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Generous or Self-Serving?

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Do we do things for others out of selflessness, or because we get something out of it? I'm not sure the answer could be "both". Because selflessness and self-benefit are at odds with each by their very definition.

As I read someone's LinkedIn update this morning, it got me wondering whether we do kind things for the true benefit others or really for ourselves.

The post was about this person who witnessed a mom who could only afford $3.00 of gas. As she was about to drive away, the Good Samaritan flagged her down and offered to fill up her tank for her. She gratefully accepted and gave this gentleman a hug.

And how do I know this? Because he shared it all on his post. He even had time to snap a picture of the gas pump that showed only $3.12 before he flagged her down. He did say that he remembers when he could only afford $3.00 in gas and wanted to help the lady because he could.

He then reminded all that were reading his post that "blessings don't flow unless you bless others."

Now, in principle, I totally agree with his actions, and even his message. And sometimes we do benefit from reminders of how we can improve our world by performing random acts of kindness toward others.

However, my questions are thus:

  • Should someone who provides such a blessing tell others about what they did? Or, should maybe someone who witnessed the act tell others of this generosity?

  • While it's important to lead by example, because someone that did a good deed, should they admonish others to do what they did? Or, should the action speak for itself and inspire others on their own to do something similar?

  • Though it's true that when we give to others we receive blessings (or good karma) for our good deeds, is it really a selfless act if you advertise to others basically saying, "Look at what I did for someone! You should do it, too"?

From a personal perspective, I've helped others, whether it's with time, money, or just being there for someone. But, I don't document those times, and certainly don't tell others about it because then I feel it contaminates the deed.

First, if I were to share my deeds, it indicates that someone needed help, making them feel less than, and so I don't wish to shine a light on someone in that way.

Second, if I were to share my deeds, it would, at least in my mind, mean that I did it for me and not the person who wanted or needed help.

Third, if I were to use my own deeds as object lessons for others, even if trying to help make the world a better place, that would convey a notion that I'm so much better than everyone around me. I helped someone in need, I'm awesome. I helped someone in need, they're less than me. I helped someone in need, you should do it too, because otherwise, you'll never be as awesome as me.

Again, I don't want it to seem that I'm down on people doing nice things for each other. But, how is it "inspirational" if you have to tell others about what you did? I think inspiration should be organic, not forced, and not pushed onto others through bragging or even lecturing.

This isn't me calling for this person to be dismissed for his good deed, or even shamed. It's just a mere observation that struck me, so I thought I'd write about it. And, if anything, that gentleman's post did inspire me in one distinct way. It's inspired me to keep doing for others while feeling good about my personal choice to not feel that I have to brag, or document it for others.

If I'm truly that awesome, then I'll let someone else share my deeds as a witness or even a recipient. It just isn't my place to share what I've done, or else it wasn't to help the less fortunate, it was to boost my ego. And at my age, I really don't care much for ego boosts.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree, or do you view something like this a different way? Would love to hear your take.


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