little ways to make the world a slightly better place?
February 6, 2015 10:58 AM   Subscribe

When I'm out drinking, I bring my group's empty bottles and glasses back up to the bar so the bartender doesn't have to come out and get them. When I go out to eat, I consolidate the plates and cutlery after the meal so they're easy to bus off the table. What are some other similarly inconsequential-seeming habits I can adopt to help make the world a slightly easier and more pleasant place for my fellow travelers to live?

That's it, really! I try to pay it forward in life whenever I can, but I'm not rich or smart enough to take any heroic steps to save the world. Mostly I just want to try to make it a slightly less depressing place to be.

I do already volunteer in my community and donate as much to charity as I can. I'm looking more for tiny positive actions that can be performed on a regular basis and helpful habits that can be cultivated on a more diminutive scale as opposed to grand ambitions.

Any small act or token of kindness that would brighten the day of a random stranger (ex: letting them in front of you when you're in line at the grocery store or the coffee shop) or anyone in a customer-facing position (ex: tipping generously) would be perfect. Free stuff would be especially rad, but anything that costs >$10 or so is great.

Thank you, AskMe!
posted by divined by radio to Human Relations (79 answers total) 128 users marked this as a favorite
Bring a bag with you while hiking, pick up trash. Bring your shopping cart back to where it belongs. Basically, leave things better than where you found things.

I consolidate the plates and cutlery after the meal so they're easy to bus off the table.

That's not always making it easier, sometimes it throws off someone's balance or other ways that they typically clear the table. I actually stopped doing that after talking to some friends that had been in the service industry.
posted by kellyblah at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2015 [33 favorites]

Put the basket/shopping cart back where it goes by the front of the supermarket so that the next person to use it will not require a third party to have already moved it to the proper place.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:05 AM on February 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

- Helping elderly neighbours by carrying groceries or running errands. - Baking stuff and sharing with friends/coworkers/neighbours
- pay genuine, not body related compliments (love those shoes!)
- Write emails to corporate, telling them how their employee helped you with your issue and was awesome
posted by Omnomnom at 11:09 AM on February 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

When the light turns green, go. Taking an unnecessarily long pause or leaving an unnecessarily large gap between you and the person in front of you will cause folks farther down the line to miss the light.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:12 AM on February 6, 2015 [32 favorites]

When paying in cash - especially if it's a lot of cash - have your bills arranged from highest to lowest and facing the same way. I used to wait tables and I can get a little obsessive about this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:14 AM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Use your car's indicators in traffic.
posted by bonehead at 11:14 AM on February 6, 2015 [53 favorites]

When you bring objects with barcodes to the person who runs the barcode scanner, turn the things so all the barcodes are facing up and easily scanned. Like library books or groceries.
posted by clavicle at 11:16 AM on February 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm a librarian and I wish that patrons would push their chairs back in when they leave. I wonder if people who work in food/drink places feel the same way.
posted by mareli at 11:18 AM on February 6, 2015 [24 favorites]

Facing the money in your wallet so whoever is running the till doesn't have to sort out your mashed-together messy bills is a kind gesture.

Please don't roll bills up and secure them with a rubber band (they are very difficult to smooth out and get to lay correctly in a cash drawer) or fold up checks or keep them in your pocket for a long time (folding in half once isn't the end of the world, but checks need to get scanned through finicky machinery and very creased or crumpled checks are almost impossible to scan).
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you see your mail carrier (or UPS driver or whomever) coming, meet them halfway.
posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

Always look behind you before exiting a car through the door facing traffic to avoid dooring a cyclist.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:27 AM on February 6, 2015 [43 favorites]

Take stray shopping carts back to the store or the cart corral.

Compliments, especially to random strangers. Something as simple as "what a pretty coat!" can make a world of difference for someone.

Offer a helping hand whenever you see someone struggling. Even if they refuse the assistance, it can brighten their day.

When entering a place of business, hold open the door for the person behind you.

As traffic backs up at a stoplight, you can earn the undying gratitude of people exiting a driveway or parking lot by waving them ahead of you.

Be polite to the people you encounter in customer-facing jobs.

Go out of your way to hold the door open for anyone pushing a stroller or a wheelchair.

posted by DrGail at 11:28 AM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

One of my coworkers wipes the splashes off our bathroom counter at work and then folds a paper towel to lay under the soap dispenser. This keeps things neat between the times the cleaning lady comes in, and ensures no one has to put their purse down in a puddle.
posted by MsMolly at 11:34 AM on February 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

Help keep the common areas of your office tidy and stocked. Wipe up spills, replace the paper towel roll, etc.

Let people in charge know about things that need attention before things are dire: Tell the office manager that the coffee is running low so you don't run out. Let your landlord know that the fridge is acting weird so he can attend to it before it becomes a big issue.
posted by radioamy at 11:45 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you use public transport, give your seat to anyone who's pregnant, elderly, or using a cane.

Buy nice hand soap for the restroom at work so people don't have to use that crappy stuff they put in the dispensers. Similarly, buy room spray for the restroom at work and leave it near the sink or in one of the booths.
posted by holborne at 11:46 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you use the last of something, refill it.

This message brought to you by someone who is flummoxed every day by my monstrous coworkers who take the last of the coffee without making another pot.
posted by something something at 11:46 AM on February 6, 2015 [21 favorites]

I consider situational awareness to be a huge part of polite society. Be aware of if you're standing in the path of others when chatting with a friend or when putting on your coat, make sure you don't smack the person at the table next to you with your sleeve. Don't take up more than your fair share of space when in public (transportation or otherwise).

Brushing the snow off the car next to you in the parking lot will absolutely make someone's day.
posted by Twicketface at 11:50 AM on February 6, 2015 [46 favorites]

While you're sprucing up the office restroom, do you have someone in the office who maintains a candy dish? Bring in a bag of candy once in a while to supplement her stash if she's supplying it out of personal funds. You'll brighten her day and also be assured of candy you like. (Or, if you're trying to avoid the temptation, of candy you DON'T like.) Win-win!
posted by Stacey at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

At movie theaters, grab your trash and throw it out as you leave. It's easy enough for the employees to sweep, but the time-consuming part is picking up all the half-full popcorn bags and soda cups and hucking them down the stairs to the garbage. (Plus, you will make some minimum-wage teenager smile at you in shocked delight, which is always nice.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:58 AM on February 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you see a kid selling something inexpensive (e.g. lemonade stand, Girl Scout cookies), buy it. Don't question it. Just do it. You might be the only one to do it for that kid, and they'll remember how kind you were.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2015 [45 favorites]

- Toss in an extra dollar for the tip if people are nickle and diming about it.
- Reshelve your own books at the library if you know where they go.
- Carry smaller bills (yes aligned the same way) so you can more easily pay exact change or close.
- Pick up trash in front of your house, on a hike, at your bus stop.
- Push the paper towel trash down in the public restroom if you notice it's overflowing because people are afraid to touch things in the bathroom.
- Leave extra feminine hygiene products (tampons, pads) or moisturizer for hands visible in your restroom if you have guests or in a work restroom
- flush toilets of people who forgot to flush in public restrooms
- be the person who has extra duct tape or a safety pin or quarters for the meter
- try to distract/interest a fussy kid at the airport/restaurant/wherever if their parent is trying to accomplish something
- if you go to a thing with other people tell them that you are happy they came and that their presence mattered (in some appropriate way "Hey we did better on trivia since you were on our team, thanks!"). Tell people it was good to see them if it is, in fact, good to see them.
- log out of your things if you use public computers at the library or elsewhere
- have a pen or a piece of scratch paper handy
- kick the snow off of your boots before you get into someone's car or house (and if they have a shoes-off house bring slippers, I know this is culturally determined but it's a thing we do where I live)
- put yourself in the same category as your fellow travelers and try to be at least as kind to yourself as you would be to a stranger. Set your future self up well.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on February 6, 2015 [42 favorites]

At an academic conference: always find something nice to say to a student who does a platform talk; similarly, alwyas find time to visit the student poster sessions.
posted by bonehead at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2015 [13 favorites]

It makes a big impact on my day when someone gives me a compliment that is NOT creepy/body-related. That is, go for things like "I love your purse!" rather than "You have a nice ass." :)

Some other ideas:
--Giving a genuine thank you when someone does something nice for YOU, so that they know it was noticed and appreciated. If someone holds the door open for you, say thank you rather than just going through.
--Asking people if they'd like your seat on the bus/subway -- obviously this is mandatory (or should be in my view) if we are talking about someone who is elderly, disabled, etc. But it can be nice to sometimes randomly offer your seat up to someone who just looks like they are tired, has a bunch of stuff with them, has small kids with them, etc.
--When you have a good experience at any type of service establishment, take the time to file a compliment with the manager so the employee gets something positive in their record.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:13 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you live in an apartment building, properly sort your trash and recyclables and place them in the right type of bags in the right bins. Otherwise the porter has to go through and sort it by hand before trash day. Break down the cardboard as well.

At the grocery store, place your items on the belt in the way you want them bagged (cold w/ cold; cans & boxes; eggs/bread/delicate things toward the back). Organize your cash before handing it to the cashier. If you're using a credit card, 95% of the time you can swipe it while the cashier is scanning items, you don't have to wait until the end. If you bring your own bags, try to bag your own groceries, if at all possible. Know the names of produce you're buying (you'd be surprised how often people do not know what kind of greens, apples, onions, etc. they selected).

When buying alcohol, be prepared to show ID and don't give the cashier/waiter/etc a hard time about it. They're just trying to do their jobs, and if you don't have your ID for some reason, ask nicely for the manager to ok the transaction.

At the bank, post office, etc. don't get in line until your paperwork is complete (to the extent possible).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Leave the toilet seat up in men's rooms. Even if you were there for #2, pop the seat up with your foot. The next guy might be that slob who pees on the seat, and you'll be saving the next sitter after that from a wet seat.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Drop a quarter in an expired parking meter, just make sure the parking enforcement people don't see you.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you drive, always use your blinkers when you are making a turn. Use them when you are changing lanes. Use them when you are exiting a parking lot or a driveway. You may know which way you're turning, but it's not obvious to anyone else.

Please, use your blinkers.
posted by alms at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2015 [22 favorites]

When clothes shopping, put things back as you've found them. I have worked in retail and know what it's like to fold a table full of jumpers or tshirts only for someone to rummage through them and leave things unfolded so you have to start again. Likewise putting hung clothes back on the rail in size order.

Let other cars out in front of you when driving, and do it with a smile rather than a "hurry up" gesture.

Leave public toilets as you'd want to find them.

Generally saying please, thank you and smiling at everyone who ever serves you anything.

And if giving money to someone on the street I make a point of always making eye contact, smiling and saying Hi rather than just throwing money down.
posted by billiebee at 12:19 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

When the toilet paper runs out, put a new roll on the toilet paper holder. Like actually attach it not just set it on top.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:28 PM on February 6, 2015 [14 favorites]

At the grocery store, put the stick which separates orders on the conveyor belt after your stuff if it is available. I'm always thanked for doing this, and always feel frustrated when it is not done for me.
posted by Riverine at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2015 [21 favorites]

Oh and SO has just volunteered one: if you pass someone who looks sad or down make a point of saying hello or making a comment on the weather or something. Just some way of offering them a little human contact.
posted by billiebee at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

When you're calling an institution of any sort with questions, have all of your ducks in a row: have specific questions, have names, dates, and account numbers, decide upon tactics for escalation other than GRAR. Do all of this before you get on the phone. And please, be polite, as (contrary to popular belief) the person on the other end of the phone (initially, at least) actually wants to help you get your desired outcome and isn't usually a soulless corporate tool. It's just a schmoe, like you, trying to get through the day.
posted by eclectist at 12:32 PM on February 6, 2015 [22 favorites]

Some tips for riding buses and streetcars:
  • Sit down if possible. If you must stand, move as far back as possible. It does not help other people to leave seats empty on a standing-room only bus. It just makes the aisle more crowded and can result in people getting left off the bus. You can offer your seat to individuals when you want.
  • Don't block a seat by sitting on the outside. If someone else is blocking a seat or occupying it with their bag, assertively say "excuse me" and they will almost always let you sit there. This will make things better for you and everyone else (see above).
  • If people pay at the front, you should exit at the back.
  • Have your fare ready in advance.
  • If you're at a bus stop and you don't want to ride the approaching bus, indicate so to the driver.
  • Say "thank you" to the driver.

posted by grouse at 12:33 PM on February 6, 2015 [12 favorites]

I find a lot of University ID cards. When I do, I immediately look the person up and email them to tell them where I found it, and arrange to get it back to them as easily (when they don't have their own ID, duh) as possible. Sometimes it feels like i'm just making life too easy for dopey privileged undergrads, but then I tell myself that I maybe teaching them something about putting in a little effort to restore a smidgen of order to a chaotic universe.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 12:40 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you call customer service and you have the opportunity to take a survey about the call, do it if you had a positive experience. It can make a big difference in that employee's evaluations. I've also contacted the manager of a retail store to compliment a salesperson. Seriously, it can make a big difference to someone working for $8/hour.
posted by desjardins at 12:41 PM on February 6, 2015 [15 favorites]

If you don't bother returning bottles for deposits, separate them out anyway so that the trashpickers don't need to dig.

And seconding Juliet Banana on checking for cyclists when exiting a car -- if you teach yourself to open the car door with your right hand, you'll do it automatically.
posted by susanvance at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you drive: pedestrians might be trying to cross the street at stop signs and intersections. You need to look for them rather than assuming they aren't there, especially if there parked cars that might block the view of the side of the road and ESPECIALLY if you're making a right on the red (in the US, anyway, a right on red is a right directly into the pedestrians crossing with their signal.)

Offer to put things back in a store, but don't be offended if your clerk refuses. We appreciate the offer, but most customers think they know where a thing goes but really don't, causing super fun hide-and-seek with product.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:50 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Shovel your sidewalks after it snows. Everyone who has to walk down your street will think kind thoughts about you.
posted by caryatid at 12:59 PM on February 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

A few auto-related ones:

Check your car when you park it in a tight space -- not just to make sure you're within the lines, but also to make sure you're not leaving too much space on one side and not enough for someone else on the other.

Similarly, if the space says "Compact Cars Only", respect that, even if you can just barely squeeze in to it.

When you're coming up on a traffic jam, slow down a little bit early and leave more buffer-space than you need in front of you. This both provides room for other people to move in to if necessary, and acts as relief room for the pressure wave that a traffic jam actually is. You can actually help clear a jam from behind, if only a little bit, this way.

Other transit related:

Take your backpack off if you're in a standing-room-only bus or train car. This frees up lateral space for another person to stand, and can keep you from unintentionally bumping your fellow travellers.

If you're on a conveyance that uses one-time paper tickets, take your waste ticket with you when you leave and discard it, rather than making a conductor / bus driver clean it up. If other people walk off and leave theirs behind, take them, too.

Other random stuff:

If you're calling customer support for something, have your account number and any other details all lined up and ready to go. If you need a problem resolved, rehearse a concise but thorough description of it before hand so you don't need to stammer about it once you get a human on the phone.

Remember that that human on the phone is just trying to get through his day the same way you are, and is usually working long hours in an underpaid thankless job that wants to treat him as anything but a human being. Don't take your frustrations with that system out on him. Thank him for trying to help you, even if it's not working. If you have a complaint, make it clear that, "I'm not upset with you, I know you're doing your best, but..."

Don't ask people who have esoteric skills to just "help you out". Sometimes they can't for professional or legal reasons, as with a lawyer's obligations to the bar and his clients. Sometimes you may underestimate the amount of time something "simple" would take. There can be any number of very good reasons why an acquaintance can't just "help you out" with something, and it's a little rude to put them in the awkward position of having to say "no". One of the things I dread hearing from people I know is, "Hey, can you help me fix my computer?" because generally I'm given the choice of likely spending hours helping someone fix something "simple", and then being on the hook for all future problems -- or saying no and feeling and looking like a jerk.

If someone looks like they're having a bad day... smile at them and give them a "how you doing?" They might just want to be left alone, but even that much human interaction can break people out of a mental funk.

Similarly, if you're having a bad day, be nice to someone! I find that specifically looking for a "good deed" however trivial can improve my own mood, and keep me from being an asshole to someone else and paying it forward in the wrong way.

Personally, whenever I get annoyed with someone for something, however trivial, I try to remind myself of this quote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Sometimes it's hardest to remember this for the things that are most trivial.
posted by jammer at 1:02 PM on February 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

Whenever someone at a lower pay grade than me does something for me at work, I always double-check with them whether there's some way I can make it easier for them. E.g. I ask administrative assistants to check if I've filled out the form right, or or if I can format a document a better way, if there's a certain day of week that's easier for them to handle certain requests, or if I should give them things by email instead of paper or vice versa.

This gives them an opportunity to correct me if I'm doing something that costs them extra time that I could just as easily do the right way. (Strangely enough, I'm known as the person all the admin assists love and will bend over backward to do favors for, though that's not the reason I do it.)
posted by BrashTech at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Look both ways when you're on foot in a parking lot. I know pedestrians have the right of way but it always strikes me as impolite and a little self-righteous to just assume cars will screech to a halt the second you step off a curb.
posted by _Mona_ at 1:16 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Carry a small first aid kit with you always. I carry a pill bottle containing bandaids, individual packets of antiseptic wipes and antibacterial ointment, tylenol, and ibuprofen. If you're feeling fancy, you could add antacids, eye drops, and feminine hygiene products.

I've been able to assist friends, coworkers, and strangers with this little kit. Most people will never get a chance to use their CPR training, but small cuts and headaches come up all the time!
posted by Wavelet at 1:20 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

When calling a customer support line, make note of name of the person you speak with. Make sure to end the call with, "Thank you for your help, -name-" or something similar.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Bring extra earplugs at concerts. They are cheap and are always appreciated.
posted by 724A at 1:43 PM on February 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

If someone looks like they're having a bad day... smile at them and give them a "how you doing?"

Great idea!

Please, please do not say "You look like you're having a bad day/so tired/so sad.
posted by jgirl at 1:56 PM on February 6, 2015 [11 favorites]

Personally, whenever I get annoyed with someone for something, however trivial, I try to remind myself of this quote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

I should add that I think it's also important to apply this to yourself, as well. Sometimes I get to the end of a day, and I know I've gotten absorbed in my own problems, not heeded any of this, been a rotten asshole to everyone around me, and feel like shit about it. That's the most important time to be kind to yourself. "Yeah, I didn't do so great today, but that's OK. I'm human. Tomorrow I'll do better."

Every day's a book. Close it when it's done.
posted by jammer at 2:24 PM on February 6, 2015 [16 favorites]

When you are walking with another person on a sidewalk, and you see another person walking, don't stay two abreast, make yourselves into a single file line.

Drives me crazy when the person I'm walking with is taking up the whole middle of the sidewalk and I have to drag them over out of the way.

Drives. Me. Crazy.

And nobody likes being the person having to scoot over into a fire hydrant because some pair is taking up the whole sidewalk.
posted by bilabial at 2:34 PM on February 6, 2015 [19 favorites]

When walking from store to car or vice versa, don't walk down the middle of the parking lot lane.

Park between the lines and leave space on each side even if you have to back and fill. When parking parallel, don't take the middle of a large parking spot where two cars could fit.

Move out of pedestrian traffic flows when you're walking and need to stop for some reason. Don't stand and have a conference with your companion or check your phone right in front of the door, the escalator, or in the middle of an aisle or sidewalk.

Keep a respectable distance from people who are paying at the store or using an ATM. It's very annoying to have someone breathing down your neck, and there are security concerns too. I am increasingly amazed at how many people don't practice this simple but vital point of etiquette.

RE: taking shopping carts back: it's possible that so few people do this that it won't make a difference, but recall that you're doing the work of someone who probably really needs that job.

This is also very important: If somebody wants to do something nice for you, let them. You will both be happier for it.

Good for you for trying in small ways to make the world a nicer place!
posted by caryatid at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Got a car? Carry a set of jumper cables, and know how to use them. If you have a smartphone you can just google it if you need to. Nothing makes someone's day like restarting their dead car.
posted by Slinga at 2:51 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hold doors open for people (regular doors, not doors you need a special key or code to open). Local etiquette in some places can vary so this isn't received well everywhere, but even then people who have their hands full tend to appreciate someone getting a door for them.
posted by yohko at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2015

When driving and stopped at an intersection, please look where your car is about to move before performing a turn.
posted by halifix at 3:52 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

When waiting for an elevator door to open, stand so that if there is someone inside they can leave the elevator without trying to get around you. If you are in charge of children teach them this habit. (I acknowledge it's still a struggle with my two, but I remind them every single time...someday they might even remember.)
posted by dawg-proud at 4:34 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wavelet: “Carry a small first aid kit with you always.”
At the very least, keep a Band-Aid in your wallet.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the grocery store parking lot, on your way in: when you pass someone who's just finished loading their things in to their car, say, "Oh, hey! If you're finished with that cart, I can use it!"

People brighten up and say, "Yes! That saves me having to take it back!" Then you can take the cart from them, on in to the store.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 5:05 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

When you buy non-barcoded stuff at giant stores, like lumber at Home Depot, take a picture on your phone of the item number on the shelf and its description, etc. It spares them having to go into contortions to figure out what you're buying.

When you want to fix something like a bit of plumbing or whatever, take pictures, so that when you go into the store you don't have to say 'I'm looking for the thingy that goes beneath the U-ish shaped thing beneath the curvy pipe' you can just say 'I need that thing'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

This is what my 8-yr-old granddaughter did for me this week: I got home to find a plain box about 12" cubed, feeling almost empty but with a slight papery rattle, at my door, with a pouched address paper that said "read this first! Do NOT open box!" The note inside the pouch said "this box is to be opened on a bad dY. A day when you are mad or sad. Do not open this box on a good day. A day when you are happy. Love, Margaret (p.s. I made this card)". The card was a rehabbed photo of puppies playing, with the caption "Just Love." So of course, all it takes to make my whole day glow is to catch sight of that yet-unopened box.
I know that's not quite what you asked for, but some people are just born with an instinct, if not a genius, for kindness.
posted by mmiddle at 5:38 PM on February 6, 2015 [43 favorites]

If you are near someone whose kid is having a loud meltdown, especially somewhere like an aeroplane or bus, give them a sympathetic smile. They probably think everyone around them is cursing them and wishing they would disappear and hopefully will feel slightly less hated if they know it's not universally true.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 PM on February 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

Going along with the above reminders to not door cyclists:

Know your local traffic laws. What the actual speed limit is on dinky in-town roads, etc. Time your departures so you have time to actually go the speed limit or a reasonable amount over, even if local habit is to blast through stop signs or speed up on straight stretches. If you're driving calmly and predictably, you're making it that much easier for all the cyclists and pedestrians to judge their street crossings, turns, etc. Also be aware of and exceed the local regulations about how close you're permitted to drive if passing a cyclist--even if there is a bike lane, in most places cars don't actually have the right to pass a cyclist without giving a few feet of room, and that distance can make the difference between them continuing comfortably on their way and them having to swerve into a slushy gutter or curb litter and wiping out. If you give a cyclist the right amount of room, often the cars behind you will do the same.

Similarly, know and recognize cyclist turn signals, and if someone is not signalling be aware that you don't necessarily know what they're doing. Cyclists have the right in most places, for instance, to move into the main car lane even if there is a bike lane, which they might legitimately need to do because of someone almost dooring them, or someone running in the bike lane with headphones on, or because they need to make a left turn. They might not be able to signal because of a bumpy or icy road where they need full traction, or they might just be stressed and forgetful. (Honestly I do get almost as annoyed at cyclists not signalling as drivers, but at least their physical shift to change direction is often visible in advance.) They will almost definitely notice and be thankful if you are aware of them and let them follow their legal prerogative without tailgating, honking, or trying to swerve around them.

(I lived in Minneapolis, first without then with a car. Most of these are agreed on by other cyclists and delivery bikers I knew.)
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 6:11 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

"When you get into your car and you know I am waiting for your parking spot, it makes me so happy when you very quickly buckle up, start the car, throw it in reverse showing me your beautiful, sparkly-white reverse lights and free the spot for me ASAP. " (So says I, The Most Grateful One)


"WTF can possibly take so long to move your damned car, you selfish A-hole! Now is not the time to put on make up, adjust your mirrors, pick your nose, read your emails or make a call or whatever the f!*# it is you are doing to ruin my day. You know I am waiting and and I know hell has a special place waiting for you." (So says I, The Most Impatient and Cynical One)

But that's just me!
posted by murrey at 7:33 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

If someone is being hateful/bigoted, speak up against it. A simple "not cool, dude" is enough.

If you feel like you can safely intervene in situations that are turning tense/violent/shady (e.g. argument in a public place), do so. Google "bystander intervention" for ideas/examples.

Both of these get easier the more you do them.
posted by momus_window at 8:32 PM on February 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

On escalators, stand on the right side if you are just standing still. Leave the left side free for people who climb up while on the escalator.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:03 PM on February 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

When you're around other people, don't leave your cell phone set to make a loud, shrill noise every time something happens (you get a text/email/facebook message/etc.) Put it on vibrate or pick something more subtle.

Don't whistle loudly indoors unless you know everyone around you is fine with it. For some reason whistling is almost painful to me to hear.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:11 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

In gardening circles, there's a concept called "good husbandry". It's all about leaving your growing area better when you leave than when you found it. I do this by trying to make people laugh. Folk seem to like it, and it brightens my day too to know that I've brightened someone else's. It's completely free and only takes a few seconds.

Another thing that doesn't have quite the same "making another person happy" reward that I do are run a couple of apps on my phone. One is OpenSignal, which is crowdsourcing a map of phone signal strengths by location, and the other is Whatgas which lets you choose a petrol station on a map and input the cost of various different fuels so other people can find the cheapest in their area.
posted by Solomon at 2:50 AM on February 7, 2015

If eating or drinking out in a big group and everyone is throwing in a few bucks for their share, take the initiative to count up the total and make sure the bill is covered along with an adequate tip for the server. If it's short, remind your pals that they need to factor in tax and tip, and those pitchers of beer they happily drank from. If your cheapass pals won't step up, put in the extra money yourself. I cannot stand to see servers get stiffed because people can't be bothered to double check their math.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:57 AM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you're in line to order food, know what your order is by the time you get to the front. If you need more time to decide, wave people ahead of you. Don't just stand there staring slack jawed at the menu, or chit chatting with your friends about your weekend plans.

Same goes for ordering at a sit down restaurant. If you don't know yet, tell the server you need a few more minutes. They will be happy to leave your table and get other tasks done, instead of being forced to stand there while you hem and haw over every page of the menu.

My very good friend is awful at both these things and I love her but it drives me insane. As does her penchant for walking extremely slowly with zero situational awareness of others. She is also a terrible driver. Makes one wonder if all these things are correlated.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:11 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

When the light turns green, go.

A thousand times this. Especially if it's an advance turn signal.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:15 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding a friendly smile to someone caring for a child having a meltdown. If you're feeling particularly generous a simple "Do you need an extra hand with something?" goes a long way even if (likely) turns out there isn't anything you can do.

Hold the door for someone with a stroller by opening the door all the way and standing behind it. I often have very well intentioned people hold a door for me and stand in front of it, or just hold it with their arm as they pass - the former means I will squish their feet, the latter is useless as I then have to reach over the stroller for the door (which is harder than doing it myself).

Say hi to small children or give a friendly wave. It makes them so, so happy.

In a bookstore, DO re-shelve a book if you remember exactly where it goes. DON'T randomly put things back. If you decide not to buy a book you were looking at and can't remember where it went, politely give it to customer service or the cashier. ESPECIALLY do this if you're at Barnes and Noble or some other book/cafe place. Don't just leave your books on the table when you go. In general if you're shopping and don't want something you looked at, politely giving it to the cashier is a thousand times better than dumping it in some random spot.

Try not to put liquid in trash cans. If you don't want to finish a drink and there's no sink to dump the liquid in, this isn't end of world but if there is... Taking out the trash is a necessary evil in food service and everyone who does it dreads the horrifying bag breaking and soda/coffee spilling all over their shoes.

If you see a problem in a public restroom, give the employees a heads up. They may not know the trash is full or the paper towels are empty and the few seconds to fix it makes the bathroom better for everyone who will use it after you.
posted by sonika at 3:52 AM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Some more for shopping

Have your payment ready ready by the time the cashier is done ringing you up. Please don't wait for the total before you dig through your personal effects looking for your debit card.

Same with coupons or discount questions. Present and ask before they start ringing you up. Sometimes coupons cannot be added at the end.

These things help (invisibly) the people behind you by speeding up the line. They also help the cashier.

A not shopping one. Read up on the five love languages. It's not just useful for romance. Most of what we're describing here is Acts of Service (which is definitely my love language) but there are also words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, and gifts. I'm not suggesting to pat strangers on the head. But for people you know, a pat on the head may be more meaningful than flowers. Or vice versa. Know your audience.

Ditto for being aware of the ask vs guess tendencies of people around you.

Also. When you're doing something nice for someone across the house as you have questions about it, please don't about your question, forcing them to shout back. Go to the person, and ask your question.

Similarly, when someone is making you something that you've requested (either as a gift or a service), don't say halfway through the process "and make it ----substantially different---- from the instructions I gave you" and if you do that and the person making the thing says 'that change isn't chemically/physically/whatever possible without starting over,' Believe Them and be grateful for what you're getting.
posted by bilabial at 5:29 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

When you're doing self-checkout at the supermarket and something doesn't scan, try it once more and then put it aside and do the rest of your stuff. Try all of the stuff that didn't scan once or twice more at the end, and only then hit the panic button to call a cashier.

Also, scan alcohol or tobacco or something else that will definitely need cashier approval at the end of your scanning, not the beginning.
posted by Etrigan at 6:02 AM on February 7, 2015

First, you're awesome, and part of what is most right in the world.

Second? Make sure to not burn yourself out, and don't let temporary obstacles and headaches derail you.

And third.

In the grand scheme of things, most people are nice to people who have power over them, and not nearly as nice to the people with less power. Comedy has the idea of "punching up"; it's bad taste to laugh about people who are already in worse shape than you are, but it's A-OK to tear people in great shape a new asshole, because they have the luck/skill/position to just shrug it off, and it doesn't make the world a worse place.

Actively remember to be nice to the homeless, the cashiers, the waitresses, the immigrants, and everyone else who doesn't have it as easy as you might. (For all I know, you're the world's greatest immigrant homeless waiter who works at the gas station off-shift, but the point is there.)
posted by talldean at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

- Reshelve your own books at the library if you know where they go.

Unless the library has signs up saying not to do that, like we do, because it's not that we don't trust you to re-shelve your books, it's just that we keep track of which books are used in the library without being checked out, and those statistics are important, and I will stop being a librarian nerd now...
posted by sarcasticah at 11:18 AM on February 7, 2015 [16 favorites]

The world would be a better place if we all took heed of this advice & acted like we understand that we are part of a big community that runs better and more pleasantly if we remember others are out there, too. Thanks for doing what you do.

There are many ways to be kinder (and safer) while driving, which can be summed up as 'you're not the only one on the road':
Don't be the second, third, fourth person who turns left on red--everyone else is waiting for their turn to go. Don't jump the light either.
Don't block the intersection so others can't cross.
Don't text and drive--it is easy to spot these folks; they are driving well below the speed limit on the freeway & roaming in their lane. Scary.
Freeway driving is not a video game--go with the flow, don't pass at high speed in the right lane, cut in & out, etc.

I take my extra coupons to my Walgreens because the clerks there will find you a coupon if you need one.
Fill out those comment/compliment cards at places like Target--makes a difference.
Pick up your holds at the library--don't just let them sit there.
Don't give people disgusted looks if they do stuff you don't like. Like the tantrum-throwing kid or line jumper. Remember, what you are seeing might be the seventh inning, you don't know what happened before in their day.
Pick up stuff that has fallen off the shelf or hanger in a store & put it back.
Manage your life so your needs don't force others to adjust their routines/jobs to fix your emergency. Plan ahead.
Don't grouse & grumble--yes, the line is long, plane is delayed, weather is bad, traffic sucks, whatever--but keep it to yourself, because everyone already knows this and it is irritating to listen to someone go on and on.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 1:25 PM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm the daytime manager of a popular lunch spot and as such have a love/hate relationship with humanity.

Biggest, most frustrating work-peeve is people continuing to speak on their cellphones while I am dealing with them. I am sure you do not do this but if you're ever with a friend who's doing this, let them know how god damn uncool this is. Many of my customers are awesome and will take calls outside, and I understand the 'Very Important Work Calls' (I'm not a complete monster) but it holds everyone up.

Seconding pushing in your chair after leaving a table. Even if it's going to take a few minutes to get to the table to clean it, at least it gives the room a sense of order. And if you really wanna make me swoon, if you drop food on the floor don't leave it on the ground for me to stand or slip on. I know it's my job to clean up after people and that's totally fine, but touching food which has probably been in other people's mouths is never great. Some days I'm wondering if people ate their salad or they just shook their face around in it for fun.

Basically I go out of my way to be as pleasant as I can be to any customer service person. I am sickeningly sweet to phone service reps because I've worked as one and I know the vitriolic bullshit they have to put up with. I make a point of asking my butcher/server/cashier how their day has been and actually LISTEN to the response.

Oh, and if you have an excellent experience at a restaurant or with a particular service, yelp them! Seems silly but that stuff is a great way to pay it forward to the people working their butts off. Places like Red Lobster even have ways for you to give feedback on specific servers (online). This feedback dictates how many hours someone is offered - I don't use it to shit talk people but I will definitely make a point to go online and sing someone's praises. There is something so simply pleasant about having your hard work acknowledged.
posted by BeeJiddy at 10:32 PM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you use a physical tool from a shared pool, always return it to its proper place as soon as you are done with it. If someone is looking for a tool they are probably annoyed because they need to repair something, and being unable to find said tool will only exacerbate that.

Also, as a content creator, compliments from readers/listeners make me feel like a billion bucks (adjusting for inflation). They also help offset the loathsome nitpickers and ax-grinders.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know this thread is a couple of days old, and I actually have a ton of thoughts on it, but I wanted to leave just this one: When I was in grad school, a classmate had to do a presentation. She was nervous about presenting, about her accent and grammar, and everything else. As she was talking, I smiled and/or nodded at appropriate points (including when she hesitated). At the end of the class, she took me aside and said she wouldn't have been able to get through the presentation without my feedback that she was being understood and listened to. This really surprised me. Since then, I've been careful to put my phone down and really mentally and physically be there when someone is obviously nervous or worried about speaking to others.
posted by wintersweet at 12:05 PM on February 8, 2015 [14 favorites]

In a checkout line, put the heavy items closer to the cashier. Lifting thousands of moderately heavy items a few inches farther from your body can take a toll at the end of the day.

At the hairdresser, don't move your head. Pay attention to where the stylist/barber positions your head and try to leave it there until s/he moves it again. It's a strain on the back to angle your body to suit clients who don't keep their heads in the right position.

If you notice something broken in a public place (e.g., toilet running, printer jammed), report it then post a note saying it was reported and the date.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:29 PM on February 8, 2015


posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:37 PM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

I love this question, thanks, metafilter. I'm trying to make an effort to remember to tell people when I have a genuine positive feeling about them or something they've done. At work, if they've done something cool or obviously tried really hard or I think an idea is creative or interesting, I just try to let them know it, in plain and genuine terms. Making more of an effort to small talk and ask people about their personal lives and connect a bit at work has really made me see my co-workers as an interesting bunch of people I get to hang out with while also solving some interesting problems, and it has made my already cool job about 200% more fun.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:36 AM on February 9, 2015

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks, everyone!

To chime in with some of my own suggestions, for anyone who finds this Ask down the line:
• Anytime you can afford it, covertly pay the bill whenever [a] friend[s] you're dining or drinking with mentions they're feeling stressed out about money. And sometimes even if they don't. In a group, you can easily do this by quickly handing your cash or card over to the server the second they come with the check, because everyone else will be busy chatting and/or figuring out their portion of the bill.
• If one of your friends surprises you by springing for the check, leave whatever you were going to shell out for your meal/drinks as a tip instead. No grumbling, you were planning on spending that money anyway.
• When you bring your empties back up to the bar, don't stack the conical pint glasses. They stick together like the dickens and sometimes break when you try to get them apart again.
• If you're standing right in the front row at a general admission show but you're not into the opening band/s, nod and tap your foot and act like you're kinda into them anyway. Buck up, little hipster, it's not the end of the world. If you omg just cannot stand them, don't stand there scowling down at your smartphone for the duration of the set. Instead, take an opportunity to visit the restrooms, check out the merch table, and/or refresh your drink. You, the opener/s, and your neighbors in the audience will be happier for it.
• If you live in America and you're not food insecure, every Stamp Out Hunger Day when your letter carrier leaves a grocery bag in your mailbox, go into your pantry and fill the bag with every super-tasty unopened non-perishable good you can find, and put it back outside for pickup right away. Then you won't forget, and the people at the food pantry will get a variety of super-tasty foods, which is a very humanizing and positive experience when you rely on other people's generosity to get yourself and your family fed.
posted by divined by radio at 3:02 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

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