Public decency

Standard

On the way into work this morning I saw a book leaning nonchalantly against a bin. It seemed unaware of the passers by and pass by they did. Pushing aside thoughts of anthrax scares and guerilla marketing tactics, I looked furtively around to see if anyone might challenge me and picked the book up to learn more.

Tucked inside was a boarding card with a name on it.

How very exciting: a chance to play detective!

At about five I remembered the book, which goes some way to illustrating how busy work is at the moment, and returned to the boarding card. A Google search and 1,200 results later, I tried the name again with the city of origin. It seemed he had been there on business. I delved a little more… And – amazingly enough – success!

I called his workplace, asked to be put through and was met with a rather bemused man at the other end. I explained what had happened, and he called me out: “I bet you had fun sleuthing!” Well, yes. I had a lot of fun.

Putting the book and a covering note in an envelope to be left at reception, I had a stupid grin on my face for a job well done; I had channeled my inner Enid Blyton character and come up trumps.

It wasn’t until I told one of my colleagues that I realised how very unaltruistic I had been in my mindset. He commented that if there were such a thing as karma, it should be shining upon me soon. But it didn’t feel like a good deed that should reap reward so much as a necessary one, and one that brought me all the pleasure. I had found the bookmark less than a third of the way through the book and would feel quite bereft if I’d lost a book I hadn’t had the chance to finish. It was a genuine case of doing unto others. Besides, I love trying to find things out…

I wonder about the phrase “good deed”. Who is it good for? And are all deeds meant to benefit someone in order to be good, or can they be good in a more abstract sense? Can they for instance be good for the moment, good for society, good because they express how we can work together, rather than be measured by who gained there and then?

I believe that good deeds happen all the time on public transport; simple gestures such as holding back the tide of humanity for someone else to buying a ticket for someone left short to returning something precious.

I don’t believe the people that do these deeds do them for personal gain – since by and large people rarely meet again – and I don’t believe it’s because they conform to some religion.

I believe that the transience of life on a commute gives rise to a new way that people interact – and good deeds are the bright side of that.

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2 thoughts on “Public decency

  1. Anonymous

    Wordsworth called it “The best portion of a good man’s life – his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness.”

  2. I keep reading people talking about Derrida, who thought that a gift could only be a gift if it was totally unselfish i.e. didn’t bring the giver any pleasure at all, and ends up concluding that you can only have a pure gift if a) the receiver doesn’t know they’ve been given a gift; b) nothing is actually given and c) the giver does not know they have given anything. Which makes a certain sort of sense but still sounds pretty stupid. I like that when God made the world, which you could argue was the first gift ever, he said that it was good, and think that maybe ‘It is good’ is another way of saying ‘Awesome!’ Maybe there’s just something fundamentally good about good deeds (duh); maybe that’s why they’re so fun.

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