A Good Deed – No Return Policy

A long time ago my father told me a story about people who give to others. I was inspired and for my birthday, I gave sweets and food to the homeless. It was something I felt so good about for years. And then I stumbled upon Season 5 Episode 4 of F.R.I.EN.D.S. In that episode, “Evil Genius” Joey Tribbiani makes a general assumption / statement –

“There is no unselfish good deed. Selfless good deeds don’t exist.”

Phoebe spends the entire episode trying to prove him wrong and fails, miserably. Now I can begin to argue about how a mother cares for her child selflessly or how a dog loves his owner selflessly. But I’d like to take this statement away from people bound to you by love.

No matter what good deed you do, you almost always benefit from it. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a top of the line Porsche or a penthouse over looking the skyline in New York City. It is that moment when you’re sitting by yourself at home, reflecting at memories and you smile because you feel good or happy about something you did for someone. That is when you’ve reaped all benefits of your good deed and it stops being unselfish.

I wanted to prove this wrong. Maybe, just maybe, there was a good deed with nothing to offer in return. So I spent a very long time trying to come up with one thing that would make an unselfish good deed. Donating clothes and food, helping people stuck in disasters, helping the elderly – no matter what I came up with, I always felt good about it. Even if I tried not to. So what is a good deed? 

I remembered a quote my father told me when I was a child, “A good deed is not donating $1 out of your $1 Million. It’s taking $10 for your own needs and giving away the rest for others’ needs. That’s when you’ve done a genuine good deed.” Is that it? Giving away everything you have and keeping just enough for your needs? 

But needs differ with every person. So what if I want $1 Million to fit my needs? Then is it a good deed if I don’t donate anything at all? Or am I just unbelievably selfish because seriously, do you know what someone in the slums in my city could do with $100 ?! Let alone a million !

But then, there are Gurus. Saints. They give away knowledge, blessings and good fortune without expecting anything. They don’t feel good about it nor do they wish they could have kept it for themselves. So should one turn into something like that to be able to do a good deed without getting something in return? Let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen in the near future. So what is it then?

After watching that episode, for a while there, I gave up on good deeds. I mean, if anything good is automatically selfish, why bother?! The last thing I want is to think of myself as a selfish person. 

I still remember the day I found a person that did something so unselfish and yet so good. It was raining cats and dogs and I was standing outside of university waiting for the shuttle when a woman in her mid-40’s suddenly held an umbrella above my head. She was getting drenched and still she tried to keep me dry. When I tried to explain to her how unfair it all was, she simply said “I don’t go to work. I can get sick. You have to come to school. You have to stay healthy. Keep your laptop safe. It’s ok. Your shuttle will be here soon and then I’ll go.” My hands were full so I couldn’t even hold the umbrella and so she held it for me. She just stood there for almost five minutes waiting for me to leave and then she left. I cried about it when I got home. 

She didn’t know me. She didn’t know if I’d just gotten expelled and didn’t have school the next day. She didn’t know if my laptop was already broken and hence shoved in my bag. She didn’t love me like a mother. She wasn’t faithful to me like my dog. She just did what she felt like doing. And it was the most unselfish good deed I had ever witnessed. The most important thing about it was that she wasn’t going to rush home and post on Facebook – “Held umbrella for university girl. Got drenched. Worth it.”

There is an Arabic proverb that says – A good deed vanishes once spoken about. 

Because really,

You don’t have to give away your million dollars. You don’t have to donate all your clothes or your food. Just like you don’t have to boast to people you don’t even know that well on social networks about how you helped a blind man cross the street. Sometimes, a good deed is sharing an umbrella, giving away the extra cookie or maybe even commenting “get well soon” on a blog post. So Thank you for all such comments on my previous blog. 

And also, dear Joey Tribbiani,

There is no such thing as a selfish good deed. I’ve realized that doing a good deed – it’s not about me. A good deed doesn’t care whether I feel good about it or I feel shitty about it. A good deed in its true meaning is – even if I feel like absolute crap about it, I do it because someone else benefits from it. It makes someone else’s life a little better. And if along with it, my day is made, I say “oh well !” 🙂



49 thoughts on “A Good Deed – No Return Policy

  1. Atherz097 says:

    Nice post! I think that it’s human nature to do a good deed and expect something out of it, however small it is. But I know that there are a few people out there like the one you mentioned that truly do it for the sole benefit of the other person. I’m going to be honest and say that I’m nowhere near those people in terms of how selfless they are, but I do strive to help, and I do not like to brag (about the good deeds I do, or my character at all).
    But anyways, I liked this post a lot.

  2. frenchc1955 says:

    Hello, First, I want to thank you for a wonderful post and an excellent blog! The issue you address about good deeds is a crucial one for our world. That you have considered it and acted on it gives me hope for our world. I hope there are many more people like you.

  3. jacksonwhiley says:

    I love F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and that episode was great. It is true that good deeds will make us feel good as Joey stated but as you say that doesnt take away from the fact you did a good deed. Great post.

  4. colorsandcharacter says:

    A fine blog! I think that altruism, good deeds, etc, are really hard to nail down, definition wise. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on it, and was especially fond of the proverb that you used at the end (A good deed once spoken about vanishes). It reminds me of something my scoutmaster when I was little said: You should do one good deed a day, if possible, and nobody should know it was you. Or something. I think that the point he was trying to make was that if you take credit for good deeds and expect praise for them all the time, that it interferes with your motivation for doing good: it becomes more about your ego than the people you are helping in whatever way.
    I’d really love to see more blogs from you! Keep it up!

    Best wishes,
    ps. You may want to look up Meister Eckhart and/or Anthony DeMello, both have written interesting and thought-provokingly on the subjects of love, altruism and human nature. Or even just a stop by wikiquotes 🙂

  5. lichtern says:

    Enjoyed your blog! I believe that it is possible to do a good deed and not expect anything out it, For example doing something good for your enemy even though you know they will not acknowledge or appreciate. Just doing it anyways because it’s the right thing to do and because that’s just who you are. This quality comes with maturity and with experience in heartache. Like the phrase “I wouldn’t wish this on my worse enemy!” it’s a matter of empathy. I believe most people are generally good and can and do empathize, that within itself is a good deed. Just my opinion.

  6. WorldWideStudent says:

    I love your post and your blog in general because it’s about people who actively want to make the world a better place. I have visited the globe just like you did, and I found that it is a wonderful village, rich in wonderful people and beautiful things. But it could be enhanced. Your blog is inspiring because keeps me willing and happy to give my best in this objective. If you would like, check out my blog at worldwidestudent.wordpress.com. It’s about my experience as an International student in America. I believe in the power of the exchange of cultures and ideas, and hope more and more people will try to travel and do similar kinds of experiences abroad… It’s absolutely really formative and inspirational, and fun!
    Thank you 🙂

  7. kayliekayls says:

    This is something that I often wrestle with myself, whether I am operating out of a selfish ambition or selfless will to do good. I think a true test of a self less character is, however, the ability to receive joy by helping others and not just oneself. In this- even though it is selfish to do things merely because they bring you joy, the selflessness is in the fact that doing good has the ability to make you happy at all (and not because of recognition, just purely the act of helping better someone else’s life).

    Wonderfully written post, very thought provoking!

  8. tiannashanks says:

    This is brilliant! F.R.I.E.N.D.S is great but I have to agree with you. Joey was wrong because whether or not you feel good about the deed, you did it because someone else needed you to and not to give yourself that feeling of pleasure. That just happens to be the pay off for being a good person. I look forward to reading more from you! 🙂

  9. kealmil says:

    Matt 6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.
    Matt 6:4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
    That was a great post keep up the good work.

  10. onemindfully says:

    I think I’ll go in a slightly different direction and offer up that selfishness doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It could depend on how the selfishness manifests itself. There is a kind of selfishness that doesn’t benefit anyone but the person who is selfish and that isn’t a desirable trait to most people. But there’s also another kind of selfishness, the kind you wrote about that motivates people to do good in order to feel happy (I suppose you could call it “selfishness balanced by selflessness”), and there’s no reason why that should be a trait people try to avoid. We don’t have to be martyrs to help others. We don’t have to feel guilty for being happy. The important thing is just that we all try to help each other out, regardless of any potential benefit. (Which was ultimately your conclusion as well!) 🙂

  11. emmacoyne91 says:

    This is a really good read. The bit about the woman holding the umbrella over your head because she felt like it sums it up really. It is selfless because you do something in a moment and you don’t think about it afterwards but it impacts someone in a positive way. I remember reading a list online about the kind acts of strangers and this woman told this story of how she had been fired and was on the way home on the train and she started crying, an older lady next to her didn’t offer her any words of comfort but took her hand and held it until her stop came. Anyway that story reminded me of this, stuff like that stays with you! 🙂

    • LoudThoughtsVoicedOut says:

      I’ve read a lot of lists like that. Especially the 8 year old girl who spent her birthday doing nice things for people. I really like listening to such stories. It restores our faith in humanity and brings out the concept that sometimes we don’t need the words “I care for you.” We just need someone to show it in whatever small way they can. Thank you for sharing that 🙂

  12. Huskey says:

    That was a very nice post. It makes a lot of sense. Even if you getting nothing materialistic wise in return you are getting the joy and happiness for your self of knowing that you did that good deed.

  13. sirgb says:

    uhm well the virtue of good is likely as the integrity is:

    “Integrity is doing the right thing, even if no one is watching.”

    ― Jim Stovall

  14. stxrr says:

    Yes, there are days when a good deed I keep secret which makes me happier, because I know I do not need acknowledgement to be happy about it. 🙂 Really fantastic post– I especially loved the personal anecdote. I wish we had more of such people in our lives; maybe I just haven’t met them yet. 🙂 Thank you for sharing! 😀 -x.

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