Do Selfless Good Deeds Exist?

Note: This is different from my typical blog posts. It makes me uncomfortable, but I’m trying to sit in it. These are also only my points of voice as of today, June 9, 2020. As I hope all of you are doing, I am listening and learning every day. 

To all you fellow Friends (which, in hindsight, was a far from perfect show) fans out there, remember “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS”? It’s the episode where Phoebe and Joey argue about whether or not unselfish acts truly exist. The episode actually discusses and dissects the theories of altruism posed by philosopher Immanuel Kant. Joey thinks unselfish acts simply do not exist, and Phoebe sets out on a mission to prove him wrong. After many failed attempts, Phoebe finally decides the ultimate selfless act would be to donate money to PBS, a station she deeply despises. Unfortunately for her, her donation benefits Joey, who happens to be the person who answers her call during the broadcast telethon, and gets him, a struggling actor, on camera. Phoebe feels good about helping Joey, and then immediately realizes the act of feeling good cancels out her selfless act. First of all, hilarious.

Second of all, the question of whether or not selfless good deeds actually exist is one I’ve wrestled with for decades… especially in the age of social media, when, in large part, only the good in one’s life is captured and relayed. This question has again come to the forefront of my mind these past few weeks in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests. I see friends posting resources of things they’re reading to educate themselves on anti-racism, organizations to which they’re donating, pictures of protests they’re attending, and much more. All of this is great, because, if nothing else, it amplifies messages and floods social media followers with information and resources. I also see organizations struggling with “keeping up” with corporate responses to the numerous crises affecting the economy, employees, the world…

I’ve thought long and hard about how to make any action as selfless as possible in this situation. The best I can come up with is for you to do what you can to help (whether that’s talking with friends and/or people who do not share your beliefs, donating, reading, listening, or protesting safely) and, for businesses, to let those actions permeate through your culture. Survey your employees. See how they want to help. And then take action. At this point, there’s no need to broadcast your efforts and pat yourself on the back. Let the only selfish part of your action be that you want to better yourself as a person and a leader within your organization.

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