Inspiration to “do good”: “Good to a Fault”

Have you ever had that conversation about WHY people do benevolent work? Is the benevolence discounted if you get something (even just a “feel good about yourself”) out of it?

Is the act any less valuable if you gain something in return? I’m sure many a conversation in this regard has stemmed from discussion of the philanthropy of Oprah. If she grows her ratings (and therefore her profits) by televising her good works, are the works of less value to society? What if by televising them, more people are likely to step up to the plate, does that change things?

I just finished reading Marina Endicott’s: Good to a Fault, which I learned of by listening to the free podcast of CBC’s annual Canada Reads contest http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/book-good.html. I love this book! Marina makes Clary so “real”: A person who does unimaginably good things, but struggles with her adequacy, motivation and emotions just like the rest of us.

It’s terrible how easily we can tell ourselves that the work we are doing is not so good after all, because we made some gain from it. Or better yet to have someone else tell us the message. Is it ever really wrong to fall in love with the children we help, and benefit from the experiences we get to share with them?

Clary’s struggle with the changes involved in taking on an impoverished family of three children (and their grandmother), while their mother fights cancer in the hospital (and their father deserts them) are so human that it makes it possible to envision a real person making such big sacrifices. The fact that she selfishly envisions a new family life where they become her own, makes it only the more plausible in my mind. Why wouldn’t she begin to imagine this taking over her life permanently. It has completely flipped her life around, (and most of the time) she loves how it has changed her and so many aspects of her life.

I loved how her benevolence was not too grand. She hurt, and she struggled and she wavered. She surprised herself with her abilities, and she was so hard on herself when things did not come naturally to her (as it SEEMS they do for so many moms). She made it seem possible for others to make sacrifices that are much more than grand gestures, but somehow incorporate them into their lives.

It reminds me of another great story, depicted in the based-on-reality-movie “The Blind Side”. “In a Heartbeat” is one of the next books on my list, already sitting in a pile recently acquired from the library.

About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two

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Natalie Joan
12 years ago

Interesting thoughts. I don’t think that benefiting from your good deeds makes the deeds themselves any less good. It does sometimes change how I see the “do-gooder.” And that itself depends on how much they benefit.
Take my recent trip to Africa: yes, I spent 6 weeks volunteering my time at a school for orphans. But I tried to make it clear before I left, and now that I am home, that this doesn’t make me a fabulous, selfless person. I went on a fantastic and expensive vacation, that in many ways was all about me. Things I always wanted to do and see. Yes, I believe in sharing my fortune and my skills, so I spent time doing good things while there. But if my motivation had been truely to do good and to help the girls, why not stay home, and donate the thousands of dollars in plane and hotel costs to the school as well.
Yes, there would have been more benefit to the school. But then I would not have had the experience, learned what I learned, or shared any of my knowledge and skills with eager learners.
There is no easy answer to what is right.