The Highest Level of Do-Gooderism
Dong Good Deeds
My daughter, Principessa, is 19. At college, as part of a philanthropy drive at her sorority, she signed up to be a bone marrow donor. One in five hundred registry members eventually goes on to donate bone marrow. It’s not easy, painless or without risks. It’s the kind of thing that would make me say, “What? You want to put needles in my hips and suck out my bone marrow? No, thank you. But for this child, who not only like to do the right thing, but the good thing, it was an easy yes.
She didn’t have to wait long for the call. And when it came, they wanted her NOW. It seems a baby, somewhere in the U.S., was born without an immune system, and they wanted Principessa to share hers. And so she did. And it was not physically easy to do so. She had to drive an hour and a half away for meetings and tests and for the actual marrow sucking. She had to miss a bit of school. She had to listen to hours of information on how wrong things could go for her, and she did it without questioning her decision. A child needed her marrow. What was there to think about.
Her mother and I were proud that this young lady was willing to do this. Parenting can go horribly wrong, even when parents do everything right, so her mother and I realize what a gem we have in this one–that not only does she refrain from doing bad, stupid and illegal stuff (as far as we know…) but she does really good, smart, legal and caring things like this.
She felt physically bad after the donation. She had pain in her hips for more than a week. But she was happy with what she had done. In a year, personal information about donor and recipient would be exchanged if both parties agreed. She looked forward to that.
Last week, the bone marrow donor agency got in contact with her. The baby had died.
Principessa has an amazing attitude about this. We all want acknowledgement of our good deeds. We want to feel that what we did, what we gave, what we sacrificed, is appreciated. But at the highest level of doing good, it’s irrelevant. Sure, doing good is good no matter what, but if you require a thank you, then it’s not as pure of an act as it could be.
A Friend’s Story of Do-Gooderism
I have a friend whose clash with doing good went like this:
“So I’m boarding the 7:30 train and on my way up the stairs I see a little boy’s shoe wedged on one of the stairs. I take note of the size and color and make it my mission to find that little guy so I can tell his parents where the shoe is. I advance one car and after looking at all the feet of the many children on this train, I see the boy with one shoe. I tell his parents I know where his shoe is and it’s too hard to explain so I escort his mother back one car to retrieve the shoe. Mission accomplished! I feel good about this and walk away to find my seat. Then I realize what is bugging me. She didn’t say thanks. And the father, when I passed him heading to the next car, gave me a simple nod. Hmm. A vocalized “thank you” would have been nice. Am I just tired from a long day or is it OK to expect an audible thank you?”
“Of course a thank you would have been nice, but needing it diminishes the purity of your act of love for your fellow man and makes it about your ego. You were not motivated to do this good deed by the thought of an eventual thank you, and being upset about not getting one gives away your power. You are better than that.”
Then, for some reason, I added:
“I went to a Bret Michaels concert last night. When he started playing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” I yelled at the stage, “Bret, roses don’t have thorns! They have prickles! And not every rose has prickles! Do the right thing and sing “Most Roses Have Prickles!!” (I realize this is not a very good song title.) Much to the delight of everyone else there, he ignored me, and I went home miffed. Then my wife slapped me in the ear and said, “Having expectations of strangers is a sure road to disappointment and gives strangers control over how you feel.” While that is also not a good song title, I changed my tune….”
My Story of Do-Gooderism
When I was a teenager, I found and returned three wallets in two days. This was an astounding coincidence to me, but even more unbelievable was how the wallet owners responded.
The first one, I don’t specifically remember, but I know I did not receive a thank you or a monetary reward. For the second one, I was working in a retail store and found a wallet in my department. I pocketed it and planned on bringing it to the customer service desk the next time I was near. Then I saw a frantic looking woman searching the floor in an aisle in my department. She said, “Did you see a wallet? It’s blue and–” I cut her off by whipping the wallet out of my pocket. She snatched it and rushed off without another word.
The third one really got to me. I found a fat wallet in a booth at McDonald’s. It was filled with credit cards and pictures and over $200 in cash. I looked at the driver’s license to see where the owner lived. I was on my way to my friend’s house, and this guy’s house was in the opposite direction. I took it there anyway.
I rang the doorbell to the security door on the man’s condominium building. I spoke into the speaker.
“I found Harvey Bergfeld’s wallet.”
“I found Harvey Bergfeld’s wallet.”
“Who is this?”
“I found Harvey Bergfeld’s wallet. Is Harvey Bergfeld there?
“I don’t want any wallets.”
“No, I found Harvey Bergfeld’s wallet. He lost his wallet. At McDonald’s.”
[Away from speaker] “Harvey, did you lose your wallet?…Where is your wallet?…Do you have your wallet?…There’s someone at the door saying he has your wallet….[in speaker] Okay. Come in.”
The female voice on the speaker buzzed me in. I stepped inside, then realized that she did not tell me what unit they were in (only names were by the doorbells).
I stood there and waited. You want the wallet, come and get the damn wallet, I thought. I wasn’t about to search the building.
Finally, a woman on the first floor stepped out into the hallway and waved me toward her. By the time I got to the door, she had retreated inside, as if she were afraid. This angered me. Did she think that the guy who found her husband’s wallet also happened to be a robber who was not content with an easy $200 and would come to their condo to rob them?
She took the wallet, looked inside it, and called to her husband, “Do you have any singles?”
It seems the bills in the wallet that I went out of my way to return to them were too large to give as a reward. She handed me the two dollars her husband gave her and reflexively, I–not her–said, “Thank you.”
I had just saved them at least $200 and the aggravation of replacing everything in that wallet, and I thanked her.
I was mad at the time, but now I realized that it shouldn’t matter what the response is to your good deeds. You do them because they are the right things to do, because you are an ethical, honest person who cares about others, because it’s part of who you are to do the right thing. The thanks and the rewards are nice add-ons, but when they’ve become necessities, you’ve diminished your good deed, and by extension, yourself.
My daughter knows this, much better than I did at her age. She would have liked to meet the child whose life she saved some day, but it was nothing more than a nice add-on to her. She wishes her contribution could have helped a baby live, but she takes satisfaction in the knowledge that she gave a baby a chance.
She did something else that she doesn’t even know. She provided me with the inspiration to be a better person.
Sometimes you teach your children. Sometimes your children teach you.