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People — including organizations — respond to incentives.
But rarely do we create incentives for doing good. Rather, we tend to create disincentives — legal liability, bad press, boycotts, etc. — for doing bad things. We see this reflected in everyday life. When running for political office, candidates will mention their successes, sure, but the discourse focuses on the failures of their opponents. (Quickly: name one positive thing John Kerry or Sarah Palin did.) Google’s informal motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” sums up the incredibly low bar of expectations from corporations while simultaneously focusing on the negative stuff they don’t do, rather than their actual philanthropic work. And with oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, a boycott of BP makes emotional sense — but why hasn’t there been a concerted effort to patronize, as a society, the oil companies which are doing the most work (and investing the most resources) into cleaner-burning fuel alternatives? Do you even know which company that would be? I don’t, but I feel like I should.
We rightly place disincentives on doing evil. But we rarely celebrate the good work done in this world. Maybe it’s just too much work and not worth our time. Maybe it needs to be easier.
I’ve been thinking about this problem for about a week, after synthesizing a lot what I learned from Internet Week NYC events. I concluded that we need to make a concerted effort to celebrate the good in this world, and that Twitter makes that easy, so I registered @CelebrateGood and followed some causes. (I am not sure yet what I want to do with @CelebrateGood yet — I haven’t even found a good icon! — but it probably won’t focus on non-profits. I’ll outline my basic thinking in another post.)