In front of the cash machine, a somewhat overweight man in a scootmobile, is staring a bit clueless in the distance. As soon as someone approaches the cash machine, he leaps up. Quickly he grabs the pile of newspapers and shouts out in just the right tone: “a euro for the night shelter?” Addressing someone in the right tone of voice, is something he has learned over the years, I guess. It’s got to be polite, but clear. Not forceful or begging, but casual, like you ask someone to point out the way. Which by the way is another tactic that is often used. Just start a conversation with: “Can I ask you something?”. It always amazes me how helpful people are, until this question is followed by the euro question of course.
The other day, I again stood in line for the cash machine, when the same guy asked an older lady his opening question: “Can I ask you something?” “Well, actually no”, the older lady said very offended. “I already gave you something, but apparently you completely forgot.” “Sorry”, said the guy in the scootmobile, “ I have difficulties remembering stuff. Because of the medication etc.”
So, you give something to another person and you feel pretty content with yourself, only to find out two minutes later that you have left no impression at all. It could have been anyone who gave him something. And of course that should not matter and of course you shouldn’t be happy with yourself for doing something good. It should be about helping the other, not about feeling good about yourself. But in the end it doesn’t really work that way. You do give primarily because it makes you feel good about yourself. Watch me help other people! If people like me wouldn’t be there, what would the world look like? That poor man is really happy right now because of me and rightfully so. Not everyone would help him out like this. Just give something and let him keep his newspaper, so that he can sell it again to someone who is genuinely interested in the contents. And when you then find out only two minutes later that this poor man doesn’t even recognize you, this really bruises your ego. I do have some sympathy for the grumpy old lady.
But it would be really good, if you do something for someone else like it’s completely normal. Spend your life helping others without bragging about it or fishing for credit from others. That would be truly good. But are there people out there who are able to do that, who never tell their story with the aim to have other people admire them? I am not sure if those people exist. Ghandi will probably come close, but I never knew him personally. If they do exist, they are likely to feel guilty about something else, like flying, eating meat, eating fish, or arguing with their neighbour about cigarette butts on their doorstep, etc, etc. Not feeling guilty is almost impossible, because you have to do everything right. Now that I come to think of it, Ghandi might be the exception to the rule looking at the examples I just gave.
In the end, I believe that you will be nicer to the people around you, if you feel good about yourself. So everyone benefits from you helping other people while feeling good about yourself because of that. You will be happier and friendlier to everyone else.
So, I would suggest that we all help out as many people as we can and feel really good about ourselves. Just spread the word that you are a real do-gooder and don’t feel guilty about it. Bragging is definitely allowed. In that way, we all stay as happy as possible.