Is It Bad To Be Good?
When we had some snowfall here in the UK I went out to clear the snow from the driveway. While I was out there I decided to sweep the snow from the pavement (aka the sidewalk) outside the front of the house. The reason I consider this a good thing to do is because when people walk over the snow it compacts and as more and more people walk on it, gradually it turns into an ice rink which is treacherous for anyone walking on it.
I once lived in a flat which had a communal car park and every year the car park would get covered in snow and gradually the snow would turn to ice as people drove over it and walked over it. It amazed me that nobody bothered to clear the snow when it first fell to stop this from happening. Everyone struggled to get their cars out and several people complained about how dangerous the ice was.
It occurred to me that in most areas if everyone cleared the area of snow directly outside their property then the whole neighbourhood could be kept clear quite easily. But when I started to ask people why they didn’t clear the snow I was quite often given the answer that people were afraid of being taken to court. It seems that there is some crazy law which says that if I clear snow from outside my house and then someone falls over in that area and sustains an injury, they can sue me for damages. Interestingly enough the pavement belongs to the local council and I’ve never heard of anyone being able to sue the council for NOT clearing the path.
So when I was outside clearing the snow I was reminded of this and I noticed that nobody else on the street had cleared any of the pavement outside their property. One man had cleared his own driveway and the step leading to the pavement but he stopped short of clearing the pavement itself.
I think this is a real shame because it’s only when we think of each other and the community as a whole that we bring healing to the world. Fear-based self-serving behaviour just makes things worse.
A couple of years ago I did see on the news that someone was asking about this law and they asked whether anyone was likely to be prosecuted if somebody did fall over and injure themselves. The answer that was given by the lawyer was that it was very unlikely that any such prosecution would be upheld and therefore people shouldn’t worry too much about it. But it seems that the fear remains as many people still believe they could get into trouble if they did something like this.
And so it seems that doing a good deed has somehow become a bad thing.
As I pondered this I started to think about other times in my life when doing good had been given a bad name. The first instance I can recall is when I was at junior school and I instinctively did something to help the teacher. This was greeted with accusations from some of the other pupils that I was being a ‘goody-goody’. Apparently this was a bad thing. This was my introduction to the concept that helping people was a bad thing to do.
Then there is the term ‘do-gooder’ which has negative connotations. Usually the term do-gooder is used to describe someone who is somehow forcing their help on someone, poking their nose in where it’s not wanted or somehow taking it upon themselves to do something for someone. Although such a person may be misguided it’s interesting that they are labeled with a phrase that paints them in a negative light. The fact that they might have good intentions and genuinely want to help someone seems to get overlooked.
Another example I was given of why it’s not always good to help people is when I was told this story: a man was walking down the street one day when he saw a woman, apparently in distress. He stopped to help the woman and was immediately set upon by the woman’s partner and the woman herself. Together they robbed him of his wallet and his watch before running off. The damsel in distress was no damsel in distress after all but a con artist. This actually happened to someone I know so it did really happen. Once more the seed was sown: don’t go helping others or you might get hurt yourself.
It’s interesting to see how easily fear can spread. It only takes one person to have a bad experience with something and that story gets spread from one person to another, each time sowing a tiny seed of doubt. But that seed of doubt can grow all too easily and before you know it people are basing their decisions on something that happened once to one person, ignoring all the other times when things actually turned out quite well. If we clear the snow and in so doing actually prevent someone from having a fall, that is not news and nobody gets to hear about it.
Unfortunately bad news gets more airtime than good news but I live in hope that this trend will one day change. I was encouraged to see the other day that in one area of the country the council had provided local residents with some snow shovels so they could clear the pavements for their neighbours. Maybe common sense will prevail after all.
I believe that people need to be encouraged to be positive, do good things and help others. I believe that positivity and enthusiasm can spread just as easily as fear and doubt - it’s just that we have learned a few habits which make us behave the way we do. I hope that the next time I am presented with the opportunity to help someone or do a good deed for the whole community I will do so and have the courage to overcome those seeds of doubt.