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Human goodness and the feelgood factor
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Human goodness and the feelgood factor
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Human goodness and the feelgood factor
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
16 November 2016

Human goodness and the feelgood factor

Being compassionate isn’t an act of heroism: it’s an act of humanity.

Written by Matty Paroz

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Helping hand. Image by Ivanatman. Source: Flickr.

A few years a go, I came across a homeless man on the street, his face covered in small cuts. He had difficulty walking so, at his behest, I helped him cross the road. Seizing the opportunity, he pressed me to take him ever further—through a park and then into the CBD.

What started out as charitable assistance quickly escalated into an expedition: two unlikely companions shuffling through the city making small talk as he clutched the sleeve of my blazer. The quest diverted me from where I was originally headed and took far longer than I had bargained for, but I reasoned that it was the right thing to do. Reaching our destination, he let go of my arm, propped himself on a wall and began rifling around in the tote he was carrying. Without lifting his gaze from the inside of the bag, he mumbled “thanks mate”.

And that was it.

In that moment I was taken aback. It wasn’t so much the casual, almost flippant expression of gratitude as the awareness that I had somehow expected, nay, deserved more. I felt like some kind of hero and, apparently, I believed I was entitled to be acknowledged as such.

On reflection, I realised that being thoughtful, considerate or compassionate aren’t acts of heroism: they’re actually acts of humanity. And yet that visceral feeling of being a saviour—a heady mix of righteousness, selflessness and being useful to someone—was very real. I realised that this sensation itself was my reward. The small-scale glory I was seeking came from within.

Whether as donor or recipient, everyday acts of kindness provide a rush of satisfaction, fleeting moments of connectedness to others that take us out of our own heads. Whether we’re consumed by work or worries, a helping hand and smile of appreciation wake us from our internalised slumbers. I’ve felt it in the times I’ve been accosted with random compliments over my particular selection of tiepin or shoe that day. It’s sensed when you hold a bunch of shopping bags so an elderly person can alight from a tram. It’s intoxicating in the most beautiful way.

Curiously, and somewhat shamefully, I’m far more inclined to be aware of that flutter of bliss when dealing with a stranger than with a friend or lover. A chance interaction that is unexpectedly elevated is more likely to stop me in my tracks than knowing that the people who are there for me are, well, there for me. Are feelings of wellbeing heightened the less an act of generosity is anticipated? Perhaps kindness adheres to the law of diminishing returns: the more we get it, the less it’s appreciated—maybe there’s a danger one could turn into a benevolence junkie, strung out, unmoved and needing a bigger hit of kindness just to feel the high.

The feelgood factor emanating from flashes of human goodness doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. A gentle reminder that we’re all in this together is sufficient, the cumulative effect being much bigger than the effort expended in the moment itself.

Kindness, I have learned, is a commodity, a transaction of value. We can think of it as small, everyday investments that reap big returns, as compound interest for the soul. Indeed, kindness is in part self-serving and it’s all the better because of it. Spread it around.

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