As those who know me can attest, Friends is my favorite show of all time. So many life situations harken back to an episode. Recently, I was thinking about “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” Joey tries to convince Phoebe there’s no unselfish good deed because doing kind things for others makes you feel good.
Here I turn to Merriam-Webster. Selfless means “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.” Because I find joy in performing acts of kindness, I have to disagree with selfless good deeds. But M-W defines selfish as “having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people,” so I also disagree with calling them selfish.
Fortunately, because our language has a colorful variety of words with subtle nuances, we have another option. Unselfish means “having or showing more concern for other people than for yourself,” which I think is a fair description of our kind gestures.
But realistically, I believe things fall along a continuum. Some of our acts of kindness sit further from selfless because of how fun they are for us. When we buy a nice bottle of wine to share with friends or family, we’re getting as much out of that experience as they are. But some of our acts require a sacrifice and thus come closer to that elusive selfless good deed.
I am not enjoying growing out my hair in order to donate it. It’s a pain in the ass. When I sit on the couch, I have to move it out of the way. At night when I turn over, I have to flip my head around to get all the hair out from under me. Sometimes I have to use two hands when I comb it, and as winter approaches, I know it will get stuck in my coat.
Plus, beyond the inconveniences of growing it out, I’m not looking forward to getting it cut. I have had short hair twice in my life and hated it both times. So if any of our kind acts approach selflessness, this is it.
I still feel good about choosing to do it. Especially because I work in a cancer-related field, I think often about the people going through such a journey. I can only imagine the challenges—physical, emotional, financial, logistical, spiritual—these people face. When struggling through hardship, I believe we should find as many small moments of joy as possible. And if I can help someone look in the mirror and feel a little bit better about herself, that makes me feel good.