FOR centuries humankind has been struggling to answer the philosophical question: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

But in recent years it seems we have been able to make headway on a similar brainteaser: “If someone performs an act of goodwill and doesn’t post it to Facebook, did it really happen?”

The answer, it seems, is no.

Every day it seems there’s another “random act of kindness” that’s “gone viral” on social media, quickly followed by hyperbolic headlines.

Like last week, when the world’s media exploded over the “touching footage” of three “big hearted” UK teens who were filmed buying food and a blanket for a homeless man.

Yes, they were filmed: two of the girls were filmed by the third. And then they overlaid the footage with heartfelt piano music and put it on Facebook, where it went viral. Because god forbid you should do something nice and not immediately tell the world about it.

One of their mums shared her pride with the press, saying, “Not many kids would do what they have done.”

Except that’s not quite true. A quick Google search shows scores of people are doing exactly what those kids did and, call me cynical, but you have to question the motivation.

Take UK man Dante Jamie Coyne who last month made international headlines for his Facebook post about sitting next to a Muslim woman on the train, like a true hero. The woman was seated in an empty row which, Mr Coyne perceived, was being avoided by other passengers because of her niqab.

So he took a photo of her and posted it to Facebook bragging about how he’d been good enough to sit next to her when no one else would.

The post was liked more than 44,000 times and prompted gushing articles all over the world praising Mr Coyne for his “kindness”.

Never mind that his story is predicated on his patronising assumptions about Muslims and the world. Maybe this woman was quite enjoying her row of empty seats. Maybe she was annoyed when he plonked his fat bum down and she had to move her handbag. No, his was truly an act of pure altruism. I hope somebody sent him a medal.

Then there was American woman Brooke Ochoa whose post about her selfless act of having lunch with a “lonely” elderly woman was shared more than 2 million times, earning her the title of “the nicest person on Facebook”.

Yes, Brooke is the nicest person in a community of more than one billion people because she had lunch with someone. Incidentally, Brooke now has more than 37,000 Facebook followers to whom she posts daily motivational messages and cute selfies.

It’s not just the “look at me” nature of all this that puts a bad taste in my mouth, it’s the fact that human kindness apparently now has such a low bar that we’re willing to applaud any semi-decent act.

Take the American Starbucks employee who last month was asked by an elderly man to help zip up his jacket. Or the supermarket staffer who helped another old man struggling to tie his shoe.

In both cases someone photographed the moment and posted it to Facebook, where they were shared thousands of times alongside effusive praise about how they had “restored faith in humanity”.

They did a bloke a favour, for goodness’ sake! Are we all so selfish and awful in 2015 that helping someone with a tiny task is worthy of hero worship?

As we come up to Christmas, the season of goodwill, let’s all try something different. Like doing something nice WITHOUT begging for a pat on the head? That’d be worth a headline.


First published in The Advertiser, November 12, 2015. CLICK HERE to read the original article.