Friday, December 31, 2010

When Good Deeds Get Punished

I know everyone has heard the old saw about how "No good deed goes unpunished" many times before. I'm sure most of us have even said it to ourselves after trying to do the right thing and then taking abuse for it.

I sort of caught myself going down that road today but had to nip that pity-party stuff in the bud. Here's the backdrop:

For New Year's Eve, I decided to spring for a suite at a hotel in CT near the casinos and just throw an open invite out in the direction of some extended family who like to go down there from time to time and gamble. Personally, I couldn't gamble to save my life, but unlike people with gambling problems, I don't pretend to be able to (remember, nothing is funnier to me than the way every person ever dealt a hand of blackjack at Foxwoods is 'up' over the course of their careers). But anyway, I'm down for the spectacle, or the restaurants, or shows, or whatever other draws there might be.

A few took the offer up, and a few others didn't. No big surprise there, that's sort of how open invites tend to go. I figured it was time for a 'last big hurrah' before some Army commitments take me out of the picture for a bit, so I didn't mind the cost, and wasn't looking for a flowery 'thank you' from any corner.

What I wasn't really ready for, though, was a lot of extensive questioning and second-guessing from an extended relative who has been repeatedly demanding to know 'The Plan' since the idea was conceived. It's like, no matter how many times I've tried to convey that there was no plan (and that's the whole point!), it didn't seem to register. I just sort of meant to reach out, open some doors (literally), and let whoever it might be sort of do whatever they might do. Anyway, after SEVERAL new rounds of scrutiny regarding "The Plan" (hey, who appointed me for that anyway?) I'll admit my frustration started to show a bit.

And then I realized something -- this is ignorable. I don't have to pout and shout about how "a simple 'thank you' would have sufficed," or get upset about it, or any of the above. To the degree that I can, I'm going to stay away from the refrain listed as the title of this entry, too, because I think it's often used obnoxiously. No one likes ingratitude, BUT:

(1) Before people complain about ingratitude, or about blowback from their 'good deed,' they need to ask about 'demand signal.' Way too many times, I've seen friends and colleagues complain about others' ingratitude in the face of their own generosity, but way too rarely does the complainer stop to try to frame it through the eyes of the other. It's like, let's say you're REALLY into a sport or a band. If you've got a spare ticket, the person you're offering it to probably doesn't care as much as you do, so if all you get is a muffled, "Thanks, man" then that might actually be a proportional response. Back when I was single, I had someone get upset at me because he'd given me the name and number of a female friend of his who lived down in Malden, and had told her to expect to hear from me. I never called or otherwise pursued, and he got really torqued about it...but I had never asked him to do it. There was an assumption built into the initial effort (which admittedly came from a good place), and that same assumption drove him to get upset later on. Ditto for any of the gazillion-million ways people think they're doing others a 'favor' that just might not be all that favorable!

(2) No one should do ANYTHING for which they automatically expect gratitude. Hosting might be a good example of this. It's like, yes, you've probably spent a good chunk of your own money on food and drinks, and you've opened up your home to people, but the key there is that it was all voluntary. Unless someone made you do it, you can't complain about who did or didn't bring or appreciate what. Going around expecting gratitude from people all the time is just a 'sub-optimal' way to go through life, IMHO. Stop trying to keep score, and start enjoying.

And last, the one that I'll have to adhere to now:

(3) If you think you're trying to do something nice, and someone is giving you grief for it, don't fan the flames. It's like, okay, I get it...somewhere, some wire got crossed, something was misinterpreted, and one person who thought he was doing something really nice confused another person who perhaps expected something more, or just different. Raising the ante, or even voicing my own frustration to the third-party who has been relaying all of this 'Planning' confusion, just makes it worse. All I can do is store it in the back of my brain somewhere, because if I do it again, then it really is my fault.

And on that note, time to stop blogging and start having fun -- it's America's greatest secular holiday!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR and best wishes for 2011! (And, as always, thanks for reading)