In last week's issue of 🍨Sunday Scoop (read it here), I shared a short story about how greed often clouds our judgement and leads us to make decisions we regret later on. We also cover a bit about how giving is the key to building a strong and healthy relationship. Lastly, I mentioned that I would be publishing a long-form article this week, where I take you on a deep dive, exploring and expanding on the idea of 'doing good'.
I’m not going to lie, this is going to be a lengthy article.
Although I only spent about 6-7 hours drafting this piece, I’ve literally spent my whole life thinking about the topic at hand. This is a topic that’s close to my heart, a skill that I’m still perfecting everyday and a practice that I think everyone stands to benefit from, should they take the first step to experiment with it.
As usual, I'll include a Table of Contents (ToC) to give you an overview of the entire article. So, if you want to save a bit of time and navigate to the parts which interests you and skip those that don't, that's fine.
For the rest of the article, I will be explaining the 3 Levels of Doing Good, categorized by the 3 main reasons that motivates us to 'do good'. We then move on to explore the 2 toxic mentalities certain people carry with them when doing others a favour, and reasons such mentalities bring more harm than good, even when one intends to help. Finally, we take a look at what is being considered the 'ideal' state when helping someone out.
With that said, I hope you enjoy this piece of writing and derive some form of value from this article!
🎚️ The 3 Levels of Doing Good
There's this quote by J.P Morgan that I absolutely love:-
"A man always has two reasons for doing something: the good reason and the real reason."
The moment I came across this quote, I highlighted it, saved it to my Pocket, Notion, Instapaper account, screenshotted it, set it as my phone wallpaper, printed the quote, framed it and hung it on my bedroom wall. Absolutely loved it.
It's so true, don't you think?
If you were to ask me why did I start my website and newsletter, I'll tell you my 'good reason - that its because I want to share the life insights I've had the privilege to come across, to inspire others to go after what they want, to share study and productivity tips with other students. Yes, I'm not lying when I say that all these were definitely the main driving forces behind what moved me to share my writings.
Nevertheless, a big part of it is also because of my real reason - I enjoy writing and I think it would be really cool to have a blog that archives all my writings over a decade or so. I would effectively be documenting my life and at the same time, creating a personal brand for myself. However, these reasons directly benefit me, and therefore are unacceptable as my good reasons. I refuse to be seen as someone who is inherently selfish and hence I am completely blind to my real reasons.
Now, I don't think there is anything too insidious about having two different sets of reasons (besides the rare cases in Level 1). Most of us are guilty of it (or at the very least, I am). However, we could all benefit from learning more about what really motivates us to do good and gradually, we can work towards the 'ideal' state of doing good.
Level 1: Doing Good in Expectation of A Favour in Return
Among the three levels, I consider Level 1 to be the furthest away from the 'ideal' state.
Using pronouns will be extremely confusing here. Let's take Tom and Jerry for example.
In Level 1, Tom extends a helping hand to Jerry with the sole intention of having Jerry 'owe him one' and Tom expects to cash in the favour someday when he requires Jerry's help. In other words, if the possibility of Jerry returning Tom's favour is factored out of the equation, Tom would be unwilling to help out Jerry.
More often than not, the Toms among us are able to keep up this act for a long, long time. However, once the realization that there is no exchange of value to be expected in a particular relationship dawns upon them, they'll be gone before you can say "Damn!".
Although something as abstract as 'doing good' is rarely binary, I can't seem to think of many instances where this behaviour is acceptable.
Either perform a good deed, or don’t. Never expect for something in return, or you might as well let someone else have the chance to do the deed. Doing a deed and expecting a favour in return only ends in two ways for Tom:-
- Disappointed that he 'wasted' any time at all trying to help Jerry, when Jerry is unable bring him any value
- Successfully received value in return but his deed was done insincerely, dealt in bad faith
I definitely don't consider myself the wisest of men, but I sure am wise enough to see that this isn't the way to do things. While I believe (and hope) that none of my audience fall under this category, it is still one that is worth highlighting to act as a constant reminder to ourselves. Should we catch ourselves in this negative thought pattern, we can then take active steps to improving ourselves and be a better man/woman.
Level 2: Doing Good in Hopes of Something in Return
Suppose Tom read my article.
Tom came to his senses and decided to set aside some personal time to reflect and repent on his ways.
Hoorah! Tom is now a new man.
While Tom doesn't expect a favour from Jerry when he helps him anymore, Tom finds himself hoping for something else. Something more abstract. Maybe he desires to receive an explicit recognition for his changed ways? Or maybe he thought that turning over a new leaf would mean that he would instantly attract many new friends? This uncertainty led him to second-guess the value of practicing his new-found 'virtue'.
Admittedly, even now, there are instances where I find myself at this level. I don't expect anything in return. However, deep down, I am hoping for good things to 'happen to/for me'. This is the level I am at, in regards to the website and newsletter. I am not expecting anything materialistic out of it (i.e I'm not making any money off all of these - yet). However, I do hope that by doing this, I get to make more connections and create opportunities for serendipity to strike me.
The difference between Level 1 and Level 2 is that:-
- Even if the added benefit(s) were removed, we would not instantly ditch people and refuse to help those in need (albeit the stinging disappointment)
- The underlying intentions aren't insidious
However, this is also the stage where we are blinded from our real reasons because we are afraid that others would judge us for them. Hence, we put up the whole act that we are doing something due to the good reasons.
Level 3: Doing Good Because It Makes Us Feel Good
This is the closest level to the 'ideal' state.
Tom has now learned that 'expectation is the root of all heartaches'.
Hence, Tom learned to not expect or hope for anything in return when he performs a favour for another person. He is not craving for validation, nor is he looking for praise. Tom is doing a good deed solely because he recognizes how his help would bring value to Jerry's life and that, in and of itself, makes him feel happy. It makes him feel good, knowing that he has the ability to make Jerry's day a little better.
At this stage, Tom can be considered as one who is 'doing good well'. He has successfully removed any possibility of remorse when he helps someone out. He even acknowledges the presence of both his good reason for doing something, and his real reason. He is able to do so because his real reason overlaps with his good reason, and it doesn't bring him any embarrassment to admit his real reason.
The only potential flaw at this stage surfaces when the best way to help Jerry is through inaction on Tom's part. Due to the fact that Tom derives happiness from knowing that he made Jerry's day better by actively helping him, a scenario which requires him to take a back seat and let things unfold makes him feel extremely uneasy, even when he knows that inaction on his part is exactly what Jerry needs at the moment.
At this point, Tom is at the brink of falling into one of two toxic mentalities.
🙉 The 2 Toxic Mentalities
Before we get to the 'ideal' state of doing good, I think that it is only fair for us to consider toxic mentalities that is related to helping people/doing good. On the surface, people with either one/both of these mentalities may seem to be pure of heart (and they may well be), but their insistence on 'doing good' leads to undesirable outcomes for both themselves and the people they're trying to help.
Let's see if you can identify these people in your life and find out some ways you can help them.
#1 The Savior Complex / The White Knight Syndrome
In general, people consider helpfulness a positive trait, so you might not see anything wrong with trying to save others. But there’s a difference between helping and saving.
People dealing with savior complex strongly believe someone out there is capable of single-handedly making everything better, and that person happens to be them. They also find a compulsive need to “save” people by fixing their problems.
Even though these 'saviors' may not actually know the best way to help others, they insist on helping, believing they know exactly how to handle other people's problem, regardless of the other party's desire to work it out themselves.
The issue of Savior Complex lies in how the savior makes unnecessary yet excessive personal sacrifices but it doesn't bring much value to the person the savior is trying to help.
In this case, the Savior could use someone reminding them of the main reason the Savior is sacrificing - to help others. If the Savior can see how his actions are dealing more damage to others, he/she may learn to reign in their savior tendencies and let poeple sort out their own problems.
#2 The Martyr Complex
One of the most distinct traits of a 'Martyr' is when they woe about sacrifice they’ve made for someone else.
They might even exaggerate bad things that happen to get sympathy or make others feel guilty. 'Martyrs' sacrifice their own needs and wants in order to do things for others. However, they don’t help with a joyful heart but do so out of obligation or guilt, and they constantly try to guilt-trip others afterwards.
Besides, 'Martyrs' may build up resentment when they feel that the things they do for people are not appreciated. However, they may relentlessly do so because it gives them a justification to be angry and bitter towards other people. In certain ways, The Martyr Complex bears some semblance to The Victim Mentality.
Unlike the Savior Complex however, the Martyr Complex may lead to strained relationships. 'Martyrs' refuse to speak up for themselves but they use passive aggression to show their dissatisfaction. In other words, the Martyr Complex actually drains the energy off other people as they lament to others about the immense sacrifices they've done in the interest of another party.
'Martyrs' may need to talk to a therapist to sort things out because they often have deep seated issues within themselves. (at least based on my very brief research) They should also reserve some time for themselves to indulge in self-care to work out their resentment.
🃏 The 'Ideal' State
Lastly, we'll take a look at the 'ideal' state.
Let's assume that Tom adopts the growth mindset and gradually achieves the 'ideal' state that one should have when doing good.
First off, let's determine the parameters of the 'ideal' state. What makes the 'ideal' state so ideal for Tom?
- It brings value to Jerry (or anyone Tom is trying to help).
- Tom is completely comfortable with all the consequences that comes at the cost of helping Jerry.
- His intentions to help Jerry are fully independent of the reactions that follow (he doesn't envision any sort of reaction from his actions and he is not affected by the reactions should they occur)
- Tom can rationally assess all the information available and decide on the best course of action to proceed with.
- Jerry's wellbeing is Tom's priority when helping Jerry; Tom neither flaunts nor hides this fact because he doesn't tie his ego, pride or identity to his position in Jerry's life.
I consider this the 'ideal' state because Tom is free from the possibility of being disappointed (unlike the 3 Levels of Doing Good) and Jerry isn't burdened by accepting Tom's assistance (unlike the 2 toxic mentalities). Tom is solely helping out Jerry because he recognizes that it would help someone out, and yet at the same time, acknowledge that his decision to help Jerry was completely his own. He was not obligated or manipulated to do so.
Hence, even in the case where others do not explicitly state their gratitude and appreciation to Tom, he is able to accept that, because his intentions were never to gain validation or recognition. His sole intention was to help Jerry, and as long as he succeeded in that, he would be completely ontent and consider everything that he did for Jerry well worth it.
As I write the last few sentences for this lengthy article, it is slowly starting to dawn on me how pretentious I must sound, preaching about doing good and the various complexities that are involved in the process.
I hope you know that a large portion in this article is not based on scientific studies or research (besides the toxic mentalities section). I'm merely categorizing my thoughts and adding a couple of characters into the article to make it more relatable and engaging. This is just the way I map things out in my brain and I'm penning down my thoughts on 'doing good' for the first time.
While the 'ideal' state is a hypothetical one (because we're humans and a majority of the human race are inherently selfish), I think that it is a good ideal to work towards. By owning up to the fact that we are in control of our decisions, we automatically distance ourselves from so many toxic mentalities that could potentially ruin the whole point of helping others in the first place.
Doing good is not as important as doing it well!
If you enjoyed this type of content, consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter, Sunday Scoop🍨 where I share :-
* a short article on a few life lessons I've picked up/productivity method I'm experimenting within the week
* links to the favourite contents I consumed that week
* a question to ponder on for the week (or a challenge if I'm feeling cheeky!)
If this seems interesting to you, feel free to subscribe to my email newsletter below!