I’m a terrible wife. I did not have a pen on my person when my husband most needed it. The scene unfurls with patting of clothing compartments, and tutting from the queue of shoppers behind us. “Sorry mate, she’s normally got a pen on her,” my husband says. But alas, my pen – which I later found in my jacket pocket – would not reveal itself for the Saturday ceremonial writing of lottery numbers.
But then a good deed happened. A lady with a questionable hat came out from the nearest food aisle and handed my husband a pen. Just like that. Our hearts warmed. Smiles exchanged and the queue moved on.
On 15 March it will be international Good Deeds Day. You will feel the frost melt a little with the warmth of a kind act. All over the world, on Good Deeds Day thousands of people choose to volunteer and help others, putting into practice the simple idea that every single person can do something good. Businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison says:
“Good Deeds Day has become the leading day of giving and this year individuals, school children, students, soldiers and employees from many businesses are joining in for the annual Good Deeds Day with the aim of doing a good deed for others.”
So, what constitutes a good deed? And what does this mean for our moral bank?
Let’s see if London Business School’s Dr Margaret Ormiston can shed light on the subject. Take a look at this.
Her research examines the underlying psychological processes that influence team and organisational performance as well as top management teams. Dr Ormiston explains that even mundane choices – like an apple or a burger – can have greater consequences. “Every day we face choices between good and bad,” she says. The more we consciously say no to the burger and yes to the apple; we fill up our healthy, moral bank. But after research, she discovered that the more responsible decisions we make, the more we feel licensed to undertake in morally questionable behaviour – moral licensing. She directly relates this to CEOs and leaders by saying that when Corporate Social Responsibility is high up on a firm’s agenda, it is often those companies, or their CEOs that carry out bad behaviour.
“Once we are morally full, we can take credits from our moral bank account.” So, if we do a good deed, we will do something bad as a result? Not necessarily, but perhaps we need to be more committed to good and suppress this feeling of moral licensing.
Jonathan Z. Berman, Assistant Professor of Marketing at London Business School recently published a paper, “The Braggart’s Dilemma: On the Social Rewards and Penalties of Advertising Prosocial Behaviour” explaining that people often brag about, or advertise, their good deeds to others.
His seven studies investigate how bragging about prosocial behaviour affects perceived generosity. It reveals that bragging signals a selfish motivation and a desire for credit that undermines generosity. Think of the Facebook do-gooders, brag once and you are a hero, brag twice and you’re a . . .
True altruism is rare. Being kind, in my opinion, is not something that requires a deed. So perhaps we need to say goodbye to good deeds, and concentrate on committing ourselves to being better humans?
Picture citation: José Pestana, Apples… CC BY-NC-SA 2.0