A truly good deed has only one intention: to help someone in need. A deed with more than one intention is just a deed. A deed that seeks recognition is nothing more than a task as meager and self serving as wearing a tight shirt to flaunt your assets or offering a discount on an already marked up pair of socks. A deed that requires recognition is a mutually beneficial transaction that still has value, but isn't the virtuous act of selflessness that it's advertised to be.
Even without the advertising and flaunting, a good deed still has roots in selfishness, but that selfishness has no real bearing under the lonely shadow of anonymity. Although we're still satisfying our deepest desire to feel good about ourselves, anonymity erases any prospects of praise and recognition that would otherwise come with a good deed. It's under that dark and lonely shadow of anonymity that real good-naturedness lives.
When it comes to charity and good deeds, anonymity is the simple erasure of recognition, not necessarily the complete concealment of identity. Someone will always know about a good deed, but them knowing shouldn't be the basis for it. This is why the world's only, truly good deeds are committed by people who go out of their way to avoid recognition. A good deed happens when you help an old lady cross the street and don't make a status post about it. It happens when you buy a homeless person a sandwich when no one is around to see it.
Steve Buscemi vs. Sean Penn
In the 1970s, Steve Buscemi was a firefighter in New York City. It was later that he went into acting and starred in Reservoir Dogs and the television series Boardwalk Empire. Immediately after September 11th, Steve Buscemi volunteered for the NY Fire Department to help sift through rubble. The strange thing is, nobody knew Buscemi did this. He didn't do a single interview and nothing but eyewitness accounts exist of his work in New York following the worst terror attack in American history. No journalists or photographers were ever given an opportunity to witness Buscemi in action. His help during 9/11 was so secret that the popular truth/lie website Snopes has a page dedicated to confirming Buscemi's role in helping NY firefighters.
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Sean Penn was there to help.... but not before inviting photographers to follow him. The internet is littered with professional photographs of Sean Penn getting down and dirty to help the victims of Haiti with his organization, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization. Penn has continued his good work in Haiti ever since, but not without happily inviting as much exposure as possible, including using his Instagram account to flaunt his deeds. Somehow, there also happens to be a "photographic compendium" of Penn's work in Haiti available by Studio West. To this day, no verifiable photos exist of Steve Buscemi working with the NY Fire Department on 9/11.
Penn's desire for recognition in no way undermines the good work he has done, but you can be the judge when it comes to whose intentions were most noble and selfless.
Gratitude vs. Recognition
Eliminating recognition entirely would also eliminate most acts of kindness and charity. As sad as that is, we can still count on gratitude. Unlike recognition, which means being applauded and fawned over by a group of people, gratitude is a lot less prestigious. To some people, the reward of gratitude is enough to get the positive hormones flowing. Gratitude happens when the person at the receiving end of a good deed shows appreciation for that good deed. In most cases, that's just one person - not an audience of fawning fans.
There's nothing wrong with craving another person's gratitude when compared to craving high scale recognition. A truly good person can relish in gratitude while maintaining a low profile and being almost wholly anonymous. Scientific studies have shown that expressing gratitude and receiving gratitude contribute to an individual's overall happiness, which also adds to an individual's longevity.
Anonymity Is Easy
It seems easier for people to create fake Twitter accounts and message board accounts to insult and harass people than it does to refuse credit for a good deed. Imagine if everyone had the strength and motivation to commit good deeds anonymously just as they do to insult people from the safe shadows of obscurity. Believe it or not, anonymous acts of kindness actually happen quite regularly, we just don't hear about them as often because they aren't being advertised.
Dating all the way back to 1995, St. Jude's Children's Hospital received $1 Million worth of McDonald's Monopoly winnings from an anonymous donor. The American Press reported:
The envelope received by St. Jude was postmarked Dallas and had no return address. Inside was the folded paper game board, with the peel-off game piece taped to it. The piece read, "Instant winner: $1,000,000."
Other acts of anonymous kindness happen frequently, but go unmentioned. The point of anonymous kindness almost always means no recognition, but in the age of the internet, even nameless good Samaritans will get noticed. As the Independent Journal reported in 2014:
When Imgur user Gingersnap1316’s apartment buzzer went off a few times, she thought it was a mistake. She finally came to the door and she found an elderly man who sweetly asked her if she was Karen. When she replied no, but her mother was, he merely smiled and handed her a white envelope and left.
What was in it stunned her — a letter and $1,000 explaining why her mother was the recipient of this money.
The man who delivered the envelope wasn't looking to be noticed or have his name appear in the local newspaper. His sole intention was to help a cancer patient pay her bills. To this day, Gingersnap1316 has no idea who the man who gave her $1,000 for her mother's cancer treatment is.
Acts of anonymous kindness are the truest acts of kindness. They don't ask to be recognized - their purpose is one of genuine kindness. The one-sided and honest nature of anonymous kindness has the ability to rekindle our faith in humanity. These acts of kindness don't need to be significant or unique, they just need to come with the sole intention of doing good.
Acts of anonymous kindness can be as simple as buying a homeless person a hot sandwich, or as extravagant as giving someone in need an envelope full of cash. These acts don't have to happen frequently or regularly, they just need to happen sometimes. So, the next time you're out by yourself, take a moment to do something kind and anonymous. If you've never done it before, consider it a personal challenge. You can do it today or tomorrow, but when you do, it will change the way you live your life forever. Only doing it once will ensure that you'll do it again, not because you have to, but because you want to.
Try it. What's the worst that could happen?