Doing something nice for no reason

Three times this week I have done good deeds for strangers. I’m not bragging or looking for praise; none were exceptionally kind or selfless, indeed each time the cost to me was minimal. But all three improved the lives of the three strangers in some way or other.

  1. I was approached by a homeless person begging for money. He claimed to need £40 for cheap hostel accommodation for the night and told me a story about how due to mental illness, the council had evicted him from social housing. It wasn’t a very likely story, as such an eviction on those grounds would be illegal pretty much anywhere, and I am the last person to be moved by another man’s tedious sob story. But the man clearly needed the money more than me. He may have been too proud to say what he actually needed was food (he certainly looked half starved). Even if he just wanted drugs or alcohol, who am I to say he can’t
    get what he wants just because he’s poor? So I gave him £5, and told him he just needed to approach seven more people and he’d have his £40 target.
  2. I was walking through a dodgy part of town late afternoon on Hallowe’en when I heard someone shouting for help. At first, I thought it was probably a Hallowe’en prank. But, I couldn’t see where the noise was coming from so I was intrigued. I heard it again, more frantic than before, and pinpointed the cry to one of five ground floor windows on a block of flats (the Britishisms are strong in this one!). Figuring it must be the one open window, I climbed up the fence to see in properly and sure enough, there was a young man lying on his bed in a filthy hovel of a room shouting “help!”. I asked him if he wanted the police and he managed to slur out “ambulansss”. He’d clearly overdosed on something or other, as he wouldn’t respond to any of my other questions except to shout “HELP!” again as though nobody was there. So, I phoned the ambulance, having to explain where I was even though I didn’t know the name of the street or the house number. Fortunately a neighbour had been drawn by the noise and was able to give me those details and the paramedic arrived about three minutes later. By this time, the man had vomited all over his bed and had stopped speaking or moving. The paramedic arrived, amusingly bungled his attempt to climb the wall as I had done and decided to go round the front. At that point I went on my way.
  3. On a busy street in the centre of town, I saw an old man looking slightly bewildered and confused. I see people like that all the time, my senses home in on them. This one was trying – and failing – to hail a taxi. I approached him and offered to get a taxi for him. I had the app on my phone and knew that they typically arrived in the same amount of time as the ambulance in the second story. On this occasion, the man politely refused my help and said he was just going round the corner anyway and could possibly get the bus instead. “Well the buses sure are cheaper” I told him “In fact they’re free for senior citizens”. “Are they now?” the old man asked, practically licking his lips at the prospect of a free ride “thanks for your help, kiddo”.

All three of these are minor good deeds at most. I don’t really feel anything, nor do I think of moral considerations when doing them. If I were to try to justify them, I would say that being able to respond to human need and improve someone else’s day with little or no real effort or sacrifice on my part is a logical win win, but in the moment I don’t even think of this. In truth, I did them for no reason at all.

I wonder how many of you empathically gifted people can truthfully say you’ve done something nice for a stranger in the past week, something that has gone beyond everyday politeness that is. I am not judging – the number may be high, it may be low, but what I am saying is when the so-called “worst” of humanity are capable of helping a stranger for no reward, then surely we all are. If it’s been a while since you helped anyone, why not give it a try this week? Why not do something nice for no reason at all?

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