Doing Good: Not Just for a Goody-Two-Shoes
No, it doesn't brand the words "Party Pooper" to your forehead.
It's a good thing to do good. That is to say, it's never, ever a bad thing. Doing good changes the world, and ourselves, in ways we can't see or ever imagine.
A lot of people are afraid of being a "goody two-shoes" -- that is, having such a clean, straight-laced persona that one's life is boring and bland. On that note, if someone's life is too "together," perfect and squeaky-clean, and the person claims not to have any vices, you have to wonder whether it's sustainable or even trustworthy--thus, the negative connotation of a Goody Two Shoes. On the whole however, there's nothing wrong with the desire to be a benevolent, helpful, pleasant (that's rare these days, isn't it?) member of society.
Why goodness has fallen out of fashion...
If you're in the West (or, more and more, other parts of the world), you live in a youth-centric, youth-obsessed culture. The media pretty much panders to (or purposefully crafts) young peoples' desires and attitudes, and as those young people grow up, those attitudes come to define a society, a coherent national "mood." And, one of the attitudes that the media sells the hardest is rebellion.
Rebellion is particularly popular among young people; it's part of coming-of-age to shun the "good little boy/girl" image. Remember when you started becoming interested in "adult' things and laughing at dirty jokes? It becomes "cool" to reject things that are too innocent and embrace edginess and rebellion. To a certain extent, it's not very harmful, but it becomes harmful when common decency goes out the window. People disdain those who are older, wiser, or hold authority. Someone drops something in the street, and nobody cares to let them know. Seldom is a door held for others when entering or leaving a place. Seldom are simple thank-yous exchanged; people take favors good nature for granted. Some will even regard a nice person as stupid!
Disclaimer: I'm a young guy myself. I don't necessarily think "the media" is some big bad monster with a deep thunderous voice who commands "All ye, CONFORM! Or...ELSE!" I like being young and embracing those aspects of modern style and pop culture to which I relate most. But I can't relate to unkindness--I've always felt good about doing good.
Another part of it is the combined materialism and individualism of our culture. Take our constant obsession with new shiny objects, couple that with the common sense that "it's all about me and what makes me comfortable at any cost"--and you have a toxic syndrome called selfishness. Suddenly, other people don't matter as much as the things we acquire to show off to other people. And, when we're so focused on instant gratification, we can't see the needs of our neighbors; we short-circuit our own inborn capacity for doing good.
Sometimes the needs of others aren't great: sometimes a smile and a simple "hello, how was your day?" can turn that person's day into a good one. Maybe an old friend or relative you haven't seen in a while would love to hear from you. But it's impossible to step outside of yourself when you're solely focused on your own needs.
Bring the benevolence back in style
Why don't you be the trendsetter? You could be the one who sets the stage for a revival of good will in your community and among your friends and family. Think about it: you're kind to a lonely friend today--maybe you go out of your way to have lunch and hang out with him--and then he's in a better mood. The next day at work, he's a little bit more pleasant and open-minded. He's more social. His coworkers appreciate his unusually extroverted and light-hearted mood. Then, let's say just 8 out of his 30 coworkers are in turn inspired to do good as well. One of them realizes how much she loves her kids and spends a little more quality time trying to connect with them. Another remembers that not everyone is selfish and manipulative, and he gives some pocket change to a homeless person. Yet another one feels encouraged to reopen lines of communication in a stale relationship.
Yeah, OK, corny example. But it works just like that. Goodness is contagious. Think about it: when you're nice to people, it alleviates whatever stress they might be feeling, which enables them to think more rationally and positively--thus increasing the chance that they will do good to others. In this way, random acts of kindness can multiply exponentially and change the world.
is an awesome film about the power of individual good will to change the world. Very encouraging, highly recommended.
Here's a challenge for you! Commit to doing good deeds for one different person, every single day, for the next two weeks and see how it changes your life. That's fourteen days. (Alternative challenge: Instead of doing a few small deeds here and there, you could do one big thing for two weeks, like volunteering at a soup kitchen, a senior citizen's center, or working with special-needs children, for example.) Come back here and report your results in the comments. Two friendly warnings: 1) it WILL require you to step out of your comfort zone, and 2) you can't control other peoples' reactions--you're only in full possession of your own good will.
Need some inspiration? Watch:
Some simple ways YOU can start changing the world today (it's easier than you might think)
- Smile. It's contagious, it makes others feel good, it makes you feel good.
- Thank people for doing good to you, and try to return the favor.
- Apologize when you're at fault for something and make it good.
- Let a family member or friend know you appreciate them.
- When you're really feeling it, give heartfelt compliments.
- If someone asks for help within reason, help that person out.
- Hug someone.
- Encourage someone. Limit criticism.
- Teach somebody something. Look for chances to share your knowledge and to receive more from others.
- Have a cup of coffee with an old friend, colleague, or relative.
- Make people laugh and enjoy themselves.
- If someone drops or leaves something behind, point it out and/or pick it up for them.
- Talk to someone who's lonely, shy or depressed.
- Give to the poor and needy. (See resources)
- Volunteer. Many options available: Nursing homes, hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, church ministries, museums, etc.
If you have more ideas, list them in comments!
There's a very interesting story behind this photo. Read about it here: Helping the Homeless
Why not get creative with it?
Two more reminders...
- Try to do good for the sake of doing good. If you're expecting to be met with a positive response all the time, prepare to be disappointed. That's not the way it works. This is about improving yourself and establishing a life-enhancing pattern for others to follow, if they so choose. If someone doesn't thank you--or worse, is insulted by your benevolence--learn to brush it off and wish them well anyway . You might feel a little put-off in the moment, but don't sweat the small stuff. Realize the bigger picture: you will ultimately improve your life by following this practice. Try to derive simple satisfaction out of the fact that you're making this hurly-burly world a little bit more of a pleasant place, a little more enchanting, a little more beautiful.
- When you do good to others, without expectations of a reward , you do good to yourself. See how much better you'll feel about life when you make a point of being a positive force in the world. Sometimes, your reward will be the simple pleasure in knowing that you've just improved someone's life. But in other cases, it will open doors for you that you never saw coming. Your relationships will be more fun and fulfilling. People that you meet will easily trust you, because they'll sense that you have good intentions. Even business and career opportunities might open up for you and your professional contacts will increase, as other people realize that you're a trustworthy person with integrity.
All in all, follow the Golden Rule. Treat others as you'd have them treat you, and watch what happens...
Web resources for exercising your kindness muscles
- Acts of Kindness | Welcome
Resources and encouragement for those who are committed to doing good and spreading good will.
- VolunteerMatch - Where Volunteering Begins
Find volunteering opportunities with nonprofit organizations by location and interest area.
- Volunteer | Do Something
Powering offline action. Using the power of online to get teens to do good stuff offline.
- Help Others.org: Acts of Kindness
It's a game of pay-it-forward: anonymously make someone smile with an act of kindness, leave behind a card asking them to keep the ripple going. It's easy and fun.
- Theories about helping others
These are psychological theories about how we help other people.
- Helping Others: A Mission of Friends of the Needy
More resources and inspiration for helping others.
- Volunteering in America
U.S. government website for volunteering in one's local community.