Throughout my life, since I was old enough to be responsible for my own actions, I have given when I could to people who needed it. I have received — if not in kind, certainly when in real need. Always the gifts came from others, but almost never from the people to whom I had given.

Karma apparently doesn’t work like that.

I assume this is not talking about holding a door or helping someone put groceries in their trunk or letting someone in a hurry go ahead of you on the cashier’s line.

I don’t consider that kind of civility anything but common courtesy which everyone should extend to everyone else without regard for payback or even thanks. I couldn’t remember 99% of them. They are to me — and I assume to most people — almost knee-jerk reactions to moving through life. Being polite is programmed into our social DNA. Or should be. I call them “good manners.”

I’ve loaned money to people who were desperate, bought things I absolutely didn’t need because someone wouldn’t take a gift, but if I bought something, she’d take the money. I’ve let friends and almost-friends live with me when they had nowhere to go, sometimes for years at a time.

And I have been taken in when I had nowhere to go. I’ve fed the hungry and been fed when I was hungry. I’ve delivered groceries to people in need, given clothing, computers, musical instruments, books, bags, furniture,, and the occasional automobile because I had more than I needed and they didn’t have any.

Was it done in secret? No. I usually respond to needs spontaneously when someone makes it known. I hear they need a coat, would love to own that book, need a car. Don’t know how they’re going to feed the family this week. I give what I have to fill a need.

Does it make the gift less worthy? I don’t think so. Do I require a lifetime of gratitude in exchange? You’re kidding, right?

It reminds me of the story told about William Randolph Hearst, who remarked upon seeing an old adversary on the street, “I don’t know why he hates me, I never did him a favor.” And there are many similar quotes.

“Hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one.” — Baltasar Gracian.

“Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” — Edward Gibbon

Dr. Malherbe of Natal University said to Field Marshal Smuts as he left a political meeting, “Why were those two hecklers at the back so bitterly hostile?”

Smuts replied, “I understand the feelings of one of them very well indeed. He and I were brought up together in the same small town in the Western Cape. I got him his first appointment—and his second. In fact, he owes all his worldly success to me. But I don’t know why the other was so hostile. I never did him a favor in my life.”

“You did him a favor. He’ll never forgive you for that.” — The Boxer 1997

If you do a good deed, do not expect it to come back to you as gratitude or in kind. Such expectations will doom you to disappointment.

Acts of kindness and generosity do not make friendships. More often than not, they stir up resentment. People hate owing debts of gratitude. The most popular people are always those who don’t do anything for anybody. Those are the folks who are admired and adored, followed and emulated. Don’t ask me why. Human nature is a peculiar thing. The longer I live, the less sense it makes.

If you figure it out, be sure to let me know. It’s one of the deepest secrets of life. Very deep. Very secret.

Categories: Life, Marilyn Armstrong, Quotation, Relationships

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13 replies

  1. My mom and her sisters used to argue (based on their dad having read Les Miserable to them uncountable times) that there is no such thing as altruism because the person offering the help or favor feels good after helping, so they’re not truly altruistic. They’re just doing what makes them feel good and generosity is its own reward. 🙂


    • Generosity better be its own reward. If you’re waiting to be thanked or think you’ll get help from the people YOU helped, you’re in for an ugly reality check.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it IS its own reward. I don’t think people are self-sacrificing at all ever. Not that that makes us all insufferable egoists, but there has to be a pay off in the things we do — like the good opinion of others, or fulfilling some vow we made to ourselves, or following our ethical code — believing what we do is right, or having that sense of “duty,” or even just HOPE. I’m MUCH less self-sacrificing than I once was, I think because I no longer feel that I have “forever” to do my stuff. 🙂


  2. and a secret it shall remain…..


  3. Marilyn you’ve hit the nail on the head. Said it perfectly well and clear. I hope if someone lets you on the secret, let me know too.


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