I wasn’t going to post anything today, as I’m driving toward the end of the novel-under-construction and wanted to reserve the day for that. However, a YouTube video that most would deem quite harmless caught my attention:
A sweet story, eh? Yes, it’s nice that the clerk was ultimately rewarded for his kindness. But what lesson does the story embed? Help others because one of them might reward you handsomely? Is that a moral lesson?
It poked me in a sensitive place. We already do many things for the payoff they promise. We must; that’s life in a market-based economy. There’s no stigma upon it as long as the decisions and actions one takes are uncoerced, honest, and uncoercive. But helping others who are in need through no fault of their own isn’t a market transaction, any more than rescuing a stray dog or cat from the traffic would be. It should be done for its own sake.
Have a brief segment from Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People:
I was waiting in line to register a letter in the post office at Thirty-Third Street and Eighth Avenue in New York. I noticed that the clerk appeared to be bored with the job -weighing envelopes, handing out stamps, making change, issuing receipts – the same monotonous grind year after year. So I said to myself: “I am going to try to make that clerk like me. Obviously, to make him like me, I must say something nice, not about myself, but about him. So I asked myself, ‘What is there about him that I can honestly admire?'”
That is sometimes a hard question to answer, especially with strangers; but, in this case, it happened to be easy. I instantly saw something I admired no end. So while he was weighing my envelope, I remarked with enthusiasm: “I certainly wish I had your head of hair.”
He looked up, half-startled, his face beaming with smiles. “Well, it isn’t as good as it used to be,” he said modestly. I assured him that although it might have lost some of its pristine glory, nevertheless it was still magnificent. He was immensely pleased. We carried on a pleasant little conversation and the last thing he said to me was: “Many people have admired my hair.”
I’ll bet that person went out to lunch that day walking on air. I’ll bet he went home that night and told his wife about it. I’ll bet he looked in the mirror and said: “It is a beautiful head of hair.”
I told this story once in public and a man asked me afterwards: “‘What did you want to get out of him?”
What was I trying to get out of him!!! What was I trying to get out of him!!!
If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return – if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve. Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.
That is a proper life lesson: to help when you’re able, if you can afford to do so, and your intended beneficiary is in need through no fault of his own, is the definition of true charity. Likewise, to spread good cheer when you can, even if it costs you a few minutes of your time, is a blessing in and of itself. Yes, sometimes you’ll wind up changing a tire for Donald Trump, and in his gratitude he’ll pay off your mortgage. But how likely is that? Should the low probability that the man you’re rescuing from being eaten by alligators is Warren Buffett cause you to sniff at the opportunity?
Have a nice day.