Intention Deficit Disorder

Yesterday I started an experiment to carry out a random act of kindness every day for 30 days. I was unsure how to kick the process off – and while at the post office, I bought a little something for Carole and Keira. When I headed into London later, I left the gift waiting for them at home, along with a hand made card.

My reason for travelling to London was to catch up with friends gathering to celebrate a new adventure for the very lovely Ollie Baxter. I’d previously made some art to reflect the idea of changes at work, which I packaged up and gave to Ollie, who took the envelope, thanked me and said he’d open it later. On the way to the party I offered my seat to someone on the train who smiled broadly and politely declined. On the way back from the party I offered round a bag of sweets to fellow train passengers, all of whom smiled, and politely declined.

I sat pondering my day. At that time I’d not received any acknowledgment for the gift I left at home for the girls. The gift I’d given at the party had remained unseen in its envelope. No one wanted my train seat, or a share in my sweets. I felt odd about all this until it struck me that my intention was in completely the wrong place. I’d been doing all this stuff with some expectation of satisfying myself, not those around me.

To the extent that altruism is defined as ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, I am not sure it exists, by which I mean that the act of giving creates beneficial feedback for the giver as well as any positives which passes to the receiver. That said, I feel I’m off to a bad start and I need to put my own expectations into a different place. I’m going to leave the word ‘random’ out of the equation from now on – this is an intentional process after all.

Day two of the experiment beckons, and with it a chance to relax, let go, and just be kind.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

11 thoughts on “Intention Deficit Disorder”

  1. It’s a tough gig. Maybe though part of this exercise for the RAOK-er is to understand that definition of altruism and confront the very human expectation for recognition of effort / giving / sacrifice. Altruism in it’s purest form is a one-way street

    Recently my daughter had a really good day at work and then did a RAOK – sort of the reverse of yours as she got the benefit first and then gave something back … which probably makes it less random I guess?

    It does exist – it just likes to make you work hard to find it …….. which I never quite have by the way!!

  2. PS – they all smiled ….. your seats and sweets gestures made a difference to their lives even if fleetingly

  3. Doug – I agree with Chris’s postscript. Also, good deeds are not immediately reciprocated, nor can they be 🙂

    Have you read Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’?

  4. Here’s a lovely comment from Fiona McBride – thank you Fiona.

    ‘Hi Doug, I love this idea.

    I read about this last year, there is a lady called Bernadette Russell who blogged about a Random Acts of Kindness Project over the space of 1 year.

    I appreciated your honesty as I read about how you found your first day.
    I started doing this by sending little gifts (anonymously) to friends who I thought would benefit from a little surprise gift.
    My next step is to take some of the ideas I’ve read about online and implement them. E.g. Offer to pay for a coffee for the person behind me in the queue, leave a little note with some money in a book in a bookstore for someone to find so they can put it towards the cost. Small things like that.

    I agree with Chris too. They smiled.

    We truly don’t know how our actions affect someone else.’

  5. Here’s a lovely comment from Ian Sutherland – thank you Ian.

    ‘I think that you are more familiar with acts of kindness than many others so the base you are starting from is higher than others so the reactions you see less remarkable.

    I would also suggest that the key is to look inwards as you are. I think I said to you that when I was doing my standup I found that seven weeks looking for subjects for my routine meant I was always looking for the comedic and fun – it was hard to feel down when you are tuned to the funny.

    I am not sure if I am expressing what I want to? I am suggesting that the benefits come from inside and not from external feedback.’

  6. Hi

    Long time no comment…

    I got to the end of this and was delighted you’d dropped the “random” bit, I was just wondering how I could gently point out that doing something every day on purpose is not really random.

    Saying that, I ‘d tweak this further. Having the intent every day is a good thing and a burst of 30 days will doubtless form a habit. The opposite of giving up Smoking.

    I think it could be even more enjoyable and productive if while having the intent every day, you rolled with it (which you are very good at) and accepted that some days you might be kind to one person, on another to a large group, on another to many individuals but on some days, other than holding a few doors open, you might not get to be kind to anyone and that that is ok.

    There is nothing wrong with enlightened self interest as long as it is properly enlightened, which you are.



    1. It’s lovely to hear from you Anthony. I’m finding this whole thing odd, and often quite unpleasant. I agree – the whole random idea taints the experience, and I’m certainly better off without that notion. I’ve found myself feeling obliged to do ‘kindness’ just because of the 30 days thing – and while that may be partly the point – the result here is I feel awkward, with occasional outbreaks of miserable. I typically roll with this kind of thing as part of my DNA, thank you for noticing, and I’m currently not rolling – I’m being tossed about in a giant washing machine drum. It hurts – I’m getting out.

      Thanks for the opportunity to reflect and adjust.


  7. Random Acts of Kindness is a marketing badge. It was invented by someone to illustrate a concept. We all know marketing is generally to fuel the pursuit of hope 🙂

    Some lovely comments and steers above and I would add (and probably repeat someone) my own marketing badge for this one. “Do something unexpected” …. No time constraints, no conditions, no pressure.

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