No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The common turn of phrase, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, is the epitome of bad press for More Good Deeds. And, more to the point, it’s not true! This idiom is often used sarcastically when someone does the right thing but their morality is criticised or results in something unfortunate happening to them. This can be a small event such as helping a trapped animal which then bites or scratches you as it is set free, or something much larger such as offering your spare bedroom to a friend whose house burnt down only for them to burn down your house too. Ok, perhaps in some way you are being ‘punished’ but it’s not because you showed kindness. And even if it is some bizarre karmic retribution, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have done the good deed in the first place because it remains the right thing to have done.


Those who say this phrase sometimes consider their ‘good actions’ in the past to have gone unappreciated or been received with hostility. Admittedly, this does sometimes happen but living your life as if this phrase always rings true would lead to a very lonely, embittered existence. Some good deeds do come back to bite you but the majority don’t and this saying shouldn’t discourage you from doing your good deeds. These acts of kindness shouldn’t be motivated by your desire for praise or gratitude anyway; they should be performed simply because in doing so, you are making the world a better place.


Back in 2010, when I was in Cambodia, I was waiting in heavy traffic in an open sided tuk tuk in the middle of the capital city. It wasn’t long before the street children spotted the ‘barangs’ (white people) and made their way over to ask for some money. I, in a moment of weakness, fished out a 100 riel note from my bag, the equivalent of about 2.5¢, and handed it over. Ok, 2.5¢ is not a lot of money, I grant you, but in Cambodia, it will go a surprisingly long way. The child, who didn’t appear to be more than six years old but with malnourishment could easily have been nine or ten, took the money, looked at it and threw it back in the tuk tuk, telling me to “f**k off” as he did. His mates laughed and they went on their way, leaving me red-faced and vowing never to give money to homeless people again.


This is a personal example of no good deed going unpunished but, for the most part, my good deeds have been rewarded or at least positively received. I hope this is what most people in our More Good Deeds community experience too. Although some people might be reluctant to accept or acknowledge help, for the most part, our random acts of kindness are small and gratefully received. It can be difficult to admit when we need help and those people who become defensive in these moments can ‘punish’ the person trying to help them. It’s understandable, if a little hurtful. But as good people, we should recognise that any anger or hostility is directed not at us but the situation; we just happen to be getting in the way.


As well as referring to poorly received individual acts of kindness, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ can be used in criticism of bureaucratic measures which make it difficult for us do-gooders. For example, if you wanted to help homeless people and decided to set up a soup kitchen, you would be ‘punished’ with the endless reams of paperwork required and the licenses you would need to work to obtain before you were ‘legally’ allowed to hand out food. If you forewent the licenses and the paperwork, you could see yourself facing a hefty fine; ergo, a punished good deed. I’m not saying underground, unlicensed food stations are the answer. But I do agree that it should be made easier to set up agencies working for good and that governments should encourage individuals to do these things rather than put them off with piles of admin.


So perhaps we should be more careful to pick and choose our good deeds. I won’t be giving any more money to begging children, for example. And if you’re considering starting something more substantial to help, be sure to understand everything local authorities require before you begin. But most of the good deeds we promote and those which are shared in our app are the kinds of acts which people are grateful for – returning a forgotten coat, helping an elderly person across the road, giving directions to a tourist. Who can get angry at these little gestures which make the world a little bit brighter, a little bit nicer?


Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.