Sunday, August 31, 2014

SOCIETY | Caught in the act of helping

Should we put on the spotlight people who commit good deeds?

This is the question that came to my mind in lieu of recent events. For the past two weeks, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been making the rounds of news programs and the Internet. Yesterday, I covered The Philippine STAR’s awarding of aid to 28 individuals and groups it featured on its 28 Stories of Giving anniversary campaign.

On my way home from SM North EDSA after the STAR event, I took a passenger van, a Toyota Hiace Grandia with foldable jump seats and a removable stool, which you can place between the normal seats and jump seat so it can comfortably sit four people on the third and last rows.

I was seated on one end of the third row. When the passengers beside me have alighted at their destination, I took the liberty to remove the stool and place it on the empty seat beside so that the people at the last row could easily alight from the vehicle.

After doing this, it dawned on me: What if we thanked and honored every person who committed even small acts of kindness? You know, just tell that random person, “Hey, thanks! You’re my hero!” just others who have witnessed the act can emulate it in the future.

This kind of recognition is, in fact, being done already. When I attended the Social Media Day celebrations at the Samsung Hall of the SM Aura  Premier in Taguig City last June, I met Tim Humangit, founder of the social media enterprise, “Hero of D Day.”

What “Hero of D Day” basically does is it crowd sources stories of small acts of heroism and kindness--a random person helping the elderly cross the street, giving spare food to the homeless, returning lost items to its owners, and so on. I felt it is a good advocacy, especially in a time of too much negativity in social media. It’s a good addition to the growing number of good news that’s been proliferating on the Internet and it does make one have hope in humanity.

That is until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral.

Pouring a bucket of iced water on yourself to raise awareness and funds for a debilitating disease and getting it all on video isn’t a bad idea initially. But if everybody’s doing it just to get attention for themselves, it does give you doubts about these people’s true intentions.

Which brings me back to my question: Should we put on the spotlight people who commit good deeds?

If we’re keen on helping others and not keen on drawing attention to ourselves, then we should shun whatever form of attention placed on its by others, especially the media. We must keep in mind that we are helping others to feel good and not to look good. Let me elaborate the difference.

If you help the elderly cross the street, you’re doing it because not doing so won’t make you feel good. You’ll worry that something unfortunate might happen to that person. The same thing goes to giving spare food to the homeless. You know what it feels like to be hungry for a very long time, you must understand what these vagrants are going through as well. It doesn’t make you feel good that other people are suffering while you are living comfortably.

Those who help to look good would do good deeds to draw attention to themselves. It’s a classic act in the book of public relations. They want to be known for helping others; they want their names or brand to be tied to the act of lending a helping hand. That’s why when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, fame-hungry pop stars and politicians trying to mend their damaged image were quick to catch the trend.

But how about those foundations and non-government organizations engaged in truly helping others? If they advertise their good deeds, does that mean they are doing it just to draw attention to themselves i.e. to attract more donors and members to their organization or is it to inspire others to do the same, sort of a “pay-it-forward” mechanism?

The tendency is to see such as a way to inspire others to do the same. But isn’t the act itself already inspirational that it no longer necessitates advertisement?

It could be argued that advertising such good deeds can inspire a bigger audience. But arguing so is to assume that the bigger audience does not have the ability to discern and perform good deeds. It is to assume that humans in general are incapable of doing good and need to be provided a stimulus in the form of an advertisement just to act.

Take the case of those donors donating anonymously to various causes, or those Secret Santas who would leave gifts to orphanages and homeless shelters. They help without drawing attention to themselves. And yet their actions still inspire others to do the same.

You see, in a time when everyone has become rather individualistic than social--using headphones to prevent you from hearing other people’s music, voices, or noise, movies you can watch alone in your mobile phone, even silent concerts where participants wear headphones--even the act of helping others involves an individualistic motive of getting rewards, such as attention, fame, a better image, or material rewards. 

No longer is helping about empathizing with other people’s plight, putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and feeling good about how good the welfare of others have been. Have we successfully evolved and transcended the focus of our existence from inside going out? Not yet. But I have hope that humanity can still do so.

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