“Even as the Sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all: so should you not wait for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do your duty; nay, do good of your own accord, and you will be loved like the Sun.”
One of the ideas that is common in a lot of religions is the idea of doing good works without the fanfare of other people. That we should do things because they are the right things to do, not because everyone will see what we are doing. And here Epictetus uses some great imagery to explain that idea. Just as the sun doesn’t wait for fanfare to shine, we shouldn’t wait to do things just to be seen by others.
And what is wrong with that? What is wrong with doing things to be seen by others? We’re still doing good deeds aren’t we? And we get the added benefit of praise from others, so that’s good, right? When we do things just to be seen by others, we are worrying about the opinions of others. If we only do things when we can get praise, then there’s a lot of good things that we could do that will go undone because we were waiting to do it when others could praise us.
We are giving our control to other people. We are in a sense letting the opinions of others dictate what we will do. When we act this way, we’re often thinking, “What’s in it for me?” What if everyone worked this way? What if everyone asked, “What’s in it for me?”
What if you were injured and someone came along who could help you, but they decided not to because no one was around to see their good deed? They decided that it would not benefit them so they leave you to fend for yourself. This is what Jesus talked about the story of the good Samaritan.
For those that don’t know the story, a man is traveling to another town, and is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest and a Levite, who was religious man who worked in the temple, both pass by and leave the man. A Samaritan comes along and helps the man and takes him to an inn and pays for him to receive help with no expectation of being repaid or praised. At that time Jews and Samaritans despised each other, so in doing so, he showed that their “enemy” helped the man because it was the right things to do, not because of any outward praise or direct benefit to himself.
The things is, our world is built upon us being cooperative and doing lots of little and big kindnesses throughout the day. And personally, I think that the one of the main purpose of lives, and what makes our lives richer is to lessen the suffering of others. And you know what? It feels good when I help others and do it because it’s something I want to do, not because I think I’ll get something out of it.
Just as the sun shines on us without waiting for praise, we should make doing good for its own sake be part of our nature.
Photo by Ronaldo Santos