How difficult is it to do something that truly only has the other person’s interests in mind?

I have mentioned before about how another mum looked after my daughter one afternoon a week when she first started school.  It’s not something I am able to repay, or that Sand angel.  And this week’s angel award goes to…repayment is even expected.  To me, it felt like a truly selfless, generous offer that helped my family out of an impossible situation.  My daughter wasn’t ready to start full-time in Reception, and I wasn’t in a position to give up my one full day of work a week.  This friend made offering her help sound so easy.  I could never repay her.  It was like a guardian angel had come along to help in a situation where I felt truly helpless.

My guardian angel

I was reminded about this a couple of weeks ago when a friend described how another had taken her little boy for a day when she was ill.  The one who did the favour had no idea of the impact this had had, and yet it had been remembered, and cherished, for three or four years.

Doing things selflessly can be hard.  We might feel that we have made a decision to help another person with no thought about what we might get in return, but when we examine our motives more closely, we realise that it will boost our ego.  Or, we like to feel that someone is dependent on us.  Or worse – we like the sense of power that we gain from having someone in our debt.

Gaining power?

When I was secondary teaching I once gave my Year 7 form a challenge.  I sent them off to see if they could do something good for another member of the class without anyone, anyone at all, knowing what it was that they had done.  They found it a real challenge.  It ended up being silly things that they could achieve, like putting some sweets in their school bag, rather than actions that would change the person’s life for the better.Woman reaching out into the clouds at the top of a mountain, being held by the hand of someone we can't see.  And this week’s angel award goes to…

If we are able to let go of what we might gain from helping another person, we do actually gain a reward.  If we act out of love for others, we are rewarded by the inner happiness it brings us.  Thinking about what the person will do for us in return puts up a barrier to this happiness.  We are back to being self-seeking.

A challenge

So, my challenge for you is this.  The next time you see someone who needs your help, offer it without thought of how you can benefit.  Do something nice for someone who deserves a break.  Your reward will be greater than you imagine.

Who has helped you when you least expected it?

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One comment

  1. We discuss this in parts of the psychology A level, or used to! Psychological altruism, as opposed to biological altruism. It becomes impossible to find a rewardless good act if you accept that the satisfaction you feel is your reward. Some find that sad; the fact that a truly selfless act is impossible to find. I don’t. I figure making two people happy is even better than just one! And if enhancing one’s own happiness and sense of self motivates you to do good for others, perfect!

    Maybe next cake night we can discuss the Friends episode where Phoebe tries to find a selfless good deed, instead of the laminated list one!


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