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I was waiting patiently behind a sedan to get gas, listening to my tunes as the driver got out of her car and hooked the nozzle back in its holster before getting back into her car. I noticed that her gas cap was still dangling down and the glap was open, so I honked at her to get her attention, pointing to the problem. The man at the next station came over when he saw the problem and quickly fixed her gas cap for her, accepting her embarressed thanks. When I pulled up to the nozzle, that man leaned over and said with a friendly grin, “You can go home now. You’ve done your good deed for the day!” I chuckled with him, but his words, though kind, bothered me.

What good deed had I done? I had merely pointed out a mistake. The man was the one who had hurried over to fix it. If honking at a woman to point out she had messed up was a deed deamed good enough to “go home,” then what did that say about our society? I don’t know how many people would consider what I did a “good deed.” To me, it was simply instinctual courtesy. To think that such courtesy, which is supposed to be common, would be considered something special is a tad ludicrous. However, after sharing my experience with a few people, I heard another side of the story.

One of my friends confessed that he wouldn’t have honked at the woman or otherwise alerted her to her mistake. Apparently, the times he’s been courteous he’s been flipped off. He didn’t see the point in being kind when his kindness would be returned with crude ingratitude. I could understand his point of view, especially knowing that he’s an introverted and speaking to strangers at all is difficult. If people are going to be jerks to those just trying to help, we, as a society, are going to drive courtesy to extinction.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of “good deed.” I like the idea of being kind and helping those less fortunate–or even those more fortunate who still need help. I just don’t like this concept of doing something good for someone else with a mindset that it makes you a better human being. Charity and kindness doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else, it just makes you decent. I don’t believe in helping others for your own benefit, whether its making donations to get tax breaks or giving food to the homeless to boost your own reputation. Why can’t we just help people to help them?

On the flip side, is it too much to ask to return courtesy with courtesy? Why do we automatically assume people are on the attack or are judging us? I am more than guilty of this. I have a tendency not to trust anyone, and I do jump when a stranger speaks to me. I guess, I too, assume the worst of the people around me. It’s something I need to work on. If we all work on treating people better (because, let’s face it, no matter how well we treat people we can always do better), someday we won’t expect the worst. 

That would be a day to look forward to.

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