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 !” 🙂