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Friday, May 04, 2007

Living Selfishly, part 2

(I am writing this after considerable prodding from several friends who are also readers. Those who hate looking at this blog, please don’t!)

Here’s a little article that someone sent me by email. It’s called ‘Guerrilla goodness’.

A woman in a red car pulls up at a tollbooth at California’s San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. ‘I’m paying for myself and the six cars behind me,’ she says with a smile.
One after another the next six drivers arrive at the booth, money in hand. ‘Some lady up ahead already paid your fare,’ says the collector. ‘Have a nice day.’
The woman, it turned out, had read a note taped to a friend’s refrigerator; ‘Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty’. The words leaped out at her, and she wrote them down.
Judy Foreman spotted the same phrase on a warehouse wall 120 km from her home in San Francisco. When she couldn’t get it out of her mind, she finally drove all the way back to copy it exactly. ‘I thought it was incredibly beautiful,’ she said, explaining why she writes it at the bottom of all her letters. ‘It’s like a message from heaven.’
Her husband, Frank, a teacher, enjoyed the saying so much that he posted it on a wall for his seventh-standard students.
Anne Herbert, a writer, jotted down a phrase in a restaurant which said, ‘If you think there should be more of something, do it randomly. Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can.’
Senseless acts of beauty spread. A man plants flowers along a roadway. A concerned citizen roams the streets collecting litter. A student scrubs graffiti from a park bench. It’s a positive anarchy, a gentle disorder, a sweet disturbance.
They say you can’t smile without cheering yourself up. Likewise, you can’t commit a random act of kindness or beauty without feeling as if your troubles have been lightened – because the world has become a slightly better place.
If you were one of those commuters whose bridge toll was paid, who knows what you might have been inspired to do for someone else? Like all revolutions, guerrilla goodness begins slowly, with a single act. Let it be yours.

Or again, consider the little story quoted in Chicken Soup for the soul (vol. 1), about the lone man doing something quietly on the beach, stooping again and again to pick something out of the sand and throw it out into the sea. Another man walked up and asked ‘What are you doing?’ He replied, ‘I’m throwing these starfish stranded in the sand back to where they belong. The tide has gone out, and if I don’t throw them back quickly they will die.’ ‘Well,’ the other replied after some thinking, ‘I guess it’s a good thing you are doing, but is it worth it? There must be thousands of starfish stranded on the beach; you can’t possibly get them all. And there must be millions more stranded all along the coast of this continent! Does saving a few make a difference?’ – the other smiled, stooped again, straightened to flick another starfish into the sea, and said, ‘Made a difference to that one!’

Now I believe that the active characters in the two stories knew who they were, and what exactly they wanted out of life, and they were living selfishly, in the sense of doing just what they loved to do, no matter what. And call me a sentimental fool, or a ‘narcissistic know-it-all who needs to get a life’ as some love to call me again and again, I believe that such people must be my ideals if I am to live a good life, whether or not I can manage to make a difference to a single other living thing. If I can make someone even a teeny-weeny bit happy, that’s a huge bonus, though! (in this connection, it might not be out of place to ask you to check out the website www.actsofkindness.org)

Just one thing for those of my detractors who have persisted up to this point: I am not writing this blog in expectation of any kind of fee from my readers. There are far more important things than fees in this world, though you might never find out. And remember, every time you post some of your hysterical and uncouth nonsense, you give us a lot of cause for laughter, for free! Now that's what I call genuine unselfishness: ugly and foolish, perhaps, but genuine nonetheless.


RAUNAK said...

Sir,surely an act of kindness brings a great deal of happiness to anyone.I have myself experienced the feeling by helping a rickshaw puller ,or an old person,or someone illiterate to fill up forms , and believe me i have seen blessings in their eyes and it made me happy beyond bounds.It felt good because i did not want anything in return from them.. it was a pure feeling.But will you please tell me whether there is a clear distinction between "living selfishly"and "living selflessly".. or do they finally narrow down to the same philosophy of doing good for your good(in the last judgement)??

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Genuine selfishness (listening only to one's higher self, or 'enlightened selfishness', which is close), is identical with true selflessness. Even when a man decides to give up his life for a loved one or for his country or some such great, overarching ideal, he does it not out of compulsion or a sense of duty or anything like that, but because he has become quite, quite sure that nothing will make him happier. Only such men live good lives, and die good deaths.

Shuvojit said...

Sir with your permission i would like to add a personal story.

I had just got my 1st salary & was coming back home in the week-end. I wanted to buy my mom a sari. Till that date i had never ever shopped for any woman. & had simply no idea what to buy. but 1 friday evening i land up at a renowned sari shop in gariahat. money in my pocket... target to get a couple of good saris for Ma.
I ask the attendant show me some saris. he replies what type. i am in a total loss. i had heard that there are varieties of saris but how am i supposed to know.
i take the risk & say silk... the attendant very patiently with a incredulous look asks which type of silk. now i know i am totally out of my depth. i have a totally lost look on my face & am on the verge of escaping from the shop to save my self from further embarrassment...
a middle-aged lady who was over-hearing the conversation nearby took pity gave me a encouraging smile & asked for whom am i buying the saris.
i reply truthfully & she says good. & practically chooses the sari for me.
incidentally Ma also liked it. she didn't the next time i got her 1 all by my own(becoz she never wears it)
till date i keep wondering why had that lady taken pity on me & solved my problem.
she never asked for anything. didn't even want to get acquainted.

Perhaps made me believe that there still exist some people who when are in a good frame of mind does help unknown people & this make the world a slightly better place to be in

like Raunak had said i also try to fill up forms for people when am at bank or railway reservation counter or some similar places. But mostly to spend the time & to fasten up the process if they are ahead of me.
I do get a feeling of good.
But that is not very strong.
Does that make me not selfless? I try to help all my friends as best as i can but that is for those whom i know.
When i receive a random help i am happy but if it is from a total unknown i get a bit apprehensive. does this person want anything from me??? am i being paranoid??

@ Sir regarding my previous post on your blog on Harry Potter with screen-name Gopal/Shuv. I (Shuvojit Chatterjee) was your student in St Xaviers School. Passed out in 1998. Rahul Banerjee, Samya Seth were batch-mates.