This Changed My Perspective on Doing Acts of Kindness
You need to rethink whether what you do actually helps others.
We are all citizens of the world. But to some people the world is a such a cruel place. And its not like these people deserve it, they don’t. Its only that that’s the way of the world. You don’t decide which family, country, or race you’re born into.
So every day, especially here in Uganda, you encounter people who are homeless, or jobless, or in deplorable poverty. Now, some of these people fight to change their circumstances. They don’t conform to their inherent situation.
The world knows many rags-to-riches stories and even draws inspiration from them. We all love and respect these people. They have worked hard, enduring circumstances that most of us couldn’t. They deserve whatever success they have achieved.
But people always like to hear or read a good story, especially one with a good ending. We don’t usually think about the possibility that everyone who has made it in life has used someone’s help, even an act of kindness. Everyone needs help at some point, and with this mindset I became open-minded to helping people, whenever I can. But my opinion has changed since the following events happened in my life.
I usually like to walk part of my way to work, and on some street, there is this elderly lady who is always seated at some corner with an outstretched hand, hoping that passers-by will drop her some coins. By her appearance she looks to be in her late 50’s. At her age, she is supposed to have kids old enough to take care of her most basic needs. But then there she is, on both rainy or sunny mornings, begging for coins.
I have also met another person, a young man, for he can’t be more than 28 years of age, who begs money from people, but in a different fashion. When I first encountered him, I was holding a polythene bag with a few groceries, because I was coming from the market. This fellow approached me, in a rather responsible fashion and told me he was going home, from the hospital, and that he was low on funds and needed some little help, just basic change if I could spare any. Why not? Anyone can unfortunately lose a wallet while far from home and use some help. So I gave him what I had and forgot about it.
A couple of weeks later, around the same area, I encountered the same guy. He stopped me asked for a minute of my time. He told me a totally different story this time. I told him I was unable to help him, did not apologize and left.
But this event stayed on my mind. This was a young man, able-bodied, healthy enough to use even his physical energy alone to make a living. Yet here he was taking advantage of people’s pity to survive. Why was he doing what he was doing? Is it laziness, is it easier to survive this way than working, or are the people giving him the money the problem?
So how is the elderly lady that we first encounter earlier in the story different from this young man? The people in both cases are obviously in need, although the young man is a sham.
The major concern is the people who are handing out money as an offer of help. I have realized that even with the best of intentions, by giving street beggars money we are being complicit in keeping them in conditions of poverty.
We are only solving a short-term goal, and making things actually worse. When these people receive they are prompted to return the next day, and will thus stay with the same unsolved (and bigger) problem.
Are we then supposed to be picky with who we help and who we don’t? Perhaps.
Random acts of kindness come in different forms but some are more impactful than others. For example, It would be more helpful if you were paying a hospital bill for a patient whose sickness has made then unable to pay their own bill. In this way, you’re making it easier for someone to help themselves in the future.
The same reasoning applies to collective charities that provide home or education services to disadvantaged people, to enable them manage on their own and even help other people in the future.
An act of kindness doesn’t have to involve complicated planning or be done on a large scale. It might be as simple as helping your workmate print a document, or picking your neighbour’s children from school when he’s stuck in jam.
The sole purpose of these random acts of kindness, apart from making us feel good about ourselves, is in their ability to improve the situation of the people we are helping, both in the short and long term. The world needs more kind and helpful people, but before you act out of kindness, are you improving the situation or not?