January 2020

For many of us, that question can summon up a range of feelings, from self-consciousness and embarrassment to insecurity and even paranoia. What are others seeing? Do I seem like I have my act together? Am I being too aloof or self-absorbed? Was that joke actually funny? Do these pants make my butt look big? Damn. When I feel I am being watched, I am so hard on myself! 

This was especially true as I got close to completing my book, which launched last week. What would people think? Is it good enough? Did I have enough to say that is meaningful? Of course, I was my worst critic yet again.

In order to give my confidence a boost, I decided to augment my work and my observations with the help of an esteemed social scientist, Dr. Serena Chen of UC Berkeley. She and I crafted an online research study where we reached out to almost 350 random strangers (ages 18-44 years old) to validate and provide clarity about the cascades of good, meaning and connection that I witness at Parlay House gatherings. In essence, we were trying to track what happens when small yet thoughtful actions are passed from one person to the next.   

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One of the results of our research particularly surprised us. We learned that being “watched” by strangers should not send you straight to self-scrutiny and panic. In fact, we found that being watched can actually empower you. 

Respondents to our questionnaire — people who had not necessarily instigated an act of good, nor been the recipient of an action that had lifted and empowered them — told us incredible stories of how inspired they felt when they saw others acting in unexpected and meaningful ways. Stories of how they saw one mom with limited resources pack up and share her baby’s too-small clothes with another young mom. Or how a colleague at work saw the struggle of a new employee and set out to privately mentor and coach him. Observing positive actions not only lifted the witness emotionally, but it inspired them to see that they, too, had the capacity to do something meaningful for someone else.

Initiating their own cascades, they mentored, coached, empathized, included and shared. They acknowledged their own vulnerability to make another person feeling shaky know they were not alone. They acknowledged someone who is rarely appreciated. Small actions that lifted someone and were likely replicated by the recipient and magnified by those who saw it happen.

So the next time you are second-guessing yourself, wondering what people who “see you” will think about you, have confidence. The times when you take a few minutes to lift a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger or a friend with a kind word or action, someone is watching.  And benefitting. And feeling empowered to believe that they, too, have the ability to create connections that lift them as individuals and as a community.

The world often seems daunting, and our ability as individuals to address the troubles that plague us can feel so huge that we don’t know where to start. But the “power of the witness” should give us all hope. Small actions that you take can create ripple effects that are not only pay-it-forward linear but multiplied exponentially by those who witness you and are inspired to become givers themselves.  

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Do you Parlay?

Share It Small: Start your own cascades that lift those around you and inspire witnesses to do the same. 

Share It Big: Amplify the positive actions of those around you by telling others what you have witnessed and how it inspired you. By being vocal, you may well inspire more “Givers,”  ”Receivers” and “Witnesses” to keep the momentum going.

Share It with Me: I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.