I love movies. Seriously. Buying DVD’s literally makes me feel better. Sad, but true. So, one lunch break I found myself in HMV, perusing their wares. They had a sale on. CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, everything. Disney DVDs were buy one get one free–so I grabbed Monsters, Inc and the new Alice in Wonderland. Bargain.

Then I went into the series section, and zeroed in on my newest guilty pleasure–Gilmore Girls. Season 7 was on sale for £15. Grabbed that too.  Finally, after I leisurely looked over the sale CDs, I went to the register and waited in line like a good little customer.

from The Independent

When it was my turn, I handed the nice lady my selections, she scanned them in, and I popped in my debit card. I hadn’t paid much attention to the total price, but when I looked over my receipt it read–£15. And the Disney films, which she dutifully scanned in and de-magnetised, were no where on there. So, what did I do? I went back and told her she forgot to charge me.

What happened next was a little odd.

She seemed really REALLY surprised that I’d bothered to come back and pay.
She told me, ‘Well, that’s your good deed for the day.’

I mean really?
Ok, I know she only really said it because it was something to say. She was surprised. She didn’t put a lot of thought into her words. The thing is though, when I mentioned this to other people throughout the day, THEY were surprised too. Even commenting that I should have walked out with the DVDs I didn’t pay for. Afterall, it wasn’t my fault I didn’t pay–I did my part. It’s the stores fault for not charging me accordingly, right? And big chain stores like that have awesome insurance policies, my little DVDs don’t amount to much–it would be like spitting in the ocean.


Wrong. Stealing is stealing, whether its from a little old lady or a multi-national chain store. And walking out with those DVDs would have been stealing to me. Did the thought of just leaving the store with them cross my mind? Of course it bloody did. I’m  human. And like I said, I LOVE me some movies. But it wouldn’t have been right. And even though many people have chided me for my stupidity on this one, I still feel like I did the right thing.

But it begs the question–when is a ‘good deed’ just doing the right thing?


Good deed heart, by Peter Blake, courtesy of designbloom

When I tried doing a Google search on ‘good deed’, the results were random and confusing. And some were people asking the same question I was–What is a good deed?

Many people see it as any selfless act done for the benefit of others. If that’s the case, than what I did definitely doesn’t count. I suppose in my head, the definition of a good deed is simply something you do for someone else, or a group of people, either because it needs doing or because you want to make them happy. Perhaps most of the time that means it is a selfless act.

But most people think no good deed can really be selfless–people who donate to charity can get a tax break; if you rescue a person from a burning building, its going to be on the news and you’ll get recognition. Or even that a good deed doesn’t count if you tell people (see this article). I think that’s a hard-line to take. Most people don’t do things for others to get some fabulous reward or something. If anything, the benefit you get is that making them happy makes you happy.

But back to the stealing.

What happened in that HMV was not a good deed going down. I didn’t give a crap about HMV losing money, or even (harsh as it sounds) that nice lady possibly getting a hard time for her till being out. I literally had no thought about my actions benefiting someone else. It was me, not stealing, being honest, and taking responsibility for myself and having some morals.

I don’t think I’m all that for doing so. And I’m not trying to stand up on some soapbox and say that morality is dead. I’m just saying that instead of praising someone for pulling one over on ‘The Man’, we should instead look to ourselves in these sorts of ethical situations and ask what we should do, rather than what we want to do. Because, as badly as I wanted some movies, I wanted to NOT be a thief more.

3 responses »

  1. Riotflower says:

    I think there is something wrong in a world where not stealing makes you not simply as you should be, but someone who has committed a ‘good deed’…I have gone back to tescos several times to tell them they undercharged me and people often tell me that I should have just it be…THAT always surprises me!
    You did the right thing, but definitely not a good deed.
    As we learned in Brownies, a good deed cannot be something that should be done anyway. Your chores cannot be a good deed…and well, NOT stealing can’t be a good deed either!
    Glad you can watch your movies without any self-reflexive qualms.

  2. Young Wifey says:

    Twice I’ve got more change than I was supposed to, once $5, once $10. Both times I’ve taken it back and had the same reaction you did. My mom always says what goes around comes around double-fold. A week after I returned the $5, I found $10 on the ground in the park. After take back the $10, I got a free Wii video game in the mail.
    However a real good deed can really make someone’s day. One day while in college I walked to work on a beautiful sunny warm day. When I left it was 55F and pouring rain. I had on short sleeves! I started to run home and had to wait for a traffic light to change. Then I dashed across the street and a man going inside handed me his umbrella to keep. I thanked him and said I’d bring it right back, but he insisted that he had another one inside. Once I got home, I threw on a jacket and grabbed my umbrella and tried to return his, but he was already gone. He def. made my day, I’d say that is a good deed.

  3. I agree that giving the money back isn’t quite a good deed, but I’m also one of those people who thinks that it’s really difficult to find a selfless good deed. I mean, rescuing someone from a burning building, maybe, because if you run in there you’re probably not doing it for the recognition. But coming from academia has made me pretty cynical about people who throw money at something then expect to have their name plastered all over, say, a building for it. That’s not exactly selfless, even if it does some genuine good. Doing something nice for someone is a toss-up; maybe you’re doing it for the good feeling, maybe you just had a genuinely selfless impulse.

    Sad to say, there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have returned the change, and wouldn’t think about the ripple effect of their actions on the cashier etc. So it’s still good that you did it!

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