Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Exactly IS a Good Deed, Anyway?

It's a funny question, I know. We probably recognize good deeds in other people all the time. But it's a nebulous concept, at least in my mind.

Recently, I was charged with "doing a good deed for someone". The open-endedness of the mission troubled me from the outset.

That was more than a week ago, and I still haven't done it. I think.

You see, since that day I have given money to at least one homeless person, driven my sister 25 miles to pick up her paycheck when she was having trouble with her car, given away a reference card I've been carrying in my purse for years to a stranger, taken someone else's child to two half-day events at my own expense, bought clothing for a friend of my daughter's, and made a pie for my father. There may be more, but the problem is, I was going to do all of those things, anyway. Or at least, I didn't do any of them with the conscious thought of doing a good deed.

I think an actual "good deed" requires conscious thought, though that troubles me because I think the people who do the most good deeds are least conscious of them and find them almost automatic. And I don't seem to know how to plan one. I don't know the definition. I don't know where the line is. Does family count? How much time and effort does it have to take? Is it measured by what you put into it, or what the recipient gets out of it?

It seems to me these are exactly the kinds of things we're not supposed to be thinking about--and yet, catchphrases like "do a good turn daily" are with us as early as Brownies. Why didn't anyone ever tell us what a good turn WAS?

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