Thursday, December 25, 2008

Random Acts of Narcissism

The Oracle, aka Ebeneezer, was wondering how he would spread his own brand of cheer on this Christmas morning -- and then he found it: a story in The Tennessean on the highly over-rated yuppee feel good "movement" known as "random acts of kindness." One might find it difficult to oppose something so momentously nice sounding as "random acts of kindness," but leave it to me to try.

Actually, I am not opposed to being kind to strangers, which is always a good thing. However, I am opposed to praising a type of giving that is only tangentially about helping someone else and that primarily exists for the purpose of helping the giver to feel good about himself, imagining himself to have done something of greater value than what the random act really represents.

Paying someone's toll doesn't make you Mother Theresa. And, while the story in The Tennessean includes a nice feel good account of a woman with only $5 in the bank getting a free cup of Starbucks coffee (who submitted the press release for that? presumably the church that is featured in the account), one suspects that these acts usually result in little lasting good. For every cup of coffee randomly bought for someone in Starbucks that turns out actually to be upper middle class, someone might buy a whole meal for a person who really needs it at the rescue mission.

And speaking of churches: no one should imagine that "random acts of kindness" is a Christian concept. Christian giving is sustained and sacrificial, not random. Its primary ends are the glory of God and compassion toward others, not feeling good about one's self. Because those are the primary ends, it doesn't require a press release to let every one know how much good one is doing.

The Oracle is not really as much of a Scrooge as he sounds. He just doesn't believe in random acts of kindness: he believes in intentional acts of sacrificial giving -- without press releases. And actually, while I am criticizing random acts, I probably should look for ways to do more of that kind of intentional giving myself.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Blogger Lanette said...

We cannot presume to know the intentions of others when they give. Using a press release to call attention to oneself is obvious; although, it can be used for encouragement, as well. However, most random acts of kindness do not get press releases, and we certainly cannot judge the intentions of those givers, and I contend that many do good in the lives of others.

That being said, giving a meal to a homeless person (which also has little lasting good) is far more meaningful than providing an unnecessarily over-priced beverage to a middle-class woman who can't manage her funds. Water is free.

8:02 AM  

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