Welcome back to Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
This week’s selection comes from Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, book seven. Far along the book, in paragraph 73, he chastises those who want or expect more when they have done a good deed:
What It Means
There are only two things that matter when it comes to doing good unto others: you doing the good deed, and another person benefitting from that good deed. It’s foolish to expect a third thing, like thanks, credit, or a favour in return.
What to Take From It
There’s an unfortunate, somewhat-selfish mentality we’ve adopted in our modern minds. Whenever we do a deed, good, bad, or somewhere in between, we put our hand out and say, “What do I get for it?” Put your hand away!
Knowing you’ve done the right thing should be reward enough when you help others. The concept of “doing good” or “being good” in a Stoic sense is inherently selfless, and is considered the ideal natural state of man. You do good because that’s what good is — something you should do just because. There’s nothing else to it.
If you can’t think of a good reason to do good for no good reason, ask yourself why. What harm will befall unto you if you do good for others? You may not get your precious reward in the short term, but it benefits everyone in the long term. You don’t always need to go out of your way to do the right thing, but when the opportunity presents itself, there’s no reason not to. Perhaps one day someone will help you the same way.
Do good, and do it just because. Don’t expect thanks, don’t expect credit, and don’t expect reward. If such trivial compensation comes your way, swell. If it doesn’t, carry on with your life knowing the world is a tiny bit better. Not every deed needs to be a transaction.
You can read the entirety of Meditations for free here.