Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2014 Day of Compassion Award

Jane Goodall InstituteIn the summer of 2014, students from over 200 countries took a Social Psychology "MOOC" (massive open online course). The class was offered by Wesleyan University, hosted by Coursera.org, and drew more than 200,000 students.

The final assignment of the course, "The Day of Compassion," asked students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible and to analyze the experience using social psychology. Several thousand students completed the assignment, and more than 200 of the highest scoring essays were then voted on by the class to decide which one deserved a Day of Compassion Award sponsored by Social Psychology Network.

The grand prize winner below was flown on an expense-paid trip to meet famed anthropologist Jane Goodall, who joined the MOOC instructor, Scott Plous, in presenting the award certificate to the winner. In addition, Social Psychology Network donated $1,000 to the Jane Goodall Institute in the name of the winner, $100 to the Institute in the name of ten students who received Honorable Mention, and $10 in the name of the first 800 other students who completed the assignment—a total of $10,000 in support of the Institute.

Please see below for a description of the honorees, or see the 2013 Day of Compassion Award page for information on the previous year's winner and honorees.

Grand Prize Winner: Qian Zhang

The apartment hallway Qian Zhang, a stay-at-home mother who lives in the Chinese city of Chengdu, won the grand prize for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment. Remembering what it was like to be beaten during her own childhood, she decided to "do the right thing" despite strong cultural norms to keep silent. After knocking on her neighbors' door, she calmed down the parents and got the boy to safety. The next day, she returned to her neighbors' apartment and shared social psychology tips for reducing conflict and improving family life. She also gradually got to know the boy and began helping him with school work, which had been a source of tension with his parents. Since the Day of Compassion, there have been no further beatings, and Qian Zhang has set up a group of mothers in her apartment building to reduce domestic violence.

Olga Pivovarova

Olga Pivovarova has always found it difficult to empathize with homeless people, so she devoted her Day of Compassion to improving the life of a homeless man she had seen walking around her neighborhood in Yaroslavl, Russia. To show the man that someone cared about him, she assembled a gift bag with new clothes, hygiene items for washing and shaving, a towel, and a card that said "Happy Birthday, whenever it was." Olga and her husband then dropped off the bag where the man normally slept, and they watched at a distance to make sure the man discovered the anonymous gift. When the man eventually arrived and opened the bag, he smiled and wept, leading Olga to do the same. In her words: "The best way to make the world a better place is to live each day as a small Day of Compassion. You just need to do a few small things for those who are nearby."

Shalin Arokia Mary Maria Lawrence

Shalin Lawrence got married when she was 21 years old, but three months later, her husband left her for another person. Because divorced women are stigmatized where Shalin lives in Southern India, this experience exposed her to discrimination, so she decided to spend her Day of Compassion with a group of people who, like her, suffer from ill-treatment: transgender people. Specifically, she visited the office of the Transgender Rights Association and befriended more than a dozen transgender women. During the meeting, Shalin and her new friends traded stories, ate lunch together, and even celebrated Shalin's upcoming birthday with a cake. She also pledged to provide them with free computer training, help those who were unemployed to get jobs, and join them in their fight for social justice. According to Shalin, "these activities connected me to my soul."

Sean McDonnell

Sean McDonnell is a pediatric dentist living in Florida, and his original plan for the Day of Compassion involved launching a science club at his children's school. When he spoke with the school principal, however, she had a more pressing matter to discuss. "Do you know of any families that would be willing to take in two children?" The parents of two students, Becca and Raymond (ages 7 and 4), had run into trouble with the law, and the children were suddenly without a home or caregiver. After conferring with his wife, Sean offered to provide a home for Becca and Raymond, who ended up living with his family for six weeks, until their mother was able to continue caring for them. What Sean reported after the Day of Compassion is that the beneficiaries of the experience included not only Becca and Raymond, but Sean himself, his wife, and their children.

Mario Roberto E. Hormigos

Mario Hormigos has long felt sorry for the migrant laborers at his workplace in Saudi Arabia. Nearly all of the laborers are from Bangladesh or Nepal, and with wages of $4.00 or less per day, they can't afford much more than a piece of bread a day, washed down with potentially unsafe tap water. During his Day of Compassion, Mario had a water dispenser placed near the laborers' work area to provide clean, safe drinking water, and he persuaded the cafeteria manager to give them free fruit as well as untouched leftover food from the cafeteria. These changes led to a noticeable improvement in job performance among the laborers, which in turn led Mario's colleagues to buy food for the laborers and get to know them by name. Perhaps the biggest change is that Mario's company is now considering the possibility of absorbing the laborers into its internal workforce, which would offer medical benefits. As Mario put it, "Our company today, the community tomorrow!"

Sutirtha Ghosh

Because the Day of Compassion coincided with India's Independence Day on August 15, Sutirtha Ghosh chose to weave the two events together. In his area of Kolkata, he and four friends arranged for 10 underprivileged children to spend the day with 13 lonely senior citizens who lived in an old age home. The day began with a friendly football (soccer) match with two teams that each had a mixture of kids and seniors. The group then assembled on the rooftop of the senior home to hoist the Indian flag, and after a light snack, the children played with their new "grandparents" until lunchtime. After lunch, everyone watched the movie Gandhi, and once the movie ended, they discussed India's fight for independence. The seniors talked about what it was like to grow up in the era of the British Raj, and one senior even spoke about how he had met Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, the day ended with hugs, kisses, and plans for the children to visit the seniors again (which several have done). Thus, with creative and compassionate thinking, Sutirtha turned Independence Day into "Interdependence Day."

Tamara Ahmed Abdelaziz Abdelmoneim

For her Day of Compassion, Tamara Abdelmoneim felt obliged to use her medical training and interest in psychology to care for a group that is stigmatized, marginalized, and isolated in her home country of Sudan: female sex workers. She chose this group not only because it represents a neglected population, but because sex workers are more susceptible to HIV/AIDS and have the potential to transmit HIV/AIDS to a wide number of people. The centerpiece of her effort was a health message she developed called "My Promise of Three." The Promise is a pledge that each woman makes to protect herself and others by (1) getting tested for HIV every three months, (2) spreading knowledge about HIV to three other sex workers, and (3) carrying three condoms to reduce the chances of disease. Based on the positive feedback she received, Tamara now hopes to expand her project as an HIV/AIDS intervention strategy that creates an "empathetic flowering" toward this vulnerable minority group of women.

Coco Qiu

Coco Qiu is a 16-year-old high school student living in Shanghai, China, and is the youngest student ever to receive Honorable Mention in the Day of Compassion Award judging. Over the past two years, Coco has volunteered with "Heart to Heart"—a charitable group that provides financial and emotional support for children with congenital heart problems—and her main job has been to play with children in a hospital where they're having surgery. On her Day of Compassion, however, Coco decided to do more. She raised awareness and recruited other volunteers by inviting people to write a message to the children in large letters, take a photo of themselves holding the message, and post the photo on social media to generate even more interest and awareness. In less than 24 hours, Coco succeeded in getting more than 300 people to take a photo, and in many cases, to post the photo online. She even used her Day of Compassion essay as a vehicle to generate more photos (please read her essay for details).

Mônica Tosta Gonçalves

Mônica Gonçalves teaches English as a foreign language to children and adults in Brazil ranging from four years old to senior citizens, but for the Day of Compassion, she taught her students something more: the value and power of compassion. On that day, she began her classes by distributing small "Compassion Cards" (displaying the heart symbol from the course assignment page), and she held discussions about the meaning of compassion. Then she encouraged her students to be compassionate on August 15 and let her know afterward what they did. Her students reported giving free dental care to a homeless boy with a toothache, volunteering at a drug addiction clinic, donating toys, and much more. Mônica herself also practiced compassion by being vegetarian, conserving water, and offering to teach English to kids at an orphanage. In her essay, Mônica wrote that the Compassion Card exercise "changed me inside by showing that I was able to help people move and be moved by a simple invitation to behave compassionately."

Jim Forbes

Jim Forbes, a lawyer from Australia, decided to spend his Day of Compassion "love bombing" his seven-year-old daughter with 24 hours of undivided attention. On that day, he powered down his mobile phone, turned off the computer, and told his daughter that he was hers for the whole day. The result was a day that she'll likely never forget: building ice castles in the living room, splashing cake batter across the kitchen, and enjoying a backyard tea party. Reflecting on the experience, Jim later asked: "Who knew that making Magic Dragon Soup could be so much fun?" Yet the emotional bond he forged with his daughter led her to disclose something quite serious: she had recently become the target of bullying at school. Following this revelation, Jim met with her classroom teacher, and the situation is now considerably better. To stay close to his daughter, Jim now plans to hold regular 30-minute "love bombs" and occasional whole-day events. "My experience," wrote Jim, "taught me that sometimes, compassion—like charity—is best begun at home."

Valentina Pirandello

Valentina Pirandello is an Italian writer who lived happily with her boyfriend, Jorge, in Puerto Rico until he began to grow aggressive, at which point she decided to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, when Valentina moved out and tried to collect her belongings, Jorge physically assaulted her. She then flew back to Italy, calling him a monster and refusing to accept his apology—a romantic split that led Jorge to attempt suicide. For the Day of Compassion, Valentina called Jorge to tell him that she didn't think he was a monster or even a particularly bad person, but that he could be a better person and could choose not to contaminate his future relationships with domestic violence. Using social psychology, she explained some of the reasons for his violence—not to excuse it, but to help him understand and address it. Jorge is now undergoing psychotherapy in an effort to avoid partner violence in the future.

Congratulations to all on a job well done!



Return to Top

©1996-2017, S. Plous