Random Acts of Kindness

“I don’t believe it,” she said. “No. There’s no such thing as altruism.”

And this from a lovely, decent, God-fearing woman. No daw, but delightful in every way. She just thought that every act is motivated by self-interest, whether one admits it or not.

So, despite appearances or protestations, you might engage in a random act of kindness…

  • because you hope for a reward, be it admission to heaven, a chocolate biscuit or a smile of approval.
  • because you want to feel good, and doing good for someone else will generate that good feeling.
  • or because you feel a moral imperative to do the right thing, and to fail to do so would be a source of shame or self-recrimination. (This needn’t necessarily be traced to Catholic or some other kind of lurking guilt, but often is).

Whichever of the three categories best describes what’s going on in your head at the time you do something kind, self-interest is at the back of it. So my lovely friend from Antwerp says.

And she doesn’t say it as an excuse to avoid doing good, to dismiss it as pointless. No. She’ll still act with kindness, but refuses to dress it up as altruism.

I follow her logic and admire her character, but I can’t bring myself to agree. I can’t prove it or display it but I believe it exists – the altruism that prompts random acts of kindness without even the wink of self-interest. Maybe call it goodness – whether it be innate or fleeting.

I may never have dished it out but I have certainly been the grateful recipient. Or so I stubbornly believe.

The question of random acts of kindness was raised by the Loose Bloggers Consortium, the members of which have given their own views on the matter. You can read what they think by going to the right hand side of the page and scrolling down till the find the links to the blogs of the LBC members in America, Europe and Asia.



Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium

26 responses to “Random Acts of Kindness

  1. Paul – In my experience it seems that people do good for one of two reasons:

    EMPATHY – Based on how they feel

    COMPASSISON – In spite of how they feel

  2. That’s a tough one, once I really started thinking about it. My Catholic upbringing cetainly has a role in it, both for compassion toward the more unfortunate and fear of ending up in the version of Hell described by Joyce in A Portrait of a Young Man 😉 Maybe atonement for past bad deeds plays into it, and even the “Golden Rule”. In the end I guess, for me, it comes down to not thinking about reasons for doing good, but just doing it because that is what various role models did in my life. Getting way too deep into this now. Great post!

    • I remember those Joycean lascivious goats well. I found them more puzzling than anything else – horny goats must just not do it for me.
      Otherwise I think a lot of the same factors come into it with me too.

  3. Paul, I wonder if your friend in Antwerp and mine somewhere in the UK are one and the same: I was shocked at the time, though do understand the reasoning, when he said that even people like Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa were not as “selfless” as we think they are. I will continue this thought on my own blog (not to drive traffic to it but because I do not wish to compromise yours. A not so random but calculated act of consideration by a stranger.).


    • Happy to drive traffic to you.
      Happy at the thought that I might have any traffic to be driven anywhere.
      I’ve always had a soft spot for Mother Teresa since learning about her clashing with the bishop of Down & Connor and getting kicked out of Belfast. My Granny worked with her a bit before her departure for Calcutta.

  4. A spur-of-the-moment random act of kindness is the most likely candidate for genuine selfless giving I would think. No time to consider the benefits to oneself in that situation. BUT… there is always room for that later! We are human after all 😉

  5. I do agree that pure altruism is very rare and that somewhere along the line there’s usually some self-interest involved. Deep down we want to enhance our self-image, or get to heaven, or impress somebody, or we help some wobbly old gent so we get helped ourselves when we’re equally wobbly.

  6. Maxi says: If you do something for someone else for any reason other than you want to … it’s the wrong reason

    • Ursula

      To Maxi, and most of Paul’s other commentators: I couldn’t agree more.

      What I resent (bitterly), and always have, that people will be “kind” with an eye on reward. Priding themselves on being kind. Making sure everyone knows about the angels they are. That isn’t kindness, that is making a bargain (often with the devil); and being mercenary in its worst form. I give you a present you give me a present. What if, with despair in my heart, I can only give you a snowball, harvested from your front garden which, in no time, will turn into a puddle in your living room? Well, you have to be a special person to see the intent behind the damage. And an even more special person to go outside and start a snowball fight with me and everyone else around. And laugh, Regardless.


      • Take your point – but I’d be more tolerant of the beneficial gesture even if the motives for making it were mixed.

        To give an example from an excellent book I’m reading called “The Big Necvessary – Adventures in the World of Human Waste” by Rose George – an Indian documentary film maker, Paromita Vohra, says of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of a latrine building charity to liberate low caste scavenging (ie shit clearing) women: ” I find [him] very paternalistic. But the guy is a Brahmin and he built the first public toilet in India. You can’t take that away from him.”

  7. I am trying to keep it simple and live by just two points of light: Never be the source of someone’s misfortune and never pass up the opportunity to perform a charitable act.

  8. When I see people in trouble, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to help them, simply because they need help! My immediate feeling is that someone must help, and I am willing to do so. I agree with Grannymar’s take on this. 🙂

  9. Random acts of kindness implies I think that it happens instinctively, without thought…just on an impulse. I liked your analysis of the three reasons for kindness.

    A great deal of ‘social work’ happens because of one of the three reasons, I think. A lot because you want to look ‘good’ in the eyes of your peers.

  10. I think that the very word ‘random’ suggests an altruistic tendency. I just think being kind is the ‘right’ thing to do. Some acts are driven by selfishness or a desire to be appreciated but others are just because.

  11. Sorry to take so long to comment, I have been away for the past week.

    I grew up ‘helping’, it was considered the normal thing to do – DEAL – and then ask the questions. We always seemed to have a granny or member of the extended family in bed in our house being nursed back to health. I helped with fixing pillows, the fetching and carrying – a tray, some clothes, reading glasses and newspaper or sometimes it might have been a full chamber pot! Later, when I was nine, my mother had a serious heart attack while my father and older brothers were out of the house. I had to deal with that situation and find a distraction for my three younger siblings – aged seven, six and 12 months. There was no time to think of why I was trying to help…. it needed doing and I was the one on the spot at the time. That is how things continued since then, and I don’t question it. If someone needs help, I give it.

  12. That little comic’s funny. Anyway, I think there is altruism. At least, it exists when people risk their lives for others. If someone is simply being selfish, they won’t likely risk their life for someone. It’s harder to tell with other things, though. I want to say I’m being nice for unselfish reasons, but maybe I’m just fooling myself. Don’t know.

  13. When one regresses enough, one will always find that one does any thing for the one reason that it ultimately or even immediately, brings one happiness. This is actually the truth in saying that even acts of kindness too are acts of selfishness. If these acts did not give us happiness of some kind, one would not do that. Being selfish is not being non virtuous.

    • blackwatertown

      Welcome back.
      I take your point – points – but don’t agree. Admittedly that disagreement is based more on feeling than logic. Perhaps the truth is that, as in some film or other, one could say about me: “You can’t handle the truth.”

  14. Val

    So what – if your friend were to see someone drowning or in a car crash, s/he only save that person’s life out of self-interest? I very much doubt that.

  15. From what many of you are saying, the element of surprise seems to be key in determining whether calculation of self-interest comes into it – quick reaction to something unexpected or random.
    Though like Baino, when it comes to rigorously analysing this one, I also tend to fall back on “just because”.

  16. Hans

    I have posted the message below to more than 500 email addresses and more than 200 poets. Wouldn’t a kindness break through in 2012 be wonderful? Please forward the message below to as many people as you can. Thanks in advance

    Kindness revolution

    It started as a dream
    Slowly it became a belief
    A kindness revolution
    We can start a chain of small kindness that will change the world
    One kindness leading to ten other kindnesses and then in turn to ten others
    Can you imagine the snowball effect?
    Can you imagine how greed could be replaced by kindness?

    Let us make it a reality all together
    Can read the dream in Y.. Poetry and History
    (http: //www.poemhunter.com/poem/y-poetry-and-history/)

    How can we make it happen?
    How can we all be part of it?
    1. Perform a hundred random kind acts in the month of May 2012
    2. If many do 1. Soon the effects will snowball
    3. Get this message on the mail or facebook and make sure all your friends read it
    4. Write a poem on kindness and provide it or the link at the bottom of this message

    Thanks in advance and best regards


    Here is one poem to start with:

    Speck of significance

    In the universe, a human so small,
    Looking just like a speck of dust
    But born with a mind and a soul
    And able to think, love and trust.
    Many think that as a human, just one
    Not a positive change can be made, nothing great
    What could a good deed selflessly done
    Ever mean in a world full of hate?

    But if a butterfly in India, flapping its wings
    could cause a storm over the Atlantic
    Just see how one of the small insignificant things
    Can have an effect, so gigantic
    Then why would your simple random kind act
    Just by chance or by divine intervention
    Not snowball and have a huge impact,
    Perhaps a kindness revolt of enormous dimension

    So in each of our lives we must
    Make a choice of incredible importance
    Do we want to be just a speck of dust
    Or a speck of significance.

    (Author: Aufie Zophy)

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