By Jay Menard
I know some were inspired by Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s call for London to conscript his “Three Things for…” idea to encourage good deeds in the community.
Instead of being inspired, his call just made me sad.
Let me start by saying that I have no issue with the intent behind Nenshi’s Three Things for… idea. I just don’t know what it says about us that we need to have something like this at all.
Are we, as a society, so stuck staring into the palm of our hands that we don’t see the need around us and act accordingly? Has social networking made us so narcissistic that an action will not exist until it has received 30 retweets and a couple dozen Facebook likes?
Do we have to change the old adage from “no good deed goes unpunished” to “no good deed goes unpublished?”
I’m not that old, but maybe I’m too Old School in my thinking. When I read about Nenshi’s “Three things…” I was confused. Not because I failed to understand the concept — just because I thought that’s what being a community was about.
I was raised by my parents to help out. From holding open doors to lending a hand to a friend in need, it’s just what I was taught to do. You lend your skills where you can, you help out in your community, support your kids’ schools, and be a good citizen.
Of course, I was also taught that good deeds and hard work are their own reward.
I’ve always found it unseemly to shout “look at me” when I’m doing something. I also don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone. I know what I do, I’m proud of my efforts, and if someone wants to judge me based on his or her opinion of what has value, then that says more about their insecurity than my efforts.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in PR, it’s a daily battle. How do you promote your efforts without the promotion becoming the main focus? For me, the “why” I do something is more important than “who” knows I do it. And if you’re doing it solely so people think you’re a “good” person, then perhaps you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
Which is why Nenshi’s Three Things disturbs me. Why do we need to be reminded to be good citizens? And is it even a real need?
After all, I see people in my neighbourhood helping each other every day. From clearing out our older neighbours’ driveways, to watching each other’s homes, to making sure our kids are safe, I see Three Things every day.
I see people getting involved with community organizations, helping out at events, talking to their elected representatives — they’re just not running to Twitter to share it.
Maybe I’m a man out of time. Maybe today’s society really does need instant and continual positive reinforcement to do good things. Maybe we’re so selfish that we can only do something for someone if we know we’re going to get recognition in return.
But what happens when the allure of Three Things recognition wears off? What happens when the external gratification is no longer enough? If the motivation doesn’t come from internal drive but rather external recognition, is it sustainable?
With the focus on building communities, perhaps we need to remember what it takes to be a community.
There’s no hash tag that promotes sitting on a PTA. There’s no Pinterest board celebrating community work. Sure, they may not be as visible or Tweetable, but these actions are what gives a community it’s heart.
I thought that heartbeat of the community existed from within. I thought being a good person was reward in and of itself, and does not require external validation to stimulate it.
Maybe I thought wrong. But if we truly have come to a time when good deeds come conditionally with expectations, then maybe three things won’t be enough.