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There’s no such thing as a selfless good deed! …And?

January 20, 2012

I wonder if you have ever heard the argument that there is no such thing as pure altruism; the idea that a totally selfless good deed just doesn’t exist.

Essentially what this means is that even the most selfless good deed is actually still slightly selfish. “How can this possibly be?” I hear you ask “Loads of good people give loads to charity and do loads of other really good things for other people.”

Well the argument would be that even in the most extreme cases of kindness, even when you are so good to someone else, at a great cost to yourself, you would still come away from that experience feeling good about it and that means that there can never be any purely selfless good deed, because when all is said and done you benefited.

If I’m honest I am not sure that I agree that it’s impossible to separate a good deed from a good feeling afterwards but my thoughts are that I would rather they weren’t separated anyway.

The way I see it we are effectively looking at two ways of implementing a good deed. The first option is to do it through gritted teeth, to try and achieve kindness in as selfless way as possible with absolutely no benefit to us whatsoever. The second way is to enjoy it.

You see very often I think we make the mistake of thinking that to obtain (or to want to obtain) some level of reward for right living is a bad thing – I mean it’s just not how we do things – certainly not in Britain!! The problem is that with this slightly hazy lens we cannot see how unhelpful that way of thinking is. As a result of making sure we are 100% ‘selfless’ we actually miss out on the enjoyment of being kind or generous etc.

And if we look at this in the context of how it affects the recipient of our good deeds and what benefits them most – then surely it is far better to serve them enjoyably rather than with no enjoyment. After all we are far more likely to make a habit of it if we enjoy doing it right?

Let me give you an example to help put this into a day to day context:

I work 5 days a week and as such my wife stays at home with my son CJ. Now this inevitably means that a large percentage of the house work tends to get done by Bex, (she and I are both happy with this arrangement I hasten to add.) However as a husband who ought to serve his wife that doesn’t mean I wash my hands totally of housework, therefore I end up getting involved by doing the dishes from time to time, or sweeping the floor, or emptying the washing machine, and even once in a while doing the cooking (which scares me). My question is this, which is better? for me to serve my wife by doing some of the housework because I feel I ought to? or to do it because I actually enjoy serving my wife – and therefore benefit from it?

There is nothing wrong with being rewarded in life, whether that be for being good to other people or whether that be for hard work in general. Let’s shift gear and look at rewards in general.

In life there lies many a reward available for you. The reward for a hardworking student is a good education, the reward for a hardworking athlete is a gold medal at the Olympics, the reward for the hardworking soldier is victory at the battle’s end, the reward for the hardworking husband and wife is a fruitful marriage.

Not only is it OK for us to long after these rewards in life, it’s absolutely essential. If an athlete doesn’t focus on the prize then that will affect their performance.

It’s important to live well and to focus on our prize.

This is what Paul says in the book of Philippians (in the New Testament of the Bible):

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I want to encourage you today to start to enjoy the rewards that come with right living. And remember that whilst you could never earn God’s favour and approval (as that can only come through trusting in Jesus) you can still know what it means to experience a level of reward and blessing for the way you choose to live.

Why not start to enjoy putting others first.


From → Life Advice

  1. Alvi Rizwan Khan permalink

    heh heh heh…. interesting. well offcourse there’s no selfless good deed. The moment the person thinks of it as a ‘good’ deed..his intention gets selfish. Deeds good or evil both feed his ego. If on the other hand if he sees a traffic accident and immediately rushes in.. thats a whole different scenario altogether. people doing stuff out of care…thats something else

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