Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeling Good About Doing Good

My wife just came back from a weeklong mission trip to Haiti…and had the time of her life! She did great things for the people there. She did great things with the people there. She bonded with the people she went down there with. She said it was a really rewarding experience and would love to go back.

And this is a problem for some people.

I have a friend who is all about motives. Actually, she’s all about pure motives. Unless you’ve done something for only the purest of motives, what you’ve done is morally suspect. If you’ve gotten anything out of it…anything…then you’re only doing it for yourself, and not for the people you thought you were helping.

Obviously, she’d have a problem with Cheryl going back to Haiti because she enjoyed the experience. That makes Cheryl a person who’s selfishly using the people of Haiti to make herself feel good. Now, if Cheryl hated every moment of the time she was in Haiti, but vowed to go back on a regular basis because it was the right thing to do, that would truly be doing good from the purest of motives.

I disagree with that view. I fundamentally disagree with that view, and I disagree with it because of something called a feedback loop. I’m not talking about what happens when the microphone is too close to the speakers, although they are related. The kind of feedback loop I’m talking about is when you learn to do or not to do something based on some response you got from doing it.

Good feedback encourages you to continue certain behaviors and bad feedback discourages you from them.

When you feel good about doing good, it encourages you to do more good. The feeling you get from that encourages you to do still more good. And the feeling you get from that encourages you to do even more good than before. I suspect this is nature’s way of nudging us into doing good and helping each other. We’re supposed to feel good when we do good for others!

I remember one of the most important things I learned in my freshman Philosophy class at Syracuse University was the concept of enlightened self-interest. That’s when you look out for others because it also benefits you. Yes, you’re getting something out of it, but so is the other person. It’s a win-win all around.

But some people have a problem with this, and want the most philosophically pure motives before doing anything.

The problem with this is that if you wait for the absolute purest of motives, nothing will ever get done.

Besides, I think that my friend has a serious issue that she hasn’t considered. In insisting that things be done only for the purest of motives, she wants to be able to say that when she does some good deed, she does it for the right reason.

I don’t think she’s stopped to consider that she’s selfishly using others to get moral bragging rights.

Let me be perfectly clear here...this was no one week vacation where they did a little work. There was heat and diarrhea, and bad water and diarrhea, and lots of hard work and diarrhea, and great bonding with the rest of the mission trip team...and diarrhea.

And did I mention diarrhea?

But they'd all go back in a minute because of what they got out of it...because of the feedback loop making them feel good for doing good.

And that, despite what my friend thinks, is how it should be.

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