There was a time when people went well out of their way to help others and refused all payment of any kind. The recipient’s gratitude was sufficient payment to settle the debt. Okay, sure, you can find examples of people who took advantage of the weaknesses of others, but those were exceptions, not the rule.
As a kid, I would collect homework and books for a sick friend and lug them a mile or so to my friend’s house because it was the nice thing to do. If I had accepted anything more than “Thank you so much” for the effort, I would have heard about it in detail when I got home. A friend of mine would open a car door and turn off someone’s lights so the owner wouldn’t come back to a dead car battery. The owner would never know. You have to be careful about that these days or someone might assume you have a more nefarious motive.
There was an art to helping someone in need and a complimentary art in accepting the kindness with gratitude. Sadly, both arts seem to be dying, but the latter is going away much faster.
I worked in a school with a high poverty rate. The PTO partnered with an affluent retirement community in the area to buy gift cards for local stores to give to the folks who needed them at Christmas. They were in varying amounts ($20-100) and were distributed based on need — determined my information on the Free/Reduced Lunch vouchers. Some of the folks who got the $20 gift cards griped, getting rather loud and belligerent because they wanted to “trade in” the $20 for a $100. The school told them they’d be happy to take the $20 gift card back … and give it someone else. The resulting firestorm was impressive and chased away the chill of the evenings.
What happened to a polite gesture of thanks?
Sadly, too many people try to find “What’s in it for me?” or “Why does he get more than I do?” Now, instead of helping wherever there is need, those who would like to help have to be careful. Gratitude is no longer a given, and in fact, being kind to someone may result in a backlash if the help given is not perfect or is in any way not exactly what the recipient wanted.
Being kind now carries a risk, which makes people more cautious about offering assistance, and this only perpetuates the cycle.
When you help someone in need, do not let the left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)
These days, it’s safer if even the recipient is unaware of what you’re doing.