Give, But Do It Secretly

Just hanging out with Obama, no big deal.

Just hanging out with Obama, no big deal.

I spent my summer in the United States, and now I’m back home in Germany. In the last three months of traveling all over the land of the free, I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen what goes on behind the curtains in different churches, how farming businesses function, I’ve learned some of the secrets of Hollywood and Universal Studios, and I’ve seen how people in varying financial realms deal with money. That last one really stood out to me. Money and how people handle it.

We seem to be under the impression that when we get money, we can do with it whatever we want. We can spend it on clothes, shoes, iPhones, website domain names, hair dye, whatever. It’s our money, right? So naturally, we buy things from which we can benefit. You wouldn’t give a hundred dollar bill to a homeless man. He’d spend it on drugs and booze anyway. It would be a waste. You’d rather keep that bill and buy $100 worth of drugs and booze for yourself. Now that’s money well-spent.

I watched Kick-Ass the other day. Great movie. Superheroes are dope. The reason we love superheroes is because they do good deeds while concealing their true identities by wearing masks. It’s a noble thing. We’d immediately reward a masked helper for doing something great with a round of applause and hat-tips. But here’s why we can’t be that masked helper in terms of money:

When we give money away, we make sure that the whole world knows that we gave that money away. We post it on all social media websites and make YouTube videos about it and let people know how great we are for giving money to people who need it. It would be pointless and, quite frankly, pretty stupid to donate anonymously, otherwise you couldn’t get any praise for your good deeds. We want them to be acknowledged. We’d help an old woman across a busy street without wearing a mask, because we know that people are looking at us, thinking, “Gee, what a kind-hearted, nice person to help that poor old lady across the street.” They’ll remember our face for that. But to really make sure people remember it, we have to tweet it: “Just helped a grannie across the street #goodsamaritan,” and hope someone replies with, “Dood ur so cool #grannieswag.”

But what if you gave anonymously? What if you stopped focusing on yourself and started focusing on others? What if you were the Secret Good Samaritan? Call me cheesy. Go ahead.

There’s a story about an anonymous donor in Braunschweig, Germany, who placed envelopes containing €10,000 in random mailboxes around the city. Nobody knows who he or she is and why they’re doing it, but they started a movement. The people in Braunschweig have started to give anonymously to each other. They stand in line at a Starbucks, ready to pay for their beverage, only to find out that someone had previously paid for it already. Stuff like that. Only because some person, the Modern-Day Robin Hood, thought it might be a neat idea to randomly hand out twenty €500 bills tucked away in envelopes. I mean, who does that?

I know you might not have hundreds of thousands of euros lying around and collecting dust, but you can do the simple things for others. Something that nobody else would do. Get creative.

Anyone would jump at an opportunity to give in return for praise and fame. But would you give just in order to give? Who knows; you might even start a movement yourself.


8 thoughts on “Give, But Do It Secretly

  1. Great post! I read a weekly magazine that carries a column about acts of kindness… I love the stories when other people share about someone nice doing something for them. But…. I’ve always had a little sour taste in my mouth when I read the ones where people are sharing nice things that they did for someone else. Names are attached so it just feels as if they are patting themselves on their back. Definitely not what you are talking about in:
    Give, But Do It Secretly!
    Loved this post!

  2. Awesome post and insightful thoughts!

    I think that many non-profit organizations are using our own need for attention when we give in order to get more people to give. For example, charity: water’s “pledge your birthday” campaign, is the first one which comes to mind to capitalize on the fact that when one person shares online that they are giving, it brings in more donors for a cause. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this type of “spreading the word” about one’s giving in order to perhaps inspire others to give?

    • Yeah, and what they’re doing is cool. I’d just like to see more people do good things for no personal gain, because that makes other people stop and think, “Why the hell did they do that?” Personally, I’d rather promote selflessness than projects or movements, because being selfless covers a lot more good stuff than merely promoting good projects. Anybody can pledge their birthday, but not anybody can be selfless.

  3. I must say I don’t entirely agree with this. What’s wrong with giving and telling the world about it? I’m telling the world not to pat myself on the back, but to inspire others to give as well. I do most of this online, the things you are talking about are all offline giving (or gifting) and it is easily noticed by others who are close to it. Gifting online and inspiring others without telling anyone would be much harder. I’m thinking only more good can come from telling other people about gifting.

  4. I think it’s interesting when someone does something generous but is expressly disallowed from telling anyone, e.g. say they helped someone with something socially embarrassing, like debt, or something they didn’t want their family to know about, such as relationship issues. I wonder if there’s anyone in that situation who would just have to tell someone – or perhaps just hint at what good deed they’d done – because they craved that appreciation so badly.

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