Are there no selfless good deeds?

Joey

Lately I have been thinking a lot about Joey’s statement in one of the episodes of Friends, where he denies the existence of any selfless good deeds. He argues that any selfless act makes you feel good and hence ceases to be one. We tend to do things which makes us happy. If not immediate, then with a hope that it would reap benefits sometime in the future. Our existence can be defined as a quest for happiness. I don’t think there is anyone out there who wants to experience all the misery in this world. If there is, I am pretty sure that would make him/her happy. So is Joey true? Are there really no selfless deeds?

We can see this argument in another perspective. It’s not that all selfless deeds have a hidden motive. The truth is all deeds have a motive. You eat because you are hungry. You exercise to stay healthy. Every act of ours has a cause or a need. Drinking beer or eating ice cream is not necessary to stay alive. But we continue to do it for that momentous feeling of elation and satisfaction. The need to stay happy is one of the primal instincts humans have. Happiness drives everything we do.

Then there are acts where one endures great pain for others. It seems illogical for a soldier to die for his country. What made those countless brave men in history to fight for their respective nations? Why did people protest until their dying breath for various reforms in their society? The answers go beyond any rational thought. It is possible that they had associated their happiness with that of their fellow countrymen. Their life’s goal was protection of their land and well-being of the posterity.

Recently, I was watching BBC Life TV series (It.blew.my.mind. Watch it!). A giant Pacific octopus settles down in a safe den carrying fertilized eggs. She nurtures and protects them from other predators. She doesn’t ever break her guard or leave the den. Without food, she gradually starves to death. A poison dart frog climbs a tall tree with her tadpoles on her back, looking for particular plant where she can safely drop off her children. It is like a mother carrying her newly born and climbing the Empire state building. The frog makes multiple trips up and down the tree to provide her children with food. These are just a few examples in which animals show great care for their children. This true among humans too. It is still a bit self-centered, because you care for your off-springs and not others’.

For past few weeks, I have been part of an organisation which is working on education and rehabilitation of the poor and mentally challenged kids. Why am I doing it? I just wanted to be of some help. We feel happy when we are able to help somebody. This is a strange trait with us, human beings. There are studies which show that instead of a company donating a lump sum amount to a charity on behalf of the employees, if employees themselves are allowed to do it individually, it increases employee satisfaction. What is the reason? Why do we care for our loved ones more than ourselves?  Is it because it affirms the idea of us being good? Why do we want others to think that we are good, caring and polite? If every act of our’s, is a tool to modify our social image, then an action can become selfless if it does not affect others’ perception of us.

We might already be living in a world where Joey is true. But honestly I don’t think it is a bad thing. On the other hand, it would totally freak me out if one’s actions does not have any motive. Finding meaning in everything helps us maintain our illusion that we exist for a reason. It is essential for keeping us sane and hopeful.

In Search of the Ultimate Superpower

Source: By Gareth Simpson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)], via Flickr
Image Source
As a child, I had always imagined God appearing in front of me and granting me a superpower. But which one to choose? My life, since then, has been a constant search for that perfect answer. Which superpower is the best? And I am still not able to make that decision. Whenever I am standing in a queue or just travelling in a bus not wanting to stare at my phone anymore, I take up this question and weigh my options.

Normally the thought starts with the power of immortality. You eliminate the fear of death in one go. But I am a realist – what would I actually do. How would I go about in life. Wouldn’t others notice that I don’t age. I can live like the guy in the film The Man from Earth. But what about my relationships? My family? Everyone I love would die. And it is possible that at one point of time I will be tired of living. Let’s face it. Life is hard. I would want to retire someday, somewhere. Living a solitary life in a forest is a good option. But what’s the fun in that.

How about superhuman strength? No fear of anybody inflicting physical pain on me for the rest of my life. You don’t have to worry about lifting your luggage. No more fear of getting killed in road accidents because your body is unbreakable. Your bones are strong as steel and your skin is like Kevlar. You will never have the fear of unemployment, because you can always do some manual work. But mentally you are vulnerable. You are still subjected to all the fears, insecurities, rejections and sadness of a normal human life. That is the essence of life, you say? Ah well! Given a chance I would happily forgo those.

Powers like invisibility and shape shifting looks cool, but it doesn’t entice me. You can have a lot of fun but at the cost of being someone who you are not or being no one at all! I know it is tempting. Not to be responsible for your actions is a big relief, but would you love being that person for the rest of your life? Someday I would surely get bored of all those hiding, running and being invisible. Gradually I may start doing things in my true avatar, visible to others. After all everybody craves for recognition. Even the one who is invisible.

Controlling objects/people with your mind or reading what’s going on inside one, is one hell of  a power. The possibilities are infinite. You are virtually a God. This is one of the most strong contenders in my wishlist. So are flying and teleportation. But the only catch is you will get used to it or you would have visited most of the places in earth after some time. So there is a possibility that you would get bored of all the flying and escaping to a whole new place. And do you really want to know what other people are thinking? Yes, it may help occasionally. But there is little time to live your own life. How you will manage living the lives of many others by being inside their heads? There is too much shit in there.

But there is one power I have always wanted and it has been, most of the times, the final choice after much thought and speculation. It is the power of knowing everything. I cannot say it is the power of knowledge, because most of the times it means the knowledge of something which is present. Whereas this is the knowledge of the unknown too. Let me explain. You have a dream or a goal to achieve. With this power, you can know the exact steps to take, starting from this moment, to achieve it. You can actually be anything you want – astronaut, film start, professional sports player… anything. Create an awesome app and make tons of money. You know exactly how to do it. You even know how to acquire all other super powers. You know the answer to every question. Exams don’t scare you anymore. Solve the major problems of this world. Find alien life. Know the origin of universe. And its future. It is all there in your head.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There has to be a catch, right? What is the fun in knowing everything? There is no chance that you will be surprised at what life throws on you. Also, it is a joy to learn something for a long time, then one day you realize that you are good at it. It is no fun to just know it the very first time. Like writing. You write everyday, refining your skills, rectifying your mistakes. You face the reality of failures. Then one day you go on to write something which will be widely appreciated. If you know the formula for writing a best seller on the first attempt, what is the fun? This is the joy of the unknown. The element of surprise. The unknown brings out the actual superhero inside you, who will be with you at every faltering hope, through every rejection.

On the other hand, we can extend our argument and say that: Because I have the power of ‘super-knowledge’, I can foresee its negatives. I can predict that one day I would crave for all those unexpected weekend trips or the times when all plans go down the drain but we have an awesome time. I would know that the unknown has its own charms. So would I stop using my powers deliberately so that I can enjoy life as it passes, with all its imperfections? Is life best lived just the way it is? Does that mean I don’t need any superpower? And I am back to square one.

Image Source: By Gareth Simpson, CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode) via Flickr