There’s been an influx of footage online of seemingly generous acts. Have you seen videos of one student giving a gift to a less popular student while surrounded by a crowd of classmates (all recording the act on their phones)? Or maybe someone giving away food or large sums of money to a homeless person? I do believe that seeing these things has the potential to inspire others to behave similarly, which would be a good thing if they weren’t just doing it for the attention.
What seems to be overlooked far too often is the person on the receiving end of someone’s charity. This is supposed to be an act of kindness towards them, but many people really struggle accepting help, even when they know they need it. Broadcasting that person’s state of need is possibly very embarrassing for them. You’re simultaneously putting unwanted attention upon that person and somehow also making it about yourself instead of them. Is the point for them to have this gift or is the purpose for everyone to know that you were the one that gave it to them?
I think it becomes complicated because people see the positive feedback that other people get on social media for their generosity. Take someone famous, like Ellen DeGeneres, for example. She’s commonly associated with giving away a lot of money in a very public way and she’s generally seen in a very positive light. Now, this is a different situation to the average person as she’s often giving away money from sponsors, so she has to do it on her program because the publicity is the whole reason those companies are doing it in the first place. People also voluntarily come onto her show to receive these gifts as opposed to being taken by surprise or recorded without permission. Regardless, she’s seen as a generous, charitable person and people love her for it. The average joe schmuck sees this and can’t help but crave some of that positive affirmation for themselves. They want the dopamine hit from the surge of compliments and of a lot of people telling them what a ‘good person’ they are and this is only amplified if it’s uploaded online for the masses to see.
I do believe there is something to be said for inspiring people. I am more inclined to appreciate footage shot by someone else of an act of kindness they witnessed because it alleviates the distraction of wondering what the person’s motives were. I guess that’s a big part of it. Recording what you’re doing before you do it doesn’t necessarily negate the goodness of your act, but it takes away from the sense that it’s a genuine act of compassion.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place in which to share your good deeds. I think of my sister and all the good work she does volunteering at the animal shelter. She’s constantly uploading pictures of her walking the dogs to social media. She doesn’t do this to bring attention to ‘look at what a good person I am!’. She always makes it all about the dogs and she shares videos of them doing tricks or walking nicely on a leash because it can help them get adopted. She gets those images out there and people ask questions and want to learn more about the dogs. Despite the fact that she is publicly sharing her good deeds, she does it in a way that there’s no question to what her motives are. It’s never about her, it’s always about the dogs and they’re obviously not sensitive to being shared online the way a person might be.
None of this is to say that you can’t be proud of yourself for doing a good deed. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that if you don’t keep all your good deeds a secret you’re a bad, selfish person. I just think you need to be honest with yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re trying to do something nice for someone, try to take their feelings into account. Would they want others to know what you did for them? Is bringing attention to it going to paint them in a bad light, while making yourself look good? If so, go back to the golden rule that we all learned in preschool: treat others how you want to be treated. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is to help protect someone’s dignity while they’re struggling to hang on to it. Receiving help can be a very vulnerable position for many people and the easier you can make it for that person, the closer you get to a true charitable spirit.
“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” -Socrates