I went to the bloodbank yesterday for the first time since I’ve been living in Singapore. I’d made an appointment, done due diligence on the past year of my travel history, and timed the donation so that it wouldn’t completely throw my fitness training plan. It’s been years since I donated blood (I used to donate a few times a year in the US) so I was nervous, but I really wanted to do something good. I was looking forward to it.
And then, as has happened once before, my donation was denied because my iron was lower than the Red Cross requires. I’m a vegetarian and this really should not have been a surprise.
The surprise was how I felt when I left with a packet of iron tablets from the nurse. I was really, really upset. I was disappointed not being able to donate and a little embarrassed at the whole rigmarole of paperwork and a fingerstick for naught. I had really wanted to do a good thing and I was disappointed that I couldn’t. But I was also keenly aware that it’s not actually about me, which caused further upset feelings for being upset because it’s not about me! And here I was, making it about me. I didn’t like that, either.
As my students and I study in psychology, there is theory to suggest that people do good in order to make themselves feel good and not actually because it’s the right thing to do. Altruism might not be so altruistic. While I am aware of this and aware of how our minds are wired to help us maintain self-esteem, I did not appreciate the recognition that I am no better than anyone else.
The thought that occurred to me as I left was telling, as well: Now I have to go plant trees or something.
My students and I talk about why doing something, regardless of the brain mechanisms encouraging us to do it, is better than doing nothing. I firmly believe this is true. But it took me several hours last evening to accept that I was feeling upset and to accept that my brain was doing what our brains are designed to do. I’d like to be better than that.
Overall, I found the whole experience of my reaction pretty interesting. It led me to a predictable conclusion, but one that is worth sharing: If the point is to do something good, do something good. If the point is to feel good, recognise it. And then do something good anyway.