The Good Deed Hall of Shame

Ever have the urge to perform an act of kindness, but feel too embarrassed to go for it?

It happens to me all the time.

When you’re walking behind a stranger whose shirt tag is sticking out, don’t you just want to reach out and tuck it back in for them? (Note to reader: I’d certainly want you to do that for me!) But, like I was taught in kindergarten, I invariably keep my hands to myself. Or occasionally I’m tempted to catch a fellow transit rider’s attention and tell her just how very flattering that fuchsia blouse is on her. But even though a comment like that directed at me would make my day, I don’t have the nerve to go through with it.

Case in point: I’m taking my brisk morning walk through the neighbourhood yesterday, a daily ritual that jump-starts my work shift and reminds my circulatory system I have a brain that could use nourishing. My iPod is playing full-blast. It’s yard-waste pickup day and the streets are lined with buckets of mulberry branches and baskets of crab grass.

I notice one pail has fallen over and someone’s yard trimmings are half-spilled.

Do I stop and pick it up? There’s the question. I want to, but I feel bashful. People could look out their windows at me. The idea is somehow humiliating. So, I take the only dignified action possible. I pretend I don’t see anything out of order and I walk on.

But then I realize it would only take a second. And if someone notices, should I really care? Remember that Cambridge University research about elevation, about how watching a good deed makes you do a good deed?

Besides, I’ve got Chaka Khan in my ear buds emphatically telling me that I’m every woman. Or maybe it’s my exercise-induced endorphins talking. Anyway, two driveways later I stop in my tracks, turn around and retrace my steps. I pick up the bucket and set it right. Then I’m back on my way. There, Ms. Khan, you happy?

Some acts of kindness take us out of our comfort zones. What other examples of good deeds do you think we need to liberate from the hall of shame? Leave a comment.

5 responses to “The Good Deed Hall of Shame

  1. Linda Ruth Ciglen

    I must be the kind of fool that rushes in where angels fear to tread. I chat with and compliment people’s children on the subway, in restaurants, on the street. I compliment people’s clothing choices in the common mirrored area of store fitting rooms. I pick up trash as I walk down our block, set right overturned green bins, and close the lids on emptied bins when it’s raining so they won’t fill up with water.

    And yet … the good deed I need to liberate from the hall of shame is letting strangers know discreetly when there’s food on their lip, lettuce on their teeth or hair sticking up at an awkward angle. Despite knowing that I would gratefully appreciate someone alerting me about small social embarassments, I am just too, well, embarassed to mention it to them.

  2. I too tend towards the foolish (!!), and will generally chat up almost any stranger, but I hesitate when it comes to certain social boundaries – touching another person’s green bin feels like trespassing. Who knows why? A couple of weeks ago I noticed our neighbours’ garbage bin was still out past collection. These neighbours are particularly fastidious and always bring in their bin the moment it’s been emptied. You don’t want to know what kind of thoughts went through my head when I saw that bin still sitting there hours later… but I eventually walked over to lift the lid and double-check that it was empty. Turns out it was still full – the truck had missed them, so they’d left it out for a re-run. But despite my good intentions, I still felt intrusive for peeking at their garbage!

    So, perhaps another good deed to liberate from the hall of shame is making sure your neighbours are still alive and kicking!

  3. Being the gentleman that I am, I will always do what I can to help out, even something as little as a door. Maybe I’m greedy because it actually makes me feel good.
    There comes a point when you do something nice, almost too nice, that others may think your a little weird or strange. Should I care? How is doing something nice…socially wrong?
    I guess looking at someone’s garbage is strange, but it was for good purpose. At the same time, if it was empty, would you knock on their door to tell them it was empty? Would they think it was odd?
    Just some thoughts.

  4. Personally, I don’t think it’s greedy to wallow in the feeling of satisfaction when you help someone… I think it’s a lovely reward for doing a kindness.
    P.S. If the garbage bin had turned out to be empty, I was definitely prepared to knock on the door and make sure my neighbours were all right… and yes, they would probably think it was odd. But hopefully they would appreciate knowing there are people looking out for them!

  5. Linda Ruth Ciglen

    Perhaps it’s just our street … we shovel one another’s sidewalks and walkways, cut one another’s grass (though my husband tends NOT to appreciate that particular service, as he thinks most people’s lawnmowers are set to cut the grass too short), put one another’s newspapers and flyers in the porch … so if I saw the empty garbage bin, I would assume my neighbours were out and would simply roll it back to its spot beside their house without any inquiry at all.

    It gave me a bit of a turn to realize how blithely I assume things and how easily I overlook the fact that the innocuous empty garbage bin might be signaling that all is not well with my neighbours! Thanks for the heads-up.

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