There’s an episode of the television show Friends where two characters have a debate about whether or not there is such thing as a selfless good deed. One character (Phoebe) makes the argument to another (Joey), no matter what, when you do good, it’s actually for you – it makes you feel good. As such, it’s not purely selfless.
I think about this question a lot – Do I agree that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed? Do I get something out of doing good deeds? Does it lessen the power of a good deed if the doer gets something out of it? Is it okay to admit that?
The last couple of months have been really hard. I’ve been following the situation in Israel and crying for the families of the hostages. I’ve been reading everything about the rise of antisemitism in the US and am so grateful I don’t currently have a student on a college campus. I’ve been overthinking everything I say and do because I just don’t want to make anything worse for anyone.
And my top coping mechanism during this time has been to double down on supporting others.
Whether it be colleagues who need a thought partner, friends who need a listening ear, or my kids who need an extra dose of patience, I am here for it.
And I have to wonder…is it more for me or for them?
In the sixth chapter of Hidden Potential, Adam Grant discusses the power of coaching and teaching and connecting ourselves to others as a way to bring out or own potential. In the chapter, Grant shares, “Giving is active – coaching others reminds you that you have something to offer. It convinces you that your bootstraps are strong enough to support you. You’ve already seen them support others.”
And I’ve seen that with myself during this time.
When I have felt least motivated in my work, offering to support a colleague has reinvigorated and motivated me.
When I have felt alone and sad, reaching out and offering connection to a friend has made me feel connected.
When I have felt like I have no purpose, leaning into my role as “mother” has been so fulfilling.
Grant shares, “The coach effect captures how we can marshal motivation by offering the encouragement to others that we need for ourselves. By reminding us of the tools we already possess, coaching others raises our expectations of ourselves,” and I have felt that.
In reflecting, I find that I have been most eager to offer that which I am seeking – whether it be support or connection or empathy…or just to know that someone will respond if I reach out to them.
And it almost always has the desired effect, providing that support or connection or empathy for me just as much as for the other person.
Grant adds, “The message is that we need to look inside ourselves for hidden reserves of confidence and know-how. But it’s actually in turning outward to harness resources with and for others that we discover – and develop – our hidden potential. When the odds are against us, focusing beyond ourselves is what launches us off the ground.”
So maybe Phoebe is right. Maybe there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. Maybe it is truly about turning ourselves outwards, ostensibly focusing on the “other” in order to harness resources that ultimately launch us off the ground.
And is that so bad?