You’ve probably seen it somewhere in the comments of a YouTube video where someone is doing a good deed: some variation of, “If you actually wanted to help, you wouldn’t have made a video about it; you just want attention.”
This shows up in all sorts of sayings, like the one that goes, “Good deeds should be done with intention, not for attention.” There are even a few Bible verses on it, like the first few of Matthew 6. There’s even one that says that a good deed dies when it is spoken about. That is, if you really want to be charitable, and if you want to prove that you’re doing it for the sake of others and not to draw attention to yourself to be lauded for it, you’ll do it quietly.
Which is all really quite stupid.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who do exactly this. They want the next viral video or accolades on their social media posts or whatever benefit imaginary internet points gets them. They definitely exist. But it’s really unfair that those few would ruin it for everyone, right? Let’s ignore them for a moment.
First, I’ll posit an opinion that might be unpopular: if a person is rewarded for doing a good deed, good. If someone makes a video of themselves doing something nice for someone else, or if someone’s Facebook post about their blood donation or whatever gets a lot of likes, good! Positive reinforcement is a good thing. Who knows? People might see that you can get a positive reaction from doing a nice thing, and then they might go do nice things, too. The horror.
When you’ve properly calmed down from that, I want you to think about the bystander effect. I’m not quite going to get into armchair activism here, but with the way things are, we might feel it’s enough to simply share a post or retweet or reblog something, and then consider our good deed done for the day. But seeing a friend do something, or watching another human being do something, is different. If you’ve got a bunch of people just sharing links, that’s one thing. But to see it in action is another. If all you see is sharing, it’s easy to go along with it and say, “It’s okay. Someone else will donate.” It’s easier to feel inclined to follow along with someone else’s example if they say, “I just donated, and I want to encourage you to as well.”
What’s more, I’ve never donated to any kind of charity and had someone tell me, “Hey, thanks very much, but no matter what you do, do not tell anyone about us.” Who knows? Sharing your good deed could alert people to a cool charity or movement or opportunity they didn’t know existed, and they might feel even more inclined to help if they see people they trust doing it.
It really is a strange, arbitrary punishment we’re giving ourselves. Some people are so concerned about the underlying intent or morality of a person that they don’t think about the results or the benefits. Somehow, for reasons unbeknownst to me, sharing that you’ve done a good thing has become a problem. There are people out there who have enough blood for life-saving transfusions, money enough for meals, or clothes to survive the winter thanks to people’s charitable efforts, but some people’s response to that is, “Sure, but what were the deep inner workings of the minds who made those wonderful things possible?”
I want us to stop punishing ourselves for sharing that we’ve done nice things. These are things to be proud of, and telling someone doesn’t make the deed any less good or your intent any less noble. I think we can all abide by some basic principles, like not sacrificing the dignity of another human being for your own gain — maybe ask someone if they’d like to be filmed before you start a project like that — but beyond that, tell us how you donated a few dollars to medical research, or how you donated blood, or how you helped someone in need get a meal or place to sleep, or how you took part in a river cleanup. Tell us how you did it, why you did it, and what it meant to you. Show us the evidence that good deeds are being done, not that requests are just being endlessly passed along. Give us your stories and motivations and everything we miss when we arbitrarily decide that sharing these things is forbidden lest our good intentions are somehow canceled out.
In short, the rule that charity is only valid if done silently is stupid, and I want to see some more positivity in the world. If people want to judge you for it, they can get stuffed.