Back when I was in middle school, there was this major media campaign against drugs. Every day you would get these ads on TV, featuring misguided young men who destroyed their lives by Saying YES to Drugs, ads that invariably ended with a red skull that had a small puff of smoke drifting out of its hideously grinning teeth (you have to remember these were the good old days of public programming on TV - before cable came in - so that these ads were often the most exciting part of the evening's television watching). Personally, I don't think these ads helped much - for one thing, by clubbing all narcotics under the general rubric of 'Drugs' they allowed people to make the dangerous assumption that there was no difference between smoking the occassional joint and doing LSD or Ecstasy - a slightly more balanced perspective may have been useful. More importantly, though, they helped create an excitement around drugs that I, for one, was unlikely to have felt otherwise. In my entire adolescent life, the only person who ever offered me drugs or suggested I try them was that leering drug dealer on TV. Those ads left me with the distinct impression that the proper thing to do when one was at college was to get together with a bunch of friends, put Dum Maro Dum on the stereo, and snort something that looked suspiciously like talcum powder up my nose. The fact that I never managed to meet a single person in my college who actually did drugs remains one of the more serious disappointments of my teenage life.
More importantly, though, I feel these ads completely ignored the most pernicious of all narcotics known to man - kindness to total strangers. You know how it is. One day you're hanging out with friends and someone (not someone you really know too well, mind you, just some guy) has a favour to ask. Before you know it you're stepping forward, volunteering. He tells you what it is, with this half-sceptical, half-intense look in his eyes, as if daring you to back down now. You really don't want to do this, but you go ahead anyway. You figure it's just a little thing, it can't hurt. It's not like you're going to make a habit of doing this or something. You do it. You feel good. The world seems brighter, more lucid. Next thing you know you're hooked. Every time there's a favour to be done, you're there. It doesn't matter who it's for anymore - friends, neighbours, total strangers you meet on the road. You don't care - you're just looking to score. You spend days in a frenzy of doing good deeds, like a boy scout on speed, like a Good Samaritan with the fast-forward button on.
After a while you realise you're going too far. You try to stop. That's when the guilt hits you. You know how easy it would be to make someone else happy. You now how good you'll feel afterward, even though it's really painful while you're doing it. You can't stand the thought of all those favours you could do going wasted. You stick it out for a few days, trying not to meet the eyes of others for fear of the appeal you'll see in them. Then one day you break down and help a blind man cross the road. That's it. You've fallen off the wagon. Next thing you know you're helping that fat PhD student down the street who no one will talk to finish her dissertation. Before you know it helping other people has taken over your whole life. You don't work anymore, you have no other interests. All you do is go around doing good to other people. Pretty soon people are avoiding you in the street. This only makes you more desperate for them to like you, so you start doing even more favours. Before long you're chain-helping - going from one favour to the next without even stopping for a breath in between. You're not a person anymore, you're just a doormat.
The thing that makes kindness so deadly a drug though, is that it must be the only addictive substance on the planet which doesn't just get you hooked on it, it also gets hooked on you. Think about it. You do some random person a favour because it's easy and the blogspot server is down. They thank you profusely - you accept their gratitude with good grace, shrugging it off to show how humble a person you are. It was nothing, you say. Next thing you know they actually believe this. They're coming to you with every trouble they have. If it's not their term papers, it's their mother's sciatica. Or their complete absence of a sex life. Or a job for their fourth cousin twice removed. You can't just fob them with a simple 'sorry, I don't have the time' any more (which is what you should have done right at the beginning) - now they EXPECT this of you. Worse, they DEPEND on you for this. If you tell them you might not be able to talk to them for more than an hour about their curtain designs because you have a major surgery scheduled tomorrow and you need to make a will before it, they will look at you in this hurt way that says they're disappointed in you, you've let them down. After all, it's not like they're asking you for anything major. Just a simple little thing. You've always done it before. What's wrong this time? Have they done something to offend you? Don't you like them anymore? At which point, of course, you cave in and say, fine, fine, I'll come and hold your hand while you have "I love Momma" tattooed on your left buttock. No, that's all right, never mind about the opera tickets. This will be just as much fun.
Of course, people will tell you that there's joy in giving, that one mustn't think only of oneself. I completely agree with this. And I'd be quite happy, on the whole, to make sacrifices for people I truly love or care for - to help them out in any way I can, even if it means a significant inconvenience to myself. Ironically, though, these are precisely the people who are the most reluctant to take advantage of me - they approach me for help only when there's no other way, they're careful not to make a habit of it. It's complete strangers (or people I actively abhor and therefore make it a point to be excruciatingly polite to) with whom the simplest little good deed gets instantly magnified into a lifelong commitment of bonded labour. And that's what I object to.
Looking back, I probably would have survived the occassional joint. God knows I've been sozzled out of my mind with alcohol often enough - I don't suppose the occassional drug high would have done me that much harm. If there's one temptation I truly regret giving in to, it's this urge to do random acts of kindness. So the next time someone offers you a drag, think about it (though if he's offering it to you freely he's probably a narc in disguise). But the next time someone comes up to you and asks you for help - Just Say NO.