A strange person is he—the do-gooder. We’ve all met him (or her). The individual who pursues a philanthropic goal with an all-consuming passion. He announces his altruism to a crowded room, or to a person in private. And when business is down, he’s unable to let go of this strange desire to help. Being in the do-gooder’s presence can make you feel uncomfortable. Am I doing enough? Am I too selfish?

Yet strangely, at the end of the day, something is wrong. Instead of being proud of the do-gooder, we feel a strange kind of pity. Why is that? What gives?

The answer to this question is dealt with nicely in Bertrand Russell’s book, The Conquest of Happiness. Russell believes the philanthropist actually suffers from a form of psychological illness, entitled “persecution mania.”

“Another not uncommon type of persecution mania is a certain type of philanthropist who is always doing good to people against their will, and is amazed and horrified that they express no gratitude.”

Well put. The philanthropist frequently complains that his deeds are not appreciated. His benevolence is unnoticed by the state, the press, and powers that be. In doing so, he tries to illicit a sympathy from the listener. He’s merely reaffirming a long standing belief within himself—that the world has persecuted him unfairly. One way to hide an ugly truth about yourself is to present it as a beautiful lie.

Russell doesn’t touch on the female version of the do-gooder. That’s a shame. Some women use philanthropy as a form of makeup—a pretty façade, covering up their moral blemishes. If you question her ethics in the real world, she’ll point back to her good deeds. A classic red herring. Some men are unable to see the Enpassant, and it’s an easy checkmate.

So we should be on the lookout then. The philanthropist is often not what he or she seems, and we can easily fall prey to their machinations. Doing good is one thing, but making a show of it is a red flag.

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