April 24, 2009

No Good Deed

I read an interesting blog post the other day on Storytellers Unplugged by Deborah LeBlanc, called "Five in One." It deals with five life lessons everyone should keep in mind during their day-to-day life. While I think the meaning behind each anecdote is valid and should be kept in mind by us all, a couple kind of irked me with a lack of altruistic intent, focusing more on tangible reward.

The second of the five lessons, titled "Pickup in the Rain", involved a white man picking up a stranded black woman in a rain storm, in Alabama, in the middle of the night no less. The example showed a guy we presuppose could be less than inclined to offer assistance to a black person, and we think it's great because it shows people overcoming racial barriers and simply doing a kind act. However, the kicker of the story isn't that, but the reward of a big-screen TV to the white man from the black woman, who turned out to be Mrs. Nat King Cole. So, is the deed somehow less worthy of attention had the guy not been given an extravagant gratuity? It feels like the thing to take away from the story is: Be good to strangers because one of them might be rich. What a horrible way to go through life.

The fourth story followed the same line of thinking. Titled "The Obstacle in Our Path", a king leaves a boulder in the middle of the road to see if anyone will remove it. Everyone simply goes around, cursing the king for not keeping the roads clear, until a single peasant sets down his load to move the boulder so he and everyone can pass. And, lo and behold, the king had hidden a sack of gold coins under the boulder gifted to whomever moved the big rock. Again, the deed is only considered worth doing since there's a reward at the end. Ugh. If the king hadn't left the sack of gold there, are we to think the peasant is a chump? I don't. Sure, he was rewarded for his actions, which is nice in that good deeds are appreciated, but the reward in is the action and not the potential prize. This lesson, too, was lost on me.

Now, the other three stories mentioned in the five lessons deal with truly kind and unselfish intentions and deeds. No rewards, gifts, or fancy perks. Just doing good things in life because they're the right things to do. If someone is committing an act of kindness in hopes of getting some juicy payday for all their "hard work", they're doing it for the wrong reasons and I would hope they get what they really deserve. Nothing.

I'm no ambassador of goodwill or great benefactor for the needy, but when I do something seen as kind or selfless, I'm not looking for anything more than maybe a thank-you or a friendly nod. If I expected a TV every time I helped a hitchhiker, I'd be ... well ... a horrible human being. And, I don't think Deborah LeBlanc is horrible—far from it, as she's apparently quite a gentle soul, judging by what she wrote—but I do think a couple of those stories are less edifying than the others.

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