Occasionally a viral video will pop up in my newsfeed showing people doing a good deed for someone. I’m a sucker for these videos because I love watching humans be good to one another. It always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling… that is, until I scroll down to the comments. (Why? Why do I do this to myself?)
Last week, a friend of mine shared this video of a couple of young men paying for a woman’s gas:
It turned out that the woman’s husband had recently passed away and she was experiencing extreme financial hardship, so when the young men noticed her paying for her gas with change, they offered her some kindness in the form of cash to fill her gas tank. It brought happy tears to my eyes… until I went to leave an encouraging comment and saw the dumpster fire in the comment section.
There were a soul-crushing number of shaming comments—hoards of people questioning the motives of these good-deed doers. The thrust of the negative comments was that a good deed should be quiet, should not ask for recognition, should not seek fame. That these guys must only be doing this for attention.
Yeah, I’m gonna have to call bullshit.
I think we can all agree that good deeds should not be done for the express purpose of going viral, but I take issue with anyone saying that good deeds shouldn’t ever be publicized. In fact, I’d say we need nothing more than for everyone to perform a slew of good deeds for strangers and share that shit as widely as possible. Let’s make it a movement, folks.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone fall into the trap of performative allyship—the “all talk and no walk” of the advocacy world (often committed by white women)—where we post about our good deeds and woke viewpoints without taking measurable concrete action like voting, being intentionally inclusive, and being an upstander. It isn’t enough to talk about diversity if you’re not centering women of color or members of marginalized groups in your advocacy work.
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable broadcasting their good deeds. Lots of folks do good work and good deeds simply because it’s the right thing to do, and not to get accolades. Let’s not presume because someone is quiet in their volunteerism, advocacy, or good deeds that they aren’t putting good out in the world.
But I think many of us are worn down by the unfettered hate—hate that has unfortunately been enabled and encouraged by our current president. And our social media algorithms play right into the inflammatory train-wreck click-worthiness of the most hate-filled news, so sometimes it feels like that’s all we see—like that’s all there is. Granted we need to see the hate, need for it to be visible lest we forget it’s there and become complacent. Hateful deeds need to be called out. But the negativity can be overwhelming.
I learned recently that there are massive Facebook groups dedicated to attacking people who post things deemed to be mildly bothersome. I found out about these groups because I was a target—I’d posted a cute thing my daughter said regarding dressing up for superhero day at school. She wanted to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a “real-life superhero.” I thought what she’d said was adorable so I posted about it on my Facebook page. Within a few hours, I noticed some odd comments popping up. People were tagging groups with names like “That kid didn’t say that,” and then hundreds of comments flooded my post, calling me a liar and a fame-seeker and calling my young daughter names too. There were maybe five different groups involved, one of them with 93,000 members. 93,000 human beings dedicating their time to harassing people online. Bullying is an acceptable pastime now?
And that is just one little personal experience of nastiness from this week. We’ve all witnessed the ongoing bullying, discrimination, and hurt that marginalized groups have had to endure, exacerbated since the 2016 election by our morally bankrupt Tweeter-In-Chief.
So it’s easy to forget there are really great humans in the world doing good work. I’d bet there are far more great humans than shitty ones, though you wouldn’t know it from our newsfeeds.
That’s why we need to stop trying to be so humble about the good we do and see. People want to see the good in the world. And sharing your good deeds just might inspire someone else to perform a few of their own. Please, please share the good.