Is It OK to Help Others for Selfish Reasons?

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 60s. When I was in my 30s, I drove past a wheelchair user who was stuck outside in a sudden rain. When I got home, I felt great remorse, wondering why I didn’t go back and do something for that person.

Since then, whenever I see someone in trouble, I’ve always tried to reach out to them. I don’t want to regret pretending I didn’t notice them.

For example, accidents often occur at an intersection with blind spots near my home. When I noticed there had been an accident, I reached out to the drivers to ask if they were injured and called an ambulance.

My two sons, since they were students, have spontaneously given up their seats on trains to elderly people or helped those with luggage on the stairs at stations.

However, the other day, my daughter told me that I do good deeds because I just want others to think I’m a nice person, and I couldn’t say anything back.

Maybe I do just like thinking I’m a “good person.”

I know that even if it’s self-congratulatory, if doing good makes someone else happy, that’s all that matters. But I still don’t know how to feel. Please tell me how I should look at this.

— H, Aichi Prefecture

Dear Ms. H:

Compared to other developed countries, Japan regrettably does not have a good reputation due to its low levels of donations and volunteerism. I believe one of the reasons for this is because some people disparage such actions as merely publicity stunts or for self-satisfaction.

It must be hard to hear similar remarks coming from your own daughter.

But as you said, your actions do make people around you happy. When those around you are happy, you feel happy too. There is nothing wrong with wishing for your own happiness. It is wonderful that your sons understand that.

Your daughter may be saying such things for attention. Perhaps she wants your love to be directed only to her and not to others.

Maybe she is troubled by something. How about taking her out for a meal, maybe go on a trip, and lend your ear to her?

— Masahiro Yamada, university professor