Courtesy Will Get You To Heaven
A few years back I was driving late to work and noticed the cars in front of me weren't stopping for a woman trying to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing. After I stopped to let her cross it occurred to me that there hadn't been anything in this for me. It was obviously no big deal but I was going to be marginally later for work, the woman was on her way and nobody that I knew would ever be aware of this tiny selfless act. I wondered why I'd done it and realised I'd actually done something unequivocally good, which felt quite a novel experience.
It got me thinking about other aspects of my life and about how often my "Good" behaviour was nothing of the kind. Generally I'm afraid to say there is usually some ulterior motive to my acts of kindness. Whenever others are aware of what you have done there is bound to be some benefit to yourself in terms of your standing with friends, family or work colleagues. As someone who worries far too much about what others think of me this is usually a motivation when, on the face of it, I'm putting others before myself.
Even when I'm with my 6 year old daughter for whom my love is boundless, I question sometimes whether I'm showering my affection on her and placing her needs before mine because this is what is expected of a Dad and perhaps more importantly because I damn well want her to love me back!
So the only time I know an act is unambiguously "Good" is when no possible benefit can accrue to me. This doesn't happen very often and is virtually always when I'm in a public place and on my own, a little friendliness and courtesy in a shop for example.
I don't mean to say for a second that only anonymous good deeds have value. The woman looking after her mother with senile dementia is putting someone else before herself at great personal cost and the fact that others know she's doing it doesn't diminish her sacrifice. She can't help that others know about it. I speak simply from my own experience of my personal behaviour and I know for a certain fact that how I will be perceived by others is a massive factor in the choices I make.
I was thinking about this today because I was the recipient of an anonymous good deed. I'd bought a birthday card for my brother before I went to the supermarket. I left it at the checkout and the man behind me in the queue (UK line!) noticed it sometime after I'd left and he ran after me a good distance to return it. I was truly grateful to him. He was on his own and as I'll probably never see him again there really wasn't anything in this act of kindness for him. I just thought what a nice man.
Courtesy and thoughtfulness in public isn't very fashionable nowadays. I hate how it has become normalised to treat those you come across in day to day life on a spectrum from indifference through to outright contempt. Or is that just the UK? Though public acts of kindness and civility don't bring any immediate benefit to yourself (unless you think virtue is it's own reward which I don't) if there were more consideration and courtesy everyone's lives would improve. You also get to enjoy that rare feeling (for me anyway) of knowing you've behaved well and it's not so you can get something you want!