Growing up, all the adults around me used to say, “Be good.” And when I asked why, some simply replied, “Because it’s important” with no further explanation.
Then one day, one of the more knowing adults, a teacher, told me how if I did good deeds, good things would happen to me.
So one Saturday, when I was 12 years old, I decided to test my teacher’s assertion. Not so much to see if she was telling the truth (since many of the same adults also told me lies), but rather that my heart told me I was onto something important.
In Search of Good
The experiment went as follows. I decided to “be good” for the entire day and keep a tally of my good deeds.
On my way to the library, I met an old lady waiting to cross the road. With naive enthusiasm, I grabbed her frail arm and said, “I’ll help you cross the road.”
Afterwards, as I beamed with pride at my obvious first good deed of the day, I noticed a bewildered look on the old lady’s face. “What’s the matter?” I asked, “Can I help?” To which she replied, “I didn’t want to cross the road. Now I need help to get back to the other side.”
By the time I returned the old lady to the other side of the road, I’d learned an important lesson. A deed is only good if the recipient benefitted from my help, regardless of my best intentions.
Full of youthful gusto, I went about the rest of my day doing good deeds, starting with handing in a purse I found on my way to the shops to the nearest store to give the person who lost it the best chance of finding it again. This taught me my second lesson of the day. Good deeds are rarely done in isolation and I needed to trust others to do the right thing for my good deeds to work.
When eventually I got to the library, I was disappointed to find the last copy of the novel I wanted had just been taken out minutes before my arrival. “Never mind,” I told myself. “I’ll just have to wait a bit longer.” Then, as I was leaving the library, one of the librarians called me back to say that luckily, someone else had just returned a copy and would I like to borrow it?
Of course I did! I smiled to myself as I clutched my treasure of a book. Perhaps good deeds did happen to people who do good, I mused.
Be the Change You Want to See
By the end of the day, I was convinced. For each good thing I did that day, I was rewarded by something good happening to me. It didn’t matter how big or small my good deed was nor how big or small my reward was. The fact that the numbers tallied up was what made the difference to me.
I stopped keeping count after running the same experiment on several more occasions as it seemed simpler to do good whenever I could. It’s not always easy, but it makes sense to me.
It’s true what the adults say. What you focus on, you get more of. And what goes around comes around.