palace that we have a space where if you want you can, set up stall and just do something nice for other people for the sheer hell of it. Speak to Karen or Laura and tell them when you want to do something. They will find you a spot. You can charge money if you want or you can do something for free. If you need an ulterior motive as a cover story so people don’t think you are weird, you can do it: to become more confident, meet people local who share your interest, perhaps improve your CV or advance your currier. Or you can also just do it because at the end of the day, most of us watch way too much TV and if we are honest being “too busy” for something is just another way of saying “that [thing] isn’t a priority for me”.

Let’s face it the vast majority of humans are hard wired to enjoy helping other people. If you need scientific proof of that read the book above. Otherwise I encourage you to jump in and get involved in the Transition town. I have yet to meet anyone, who has struck me as a social parasite while I have been involved. No-one has made any “demands” on my time. The people I have met are Pro-active fun people who have offered me opportunities to get involved and I have taken the ones that seem to suet me and even designed and implemented a few of my own.

I did it cos I thought it would be fun; it was, and I will probably do more stuff in the future so long as it continues to be fun.  It really is that simple……