Quantifying Impact: Measuring Karma
Our behavior and actions towards other people, society and world in general, and the “footprints” and “impressions” we leave as a result of these actions are undoubtedly important aspects of our lives, and should be accounted for through self-observation and self-tracking. When I think about individual’s impact on the world, society, and other people, the first thing that comes to mind is karma. In a simplified, westernized version, the concept of karma implies that every deed and action you perform towards others or the world will inevitably bear consequences for you in the future, in form of either a reward or a punishment. You harvest what you sow: the good deeds and behavior are rewarded, and the bad ones lead to negative repercussions. Some Indian religions, especially Sikhism, take it beyond individual behaviors. The positive and negative “charges” of your deed are accumulated over the course of your life in an ultimate tally, and the higher is your karmic “score”, the closer you are to the purity.
A month ago, in an attempt to reflect on my own deeds and actions, I started tracking every deed and action, with the the objective to derive the “karma” score. After a week of observations, I realized that simply keeping tally of “good” and “bad” deeds won’t work. There should be another, more scientifically sound and defensible way to measure karma.
After all, every behavior and action are different. Does giving your lunch to the homeless person and then stealing an apple from the fruit stand really result in karma = 0? It would be more logical to assume that different deeds carry different “weights”, and furthermore, different actions should be compared with regard to more than one dimension.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this post I present you the quick, simple and yet defensible way to measure positive karma, the Karma Scoring Matrix:
As you can see, any deed or action is scored along two dimensions, with the lowest score of 0 and the highest score of 40. I dubbed these dimensions “karmic amplitude” and “karmic magnitude”. The first dimension, amplitude, reflects how far from you is the subject of your action or deed on a sociometric plane. In other words, it looks at how acquainted personally you are with the subject. The more “distant” is the subject of your deed or action, the higher is the karmic score of the deed. Helping your girlfriend to carry a suitcase has less karmic weight than helping a strange woman to carry the stroller up the stairs. Buying a drink for a colleague has a lower score than giving a dollar to a homeless person. Separating trash by recycling bins and volunteering to clean up the local park should probably have the same score, at least on the “amplitudinal” dimension.
The second dimension, magnitude, reflects how much effort and resources you are willing to contribute to the action, and whether you expect anything in return. The lowest level, “investment”, is for the deeds that are performed with expectation to receive something back. You help a friend to move, expecting him to do the same for you in the future. You purchase lemonade from your neighbour’s kids stand. You donate money to charity and then write it off when filing the taxes. The middle level, “donation”, is when the deed that you are performing requires you to use resources that are easily available to you. For example, you donate your old coat to the homeless shelter, because you purchased a new one. Finally, the highest level, “sacrifice” implies that you perform a deed or action at your expense, by using the resources (time, money, energy) you may need yourself. For example, volunteering as a Big Brother (which often requires spending your own money and time) would get this level on the magnitudinal scale.
The matrix above shows you the karmic “score” for any particular deed or action, after it has been evaluated with regard to both dimensions, and is intended to measure “positive” karma. I yet have to think about ways to score negative deeds. Of course, many of you will argue that using these dimensions would involve subjective judgement. In that case, let this blog post serve as an invitation to your own suggestions on how to measure karma, or to participation in an open discussion, either here in blog comments, or in a thread on Quantified Self forum. Perhaps, there are other more important karmic dimensions that I have missed. Or the points system should be adjusted. I would love to hear your opinions and suggestions!
Finally, if the idea of quantifying karma catches up, I hope to see development of practical applications. It is very likely that that some developers will approach this from gamification perspective. You know, “Deeds with Friends” kind of apps, worldwide scoreboards, good samaritan virtual battles, etc. But deep inside I really hope that someone else will approach this idea from the Quantified Self perspective. You know, a mobile or web app that helps people to score their altruistic behavior, and help them to become better and grow as humans. Because performing good deeds, helping other people and being nice should not be a competition. It should be a part of our everyday behavior.