The insidious nature of good deeds

By Jen Anthony

Human kindness, from where does it stem? Is it something that truly comes from the good of our souls; or is there perhaps a darker side to it? Do you feel better after being kind to someone? What’s the payoff?

It seems some people (pessimists perhaps, or perhaps not) believe human kindness is nothing more than yet another way humans try to control one another, and that there’s always a selfish motive or payoff involved in the act of kindness. How, you may ask?

Here’s an example: your mom asks you to please help her out by using your technological knowledge to set up her new computer. You agree to do so, but somewhere in your mind (perhaps not your conscious mind) you are keeping tally, thinking, "OK, that’s a bunch of favours I’ve done for mom–she owes me." You know she will feel indebted to you for all you’ve done to help her out. So you’re one up on her; you’ve established a minor form of control.

Not convinced? Here’s another example that illustrates some of the personal rewards of being kind. You have a very sick friend who is unable to do much of what they were once able to do. They’re too proud to ask for help, but you know they need it. So you take it upon yourself to diligently help them do these once-easy tasks. You feel elated, almost on a high because you feel so good about helping them out. It gives you a rush, confirming that you are a well rounded, giving, caring person. This boosts your ego, gives you confidence, and reflects back to you in a positive way the type of person you see yourself as, or feel you are.

By now you’re probably fully denying that you’re this type of person. "No, not me, I don’t do that. When I’m kind or giving, it’s from the heart because I care about the person." Does that sound about right? OK, so your kindness comes from the heart; you honestly, genuinely care for this person… let’s try another example.

Your boyfriend or girlfriend is out working late and you know they’ll be hungry and tired when they return home. So you decide to take them a snack. They are happy to see you and eagerly gobble down the snack you’ve prepared for them. Afterwards, you both walk home together. Now surely there’s nothing wrong with that. Or is there? This scenario could be read in this manner: you’ve done this random act of kindness because you know it’s what you would like to have done for you. Without realizing it, you’ve just placed expectations and obligations on your mate. You now expect the same treatment if you’re ever in that situation, and your partner may then feel obliged to do so–even though this could mean it was no longer an act of kindness for them, but one of obligation. If your partner does not return this kindness, they won’t meet your expectations and you could feel as though you’re giving more to the relationship than they are. And this might open a whole new can of worms.

Through these examples you can see human kindness isn’t all it’s chalked up to be. That being said, I don’t believe we should give up entirely on the human race. Regardless of all these points the simple fact remains: when you do something kind for someone, you’re making them feel special and brightening their day–if only for that moment in time, you have achieved the true meaning behind kindness.

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