Light the World is a social media campaign encouraging people to help others and hashtag about it during the holiday season. On the one hand, it looks almost pretentious and does not affect non-members.

On the other hand…well, that is what this essay is about.

To get people to help others, research shows that sermons are useless. That is, preaching at people that they should help others makes pretty much no difference in whether they do or don’t help.

Even preparing a sermon on the Good Samaritan was useless in motivating people to help when checked by observational testing. Having people prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan in divinity school makes no statistical difference on whether they stop to help someone in need on their way to deliver that sermon.

On the other hand, some things made a huge difference:

First, having time. Those students preparing sermons who, as they left to deliver them were told their time slot had moved fifteen minutes or more were much more likely to stop and help. People who plan time to help others are much more likely to help.

Second, having a social model (having helping part of the social norm) helps. If it is socially expected and everyone is doing it, you are more likely to help others too.

Third, having a model for how to help makes a difference. People need to have a real or practice model (having someone else show you how it is done). Tangible examples give people a handle on service. Both practicing helping and seeing the specifics of what someone else has done makes it more likely you will help.

You want kindness and outreach?

Then you need socialization—making it an observed norm (something you know everyone is doing and expects). With examples (of how it is done).

Light the world creates socialization and examples of things people can do by showing what others are doing

It is actually an excellent tool to get people to do things that help others.

Since it really doesn’t do more than look quaint to people on the true outside, it is harmless for secondary gain. As a result, in practice it doesn’t seem to be advertising for outsiders so much as guidance for those doing it.

If you were trying to get people to help others, what would you do differently?