Awhile ago, I went to the grocery store and sitting on top the cans of cat food I buy was a VERY good coupon that someone had clipped and left for the next person who was planning to buy this particular brand of cat food.
They gained nothing with the gesture. They weren’t going to get the accolade of doing a kind thing. No one would see me pick it up and use it. No one to thank them for their kindness.
If you do a good thing and no one but you know is it, its an odd feeling. 1st, if you do it truly anonymously – you will not even know whether the generous thing was received or how it was used. So you have no sense of closure.
You won’t get the sense of validation that comes with gratitude. You won’t even have a third party openly or tacitly recognizing your generosity. And humans are heavily dependent on validation. Its a need.
We all do kind things. Studies show that we do them to get a sense of validation from our peers, thereby increasing our status in our group (We want validation that we are good people).
Which feels kind of icky because of social norms – but its just reality and doesn’t actually diminish the greatness of doing a good deed. Because it is a choice. You don’t have to do the generous thing, but you do it. And that generous thing can have untold benefits on others.
You want to be considered kind and good and not selfish and mean. Why is that a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to act the way your want to be? I want to be runner, I run. I want to be a doctor, I go to school and become a doctor. No one tells me that I should do so on the QT.
A truly anonymous gift is often a lauded thing. Religions tout that an anonymous gift is the only true gift, because when you remove any self gratification from the equation you have given purely from your heart.
The science is saying that we may not even be capable of giving without the ulterior motive of self defining as a generous person. (ie – getting validation)
I think we need to reconsider this idea that the best gifts are anonymous ones.
Studies show that generosity is contagious – so acting generously in public leads to more people acting generously. So in a bizarre way – we are acting less generously by keeping it anonymous.
We have so few opportunities to build up our self esteem in positive and real ways. Is it really a bad thing to want validation for doing a good thing, when in so much of our lives we are pounded with reasons to feel shitty about ourselves?
We live in a world where beauty is an airbrushed illusion that marks everyone with a pre-stamped fail. We have made music into something that only “professionals” can do – no one else can sing well enough. Only the tiniest percentage of people who play sports can be good enough to be a professional, so everyone who plays a sport is already a failure. We are judged daily in our jobs by standards that are subjective on most counts, in areas where our bosses see less than 2% of our actual work. And those are just a few areas where we struggle to see ourselves positively.
We should embrace those opportunities to feel that we are good, we are kind, we are generous. We should not feel like we are somehow being less good if we publicly helped someone.
I am left feeling a little bit sad for the person who left me a coupon. A generous gesture that made me a little bit happy inside. But they didn’t get that boost of happy from my gratitude, from being recognized a generous giver.