What was the last selfless act you committed and you are still the only one who knows you made something, or someone, better?


  1. The last couple of selfless acts that I have committed haven’t been earth shaking.
    Every time I’ve seen a Salvation Army kettle, I’ve been putting in whatever change I might have in my pocket. Yesterday, my son and I donated $2.00 to a local food bank at a fund raiser they had at a local fast food place.
    I figure these little selfless acts add up over time, even though each individual act isn’t huge in itself.

  2. Hi Chris!
    That’s an excellent example and I thank you for sharing it with us. I also love it that you are teaching your son the value of selfless donation pays off in sometimes-intangible ways.
    The Salvation Army is a great cause. Did you know you could donate with a credit card right there on the street if you don’t have change? If the spirit hits you hard you simply call an 800 number the bell ringers have handy and you can donate right there, securely, over the phone!

  3. David, I would say when I was last in a fast food restaurant when there was an older woman in line ahead of me and she was a dollar short and the cashier was losing patience because the line was being held up. I gave the cashier a dollar to pay for the woman’s food and the woman was given her food and moved off the line. The woman didn’t know I helped. Was I being selfless or was I just hungry and wanted her out of my way?

  4. Hey Anne!
    Great story! I think that qualifies as a selfless act because in the next 10 seconds or so the woman would have been moved out of the way one way or another because the rest of the line would not have stood for he. You, at least, guaranteed she’d be able to eat even if she didn’t know how close she came to being kicked out of the line without anything to eat.
    You do raise a tantalizing question about selfless acts being truly selfless or are they inherently selfish because every act is performed in the spirit of self-preservation and evolution?

  5. When you put it that way I guess I was more selfish than selfless because I was hungry and I wanted her out of the way and paying a dollar moved me ahead on the evolutionary scale and filled my tummy — but it also preserved her as well because she got to eat… so maybe not.

  6. I wonder if intent has something to do with it? Chris’ donation may have made him feel good and give him a feeling of civic pride in helping his fellow humans but he has no idea the how or the why it will help and it doesn’t really move him physically up the evolutionary scale, while your act was more immediately gratifying because you paid your dollar and it resulted in an action that directly improved your stake… while also happening to improve that of the old woman.
    My, how the power of a dollar has a lot of consequence depending on context!

  7. I’m going to go drop a dollar in a Salvation Army bucket today so that’s my new answer!
    (running away…)

  8. I don’t know if I’d necessarily call the salvation army entirely selfless.
    From their mission statement
    “Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
    That alone makes me a bit uncomfortable.

  9. The Last Selfless Act … That’s a good question. Thank you.
    Our selfless acts decorate the life and heal us ourselves. They are a key that unlocks the most precious treasures to us ourselves.
    However, prior entering this sanctuary we are to pass one more exam. And we are not to stumble here for not to lose our right to reward. It is the talking about what a good was created by us. When others talk about us, that’s good, but when we talk ourselves about our good deeds that becomes the boasting that transforms the unselfish acts into the ugliest selfishness.

  10. The other thing is I think that if you post about a selfless act here it stops being entirely selfless.
    I try to do itty bittle things all the time that help people without them realizing it.
    Even a little thing like getting a quarter to someone who needs to pay for their parking meter without them realizing can be earth-moving.

  11. Gordon —
    You’re right about the Salvation Army being a Jesus organization. I had no idea about that, but I guess the “Salvation” in their name is one big clue as to their being.
    I suppose if you are ruggedly Christian then giving to the Salvation Army is more of an ongoing tithe and an act of Faith that one could incrementally expect to pay off at the end of a life.

  12. Tomas —
    I feel if you are asked about a selfless act it is fine to share it as long as you aren’t bringing it up yourself. One can protect the specifics of the act while sharing the greatness of the deed in order to serve and inspire others.

  13. Hi David,
    One reason why I always try to put money into the Salvation Army’s kettle is that I remember hearing about a time that my brother ate his Thanksgiving dinner at one of their soup kitchens. This was during a time in his life when he wanted to be independent of the family and was traveling around the country without very much money trying to find himself. In some ways, my dollar here and there might be a way of paying off his meal, while making sure there’s another one available for someone else in the future.
    It’s probably hard to keep away from faith-based organizations when dealing with charities. The local food bank is secular, but if you look at the places that get and send food, a lot of them are based in local churches. Instead of people travelling to the central food bank wearhouse, they go to their local food pantry, often run by a church in their neighborhood. A lot of the soup kitchens in this area are run by religious organizations.
    I don’t think any of them require anything to get food or a meal so there’s no coercion to convert.

  14. Hi Chris!
    Ah, I see your personal connection to the Salvation Army. Quite fine!
    For those who wish to make a donation to a secular cause with a great purpose this holiday season, consider the Disabled American Veterans:

    The beginnings of Disabled American Veterans followed the wake of World War I, when thousands of American doughboys came home to an America that was not prepared to care for the carnage of war. More than 4.7 million Americans served, 53,500 were lost in combat. Accidents and illnesses (mostly from the deadly Spanish flu pandemic) took the lives of 63,000. More than 200,000 soldiers were wounded during the war.
    America was not prepared to go to war or face its aftermath, especially caring for the sick and wounded. Months after returning home, half of the 4 million soldiers were released from military service. With the country drained of its economic resources due to the war, there was little funding available to help war veterans in search of employment and medical care. Within a year, 4 million Americans were jobless, broke and past hope. Recession and unemployment crippled the American economy. As a result, veterans were left to fend for themselves, especially those who were disabled. Jobs were almost nonexistent for these men.


  15. Hi David,
    We always try to remember to give something to AmVets when they come around to pick up household items.
    The DAV sounds like a fine organization as well.
    I saw on CNET that there’s a fund being set up for James Kim’s family.

  16. Hi Chris!
    Yes, there are lots of good causes out there that we should all try to celebrate and share our money with in order to help them achieve greatness.

  17. Bonjour David ………
    We provide safe house facilities/refuge and respite/breathing space for “lifestyle refugees ” and their families – in particular women whose relationships get ugly , who need to get away from dangerous situations and need a safe bolt hole while they start to rebuild their lives. we do not charge for this.
    On a personal level the Devon Air Amulance always get my spare change and often a lot more.

  18. Nicola!
    You’re back! Yay! I hope you had a grand trip!
    I think your refuge space is very important. You give a safe place to experience life and that’s important because if those feelings are repressed or verboten, those emotions become behaviors that can come out in other strange and negative and unpredictably dangerous ways.
    Devon Air Ambulance sounds great! Do you have a URL?

  19. A while back, I was at a local grocers when an obviously harried young woman and her kid were in front of my in the line at the cashiers.
    I couldn’t help but notice the “tell-tale” signs of someone struggling financially by her purchases… “Kraft Dinner” (boxed macaroni and cheese), cans of tuna, regular ground beef… and a kid who was not happy (but not throwing a fit) because they wanted treats… and mom kept saying, with a semi-hushed voice that sounded between “mournful” and angered, “Honey, we can’t afford that!”
    When the cashier had finished ringing up the purchase, the women found she was about $10 short of the bill and started rummaging in her purse looking for change…
    Since I had my wallet out, I surreptitiously “dropped” a $20 bill on the ground… and then, making a realistic, although somewhat dramatic movement, I leaned over, picked it up and said, “Sorry, miss, but this fell out of your purse…” trying to pretend a little that my MP3 headphones had drowned out the conversation between her and the cashier by pulling them out of my ears at the appropriate moment…
    Initially, she said, “Oh no, that couldn’t be mine…” but I insisted, “Well, it did fall out of your purse a second ago. It was just there. I saw it fall.”
    She took the money with a great deal of relief and paid her bill… and grabbed the chocolate bar her kid had wanted too.
    After they left, the cashier gave me a knowing smile… almost like, “I’m on to your game!”, but said nothing… and I kept up “kayfabe” by not letting myself say or do anything out of the ordinary.
    I did tell my wife, Sue, about this once I got home… only because I think we’ve all been in this woman’s position at some point… and whether she truly DID believe that the money had mysteriously come from her purse or it had come from the weird guy in line with the headphones… all I know is that the kid brightened, she brightened, and realistically, it made me feel good too… it was good to be in the position where I could help… without making the recipient feel like they had been begging.

  20. Well done, Matthew, and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    I love your example and for anyone who has ever been hungry because there wasn’t enough money to cover the cost of food, your story is especially warming.
    You handled the situation perfectly. You helped her without embarrassing her. She knew she didn’t have that money, but you made it easy on her to take your offer to help without making her feel like a pauper or making yourself into a charity!

  21. We ring 999 like everyone else – we just get the helicopter here as we are so far /remote. It gets used a lot along the coast and is part of the air/sea rescue service system.
    Picture isproving hard to trace , neither budgie or I can find it – I do have a hard copy somewhere – it will be found !

  22. 999! Wild! We use 911 and 711 for Deaf Relay and 311 (in NYC) to complain about your quality of life. All toll-free, of course.
    Is it a free ride or do you get charged for the flight?
    I know you will find the image!

  23. The most recent selfless act I have performed occurred a few weeks ago. I live in Oklahoma, where weather can be at best varied, and at worst downright unpredictable. Waking up to ice on our cars and roads often finds us Okies a little stupefied and ill-equipped, and therefore scraping our windshields with CD cases, credit cards or particularly sturdy trashcan lids. Recently, a big cold front came rolling through the state overnight, covering everything in its path with a couple inches of thick, solid ice. I was prepared only because my coworkers and I had been given cans of ultra-strength De-Icer the day before by our boss, perhaps as a friendly, not-so-subtle reminder that banks do not close due to inclement weather. 🙂 So I woke up extra early and de-iced not only my own windshield but the windshields of my neighbors as well. One woman happened to come out of her apartment as I was doing the de-icing deed and was very appreciative. As far as I know, she is the only one who knows it was me who helped everybody out that icy morning.

  24. this doesn’t make sense…
    there are no selfless acts.
    can you honestly say you’ve never felt a single bit of self satisfaction, or content in knowing that you might have helped someone else in need?
    to quote david “I think it’s fine to share selfless acts as I shared with Tomas. The specifics don’t matter but the motivation does matter.”
    who’s motivation? the agent of action? motivation implies there is a certain inertia or force behind an act. if so, how can this, or any act be selfless?
    you are all selfish in your own selfish way.

  25. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, jose.
    There are certainly selfless acts. If I choose to help someone because they are in need — what is the value to me if I don’t find joy or satisfaction in the helping?
    Duty is honor-bound and, by definition, selfless.

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