The cruelest part of being a student of history is irreversibly learning that cruelty reigns unchallenged by karma, justice is an imagined reality, heroes are rare and villains many. The pages of the human story are saturated with tragedy and only occasionally punctuated with true unchallenged happiness. It is clear there is no benevolent interventionist creator looking after the weak, it is entirely up to our own desires to do so.
Religion has afforded believers the knowledge of a vigilant observer, perpetually encouraging morality not through intrinsic good but by virtue of eventual reward or punishment. For some it works. Though it begs the question, is all that motivates their kindness the selfish desire for personal posthumous reward?
But what of the rest of us? Our beliefs see our actions unseen when without human witness. Our motivations unknown when left without overt statement. Society often offers reward for doing good, but society is also rarely watching. So why do good when we know it is not?
Many will speak of a selfish fulfillment attained from knowing their actions have served a greater good, this is not to be discounted, but it is fleeting and often not sufficient in anonymity to justify great personal sacrifice.
So are we resigned to primal selfishness when absent of social judgment? No, we still do good things, wanting no reward, wanting no thanks, needing no fulfillment. I have only recently realised why.
We exist as products of our society, examples of humanity. If we do good towards our fellow humans we create a self-fulfilling prophecy that humans within our society will do good. If I, as a normal member of my community, not possessed by any form of unusual heroism or selflessness, feel compelled to help someone that can offer me no reward, it means my community creates such charity as normality.
The reward for doing good without any recognition or reward is not believing you are a hero, but knowing that you are not a hero, yet still felt compelled to do it. Yes there are some that won’t, and there are those that will give more than you. But you did what a normal person would do. You created the acceptable normality.
The old lady that needed a normal member of society to help cross the street. The poor child that needed a normal person’s charity to grow. They cannot afford to wait for heroes, they are too rare, they need ‘good’ to be normal. By you doing good, you make it normal.
So next time you feel compelled to do good knowing full well that there will be no personal benefit to your deed, savour that compulsion, it is the benefit of living in a word where a normal person like you is compelled to do good. That is a beautiful world to live in.