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“What Would You Do?” and the Key to Thoughtfulness

By Sarah Ungerer

It’s a young boy’s birthday! He has his party hat on and is sitting down in front of a long, decorated wooden table at his favorite restaurant. His mom is by his side, but where is everybody else? You overhear their conversation and soon learn that none of his invited classmates have shown up to celebrate with him. The boy is upsettingly devastated and the mom is evidently stressed, scrambling to find a way to make her son feel happier. After understanding this circumstance, let me ask you: What Would You Do?

What Would You Do? is hands-down my favorite television show ever. The premise of the series is to publicly demonstrate real-life scenarios with actors and capture real people’s responses to a given situation. It’s a huge social experiment that explores how the public reacts to so many relevant topics: body image-related bullying, parents’ rejection of their LGBTQ+ children, and teachers struggling to pay out-of-pocket for their students’ school supplies to name a few.

I remember growing up watching countless episodes with my family, and even now at 19 years old I find myself regularly bingeing their YouTube videos whenever I need a pick-me-up (or a good cry). What I find so heartwarming about this show is that oftentimes, these hidden camera scenarios reveal the kindness in everyday passersby. We’re able to see others make the conscious choice to help seemingly random people (the actors) to the best of their ability, from friends banding together to defend a woman being harassed or a teenager paying for a homeless man’s meal. The series truly shines a light on the inherent goodness within our communities and pushes a beautiful message in regards to the power behind thoughtful actions towards strangers.

In my life and possibly yours as well, I believe that it’s easier to enact these gestures to the people closest to us. With friends and family, there’s a defined relationship, so thoughtful actions are likely to come about more easily because of this connection. Covering the cost for a friend’s drink at the movies or writing a heartfelt Christmas card to your grandmother might feel like second nature. Let’s challenge ourselves, though. As we continue to pursue kindness to those in our inner circle, how can we extend ourselves to do the same for strangers?

Spending a majority of my life watching What Would You Do? certainly pushed me to pay more attention and think about what I could be doing to help others. When I was in elementary school, I remember coming home from school and seeing sweltering construction workers hammering away at our condo building. Upon stumbling across this, my mom and I headed inside to grab some extra water bottles from our refrigerator and distribute them out to the men. In high school, I remember paying for an older woman’s coffee order after her card got declined at a cafe cash register. Actions like these have continued throughout my life not only as a result of the great inspiration I received from viewing the What Would You Do? series, but also because I am constantly aware of who and what are around me.

Being observant of your surroundings, therefore, is a key component of growing to become more thoughtful. As you practice this, from here on out, you will quickly find yourself seeing opportunities to be a good neighbor to random people. Just please keep in mind that your actions don’t have to be grand. You don’t have to give a stranger $10,000 or give a gaming console to a teary-eyed toddler–there are very few people in this world who can afford this type of extravagant kindness. Not everyone is as wealthy as award-winning celebrities or has the means to give out expensive products to others. Money is simply a bonus. It’s not at all necessary for thoughtfulness.

I encourage you to remember this: the smallest actions can mean the world to another individual. Hold the door open for a group of teenagers at the mall. Flash a wide smile to the ladies you pass by on your morning run. Help an elderly couple load their groceries into their car trunk. Give up your seat on a filled-up bus for the pregnant woman standing up. Defend a kid who is being bullied. Clearly, you can do so much to perform gestures of kindness and love. So keep your eyes wide open. There are an infinite amount of ways that you can promote a thoughtful attitude to any person around you.