Re-thinking the Idea of the Good Samaritan

ethical giving

Thanks to Oprah, a raft of other celebrities, and us normities (that’s a word I coined for us normal people who have jumped on the celebrity movement bandwagon) we are seeing almost daily examples of people really trying to make a difference; some very publicly and some anonymously.  Either way, it’s all good.  It is all good, and to me ‘good’ is the key word in the phrase Good Samaritan.

Now I love a good paying it forward gesture, random act of kindness, or charitable giving just as much as the next person….but is it time to think more deeply about being a good samaritan, a perpetrator of kindness, or a giver?  I think it is.

I was reading a very interesting article the other day about Effective Altruism on the Life You Can Save website.  The article really captured my attention, not so much because it was breaking amazing new ground by defining the concept of effective altruism, but rather because I was so taken aback that we (as in the human race) even needed a term to define what, to me, we should be doing intrinsically.  But….it seems we do. *eye roll* *sigh*

The basic premise of effective altruism is that we should all do the most good we can……well, duh!  (I just want to state at the outset that I am totally on board with effective altruism….just tell me where to sign up!)

Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University in the US, is a recognised authority in this area and he has written a new book called The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically. I think both Peter and the whole concept is fantastic and I hope loads of people read his book and really get on board.  I just feel a little sad that we need to be told that we should ‘do the most good we can do’ and furthermore that Peter needs to dedicate a book to defining what that means.

What’s happened here fellow humans?  Why aren’t we doing this already? *takes collective face palm for the human race*

Peter’s book talks about the value of living a fully ethical life.  He challenges his readers to engage in charitable giving but giving to organisations that are truly going to do good with the funds that we give them.  The effective altruism movement asks us all to stop and take a look at who we are giving to.  There’s giving and then there’s GIVING, it seems!  Are your philanthropic efforts, whether personal or corporate, going to waste?  Are the funds being given actually reaching those who need them?  These questions are ones we really should be asking ourselves rather than just taking the easy way out….and rushing to claim our tax deductible donation. (As nice as it is to get one over on the tax system, this is not the way people!)

So, that got me thinking….if I am going to participate in a ‘paying it forward’ movement, who should I pay it forward to?  Does it matter?  Can it just be someone I already know, because that would be easy and they really are a very nice person?  After pondering on this for a while I came to the conclusion that the answer is both yes, and no.

Hell yes it’s okay to pay it forward to someone we know just because!  But hell no it’s not okay to make that the only kind of contribution we make.

Let’s take the idea of ‘paying it forward’ and overlay the premise of effective altruism.  Is the person I am paying it forward to going to do good with my contribution to their life?  Will they keep the chain of forward payment going?  I guess, in an ideal world, we would be able to determine the answers to these ethically important questions and then make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed.

Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world….but, for me, just asking ourselves the question, rather than blindly following the celebrity trend, is a step in the right direction.  After all, we are not sheep here people!  We can think for ourselves!  We can cut and paste ethics into these kinds of decision making processes, can’t we?  Of course, sometimes we won’t know the answers and we will have to just go with our gut.  And you know what, that’s okay too because we are still working towards the ideal of doing the most good we can do.  Where we can know the answer though, we should, and we should act on that.

If we also thought about random acts of kindness in the same way…..perhaps we would be making sure that our little act of kindness went to someone who really needed it and, by the very nature of having been a recipient of an act of kindness, they would be likely to pass it along and be kind to others.  Okay, I hear you whispering amongst yourselves….’that kind of takes the random out of it, doesn’t it?  Yes, you would be right if you were asking yourself that question.  However, I guess that is what the effective altruism movement is pushing us to do.  Think.  Think before giving so that you truly do the most good you can do.  

So instead of jumping on the celebrity bandwagon and engaging in ‘random acts of kindness’ I suggest we all engage in  Targeted Acts of Kindness.  Okay, I will admit that it sounds a little stalker-esque, but if we sit with it for a minute, I think we can all agree that it is likely a much more ethical way of engaging in acts of kindness…and a way that is more likely to ensure that we, and our stalkees, do the most good we can do.

I’ve had many occasions in my life where people have acted kindly towards me, I’ve even had the odd ‘good samaritan’ event.  I’ve been blessed and I am very grateful for those times and those lovely people.  I’ve also been a good samaritan and I have tried to raise my three girls to value the idea of doing good for others, whether we know them or not.  I think now though I need a new conversation with my girls….

That conversation would go a little like this….(Note to readers – I’ve left out the teenage angst parts of the conversation for expediency sake :P)…..

ME:  You know that thing where I have always said be kind and generous to others?….well I want to make a small adjustment to our previous conversations on this topic….Be kind to everyone, everyone deserves that, but also be an ethical kindness giver and an ethical giver in general.  Think deeply ahout how you give and who you give to, where there is time and opportunity.  Of course, I don’t want anyone, especially my daughters, to be standing at the side of road thinking should I or shouldn’t I help a person in distress.  That is totally different and the answer would always, 100%, be yes.

THEM: (eye rolling, face palming and general teenage angst deleted from this section!) Ok Mum, we’re cool with that.  What a great idea, we are so lucky to have you as our Mum!  (Ok, maybe a took a little creative licence with that section…)

So people, if I haven’t been clear enough yet…what I am saying is….where we can be more targeted, more thoughtful and I would contend, more ethical, about our giving then we should absolutely do just that.  Especially those of us concerned with raising real money for important medical research.

So, do the most good you can do…’s all worth it in the end…for you and your fellow humans.



4 thoughts on “Re-thinking the Idea of the Good Samaritan

  1. Nice post, Kerry. Here in the States (and probably the world over), we get news all the time of important people showing off what lousy human beings they are. Maybe if they spent some more time thinking about kindness, they wouldn’t be in the news so much.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the creator of the Good Samaritan story got it right “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If everybody adopted this simple approach to ethics, I think the world would be a much happier place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A Month of Writing for the Health Activists Writers’ Month Challenge (#HAWMC) | Not Dead, Diabetic

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