The right thing for the wrong reason?

CafeA Crosscut reader responds to my article “A narcissist goes volunteering” with this comment:

[P]eople involved in causes or movements … may not necessarily be deeply committed to their cause (social, political, cultural, etc.) but often participate because they want to create a portrait of themselves which they wish to communicate to others … or because they get gratification from the feelings of moral satisfaction they derive from their participation….

Those trying to raise money for causes–political campaigns,
charities, social-service purposes–will tell you that few who generously give money or time will do so without getting recognition for it. Few among us, regrettably, are that selfless. You are not the only narcissist.

Even if this were generally the case, people who donate their time, money, or image to worthy causes are at least making gestures aimed at benefiting others. They’re doing the right things, even if for what might be called the wrong reasons. With so many temptations to be wrong on both counts, isn’t half a loaf better than none at all?

Freestyle Volunteering isn’t for a sexy cause. Individuals roped off into the invisible societal ghettos of mental illness or homelessness aren’t angelic children or unspotted owls. If they have incurable psychiatric disorders, they probably won’t make the palpable kind of progress that gratifies a volunteer, and some may never clearly see what’s being done for them, let alone the fine character of the volunteer doing it.

Meeting someone once a week for conversation over coffee isn’t a complex, strenuous, or brain-exercising challenge, either. It’s just sitting down for one-on-one receptive talk with a stranger who’ll gradually grow less strange.

Then why do these hours feel so rewarding? Is it because in a society full of mirrors, where we must constantly burnish our resumes, the encounter offers a brief, blessed respite from Self?

(P.S. If you spot among the comments at the end of “A narcissist goes volunteering” at Crosscut a comment that reads a lot like the above three paragraphs – yes, I wrote the comment, under the alias “Brouhaha.”)

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