I am a cynic. I’d like to think that I’m not, but I remind myself that I am all the time. I just don’t trust people. It’s the reason I lock my car doors when my car is in the driveway, even in the daytime. It serves me well sometimes, other times, not so much.
So, in my Intro to Psych class, we have an assignment to do 5 random acts of kindness and write a paper about what we did and we felt. These acts of kindness were described as ones that were truly random and that we did not expect a thank you or any kind of selfish acknowledgement. Sounds like an interesting and philanthropic endeavor that a normal person would welcome as a way to better themselves, right?
Not for me. I already see the assignment as impossible to accomplish.
First, it’s an assignment. It’s already forced and, therefore, not genuine. I can’t see how any student can feel better about doing the act than fulfilling the requirement. Now, anything we do is part of a checklist and not a gesture that we would forget due to its personal meaninglessness. A true random act of kindness, to me, should be one soon forgotten by the executor, although it may have long lasting impact on the receiver.
Second, they can’t be random if they are mandated. True randomness happens organically, not in such a deterministic fashion. Students will be planning these acts beforehand or actively seeking them out. They cannot be random when there is a distinct order. It just doesn’t work that way.
Thirdly, there is no way this cannot be selfish. We’re trying to get a good grade, first off. We are doing it for a desired result that satisfies ourselves. You do it because it’s right and satisfy your own sense of morality or you do it to make someone else happy so you feel happy. Either way, you are a recipient of your own deed.
I’m sure you, the reader, will have some sort of objection to my hypothesis, but I want you to walk it back for a minute and really think about what I’ve written. I have not made a judgment. If you think that I did, point it out, but I’m going to guess that you think I’m saying everyone is selfish and that’s a bad thing. Did I actually say that selfishness was bad? Nope. You can argue that if the result of being selfish is selflessness, then it can’t be all that bad. It actually advances humanity. If you donate time or money to homeless veterans to make yourself feel better for having disposable income, then what’s the harm? In this case, money that you’ve worked hard to earn, to buy that big TV or nice car, really does buy happiness not only for yourself but for someone else. I don’t think you can dispute that. But, it’s no random act of kindness. It’s planned. Deliberate.
So, getting back to my assignment.
Of course, I’ll do it. But I’ll do it without pretense that it’s random or completely selfless. I’ll do it because I have to, whether to get a good grade or to truly make myself or someone else happy, but I’m not going to have any illusions about it.