The controversial online drinking game known as neknominate has been making headlines of late, but a new counter-effort focusing on kindness has been gathering steam in what appears to be part of a growing “kindness” movement.
Neknominate, which has been linked to four deaths worldwide, is a binge-drinking game that requires people to record themselves chugging or “necking” an alcoholic drink, often while doing something else extreme at the same time. They then nominate others to out-drink them.
The game spread quickly around the world through social media and reached Canada in recent months. But it is now being challenged by a counter-movement called raknominate, which calls on participants to perform a “random act of kindness” instead of drinking, while nominating others to do the same.
Raknominate started when South African Brent Lindeque opted to feed a homeless man instead of accepting a neknomination, and challenged his friends to do the same. Days later, raknominations began in Canada and elsewhere, the idea being to replace the dangerous drinking challenge with a force for good.
Brooke Jones, vice president at the U.S.-based Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, says the phenomenon is part of a broader “kindness” movement that has been growing in popularity for the past decade.
“The raknominations are a bit of a temperature gauge on what’s happening right now in the world, and [fulfill] this desire and hunger for good news and positive stories and positive things,” says Jones.
“It is definitely an increasing phenomenon.”
The RAK Foundation, billed as “the heart of the kindness movement,” was formed in response to the “summer of violence” that took hold of Denver, Colorado, in 1993. The gang-related killings left 74 dead, including a 10-month-old baby.
For the past 14 years the foundation has gained recognition for providing tools and resources for free to individuals, educators, and schools who wish to spread kindness in their communities. Similar groups such as Action for Happiness and the World Kindness Movement were formed around the same time, with mandates to spread well-being.
From community service or environmental cleanup to paying for a stranger’s coffee or holding a door open for another, a random act of kindness is an accessible way for people to create change, says Jones, and once they try it, it often becomes a life-long habit.
“When you do one it’s almost addicting, you’ve got to do another, you want to get your friends to help you, and it becomes a bigger part of your life,” she says.
The nature of the Internet also means kind acts can spread fast, and influence many, without much effort, she adds.
“You can do a 10-second YouTube video, or you can grab a bunch of friends and go do something fun on the street. It doesn’t take that much work, and you’ve captured it and now shared it with hundreds of thousands of people, and now they’re all inspired—it’s that quick.”
The physiological effects of doing good for others has become an emerging area of research for social scientists. Performing altruistic acts has been shown to elevate the brain’s natural dopamine levels and create a “helper’s high” or natural euphoria.
Studies have shown that kindness is also linked to a range of physical and psychological benefits—even strengthening the immune system and diminishing the effects of serious diseases and disorders.
According to the Vancouver-based Kindness Foundation of Canada, helping others enhances general well-being and feelings such as joy, self-worth, optimism, and emotional resilience, while decreasing negative emotions such as helplessness, depression, hostility, and stress.
“It’s one of these things that’s benefiting your overall well-being, inducing your health and happiness and societal goodwill, and these are things that all of us want,” says Jones.
Canada is among those at the “forefront” of kindness research, she adds, particularly through the University of British Columbia.
Last year, UBC assistant professor and former principal John Tyler Binfet was given a research grant to study kindness from the perspective of students in grades 1-8. The research, which will be completed at the end of the month, aims to help educators, parents, and researchers better understand primary students’ perception of being kind in order to build pro-social activities into classrooms.
The RAK Foundation works in partnership with UBC, and looks to the latest research to provide kindness-based curriculum in schools, focused on character development and social-emotional learning. Jones says the positive impact it has had in schools has been a highlight of her career with the foundation.
“Everybody from kindergarteners up to high school students are taking [acts of kindness] on as a huge mission,” she says.
“The idea that you can pull together people and make a big impact with a bigger pool of resources is really inspiring.”
In May, UBC will host the 2014 Heart-Mind conference with the theme of “The Science of Kindness.” Put on by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, the conference brings together scientists, educators, parents, care providers, health and wellness professionals, and community leaders to explore the latest science and practice of cultivating compassion, empathy, altruism, and kindness in children.