What are the wages of purity, naivete and an excessive love of mankind? One naturally assumes a person who upholds a virtuous body, mind, and soul will be generously rewarded. Those who live a life of genuine sacrifice and honest humility grace our existence. These angelic humans are rare models of good moral beings.
Yet, the cynical twist of an old saying may be closer to the truth: "No good deed goes unpunished." Because life is often cruelly unjust, those who help others may suffer for their unselfish concern.
Don't we usually find that regardless of a person's positive, pure intentions in being compassionate and thoughtful, someone else misinterprets these actions and feels threatened? Then, that person who feels endangered attempts to negate the results of the praiseworthy acts of kindness.
Science fiction author Robert Heinlein's unusually long-lived fictional character Lazarus Long observes in one story, "Good intentions are no substitute for knowing how the buzz saw works." And, isn't it true that things are often not as simple as they look at first glance? Many well-meaning but naive people have become mangled in the blade of that dangerous machine.
This may become evident as you read Franklin P. Adams' poem illustrating this sad principle.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Shines a Good Deed in a Naughty World)
By Franklin P. Adams
There was a man in our town who had King Midas’ touch;
He gave away his millions to the colleges and such;
And people cried: “The hypocrite! He ought to understand
The ones who really need him are the children of this land!”
When Andrew Croesus built a home for children who were sick,
The people said they rather thought he did it as a trick,
And writers said: “He thinks about the drooping girls and boys,
But what about conditions with the men whom he employs?”
There was a man in our town who said that he would share
His profits with his laborers, for that was only fair,
And people said: “Oh, isn’t he the shrewd and foxy gent?
It cost him next to nothing for that free advertisement!”
There was a man in our town who had the perfect plan
To do away with poverty and other ills of man,
But he feared the public jeering, and the folks who would defame him,
So he never told the plan he had, and I can hardly blame him.
Even the Bible supports the discordant idea that rewards for good deeds are not deserved. Instead, the good book teaches that eternal rewards are gifts of divine grace, having no human merit of their own. These eternal rewards are the crowning piece of God's salvation by grace. God empowers us for good works, then He rewards us for the good works He has brought about in us. In themselves, our righteous acts are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), but God chooses to purify them in His own sight and honor them with His reward. The whole sequence is of grace.
I don't believe this means we shouldn't attempt to live the most virtuous life we can. Since human kindness and love foster the best temporal existence, we should always do good deeds. But, those who are most obedient to high principles understand they will likely live a thankless life and, at times a painful, existence.
The nature of humans is to desire tangible rewards. We work hard for attainment of these rewards, and we feel satisfied by reaping more and more complex benefits and acquiring more and more valuable possessions. Human needs drive us along the path to acquisition of these symbolic returns.
Consider psychologist Abraham Maslow's famous Hierarchy of Needs (1943). This hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs. the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. The levels of needs are grouped bottom to top as “Physiological, Safety, Love and Belongingness, Esteem, and Self-actualization.”
Maslow believed while deficiency needs must be met, growth needs are continually shaping behavior. The basic concept is that the higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus once all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are mainly or entirely satisfied. Growth forces create upward movement in the hierarchy, whereas regressive forces push prepotent (predominant) needs further down the hierarchy.
In truth, how many of us attain a significant number of satisfied needs to reach the highest level of Self-actualization? Once at that top level, how many of us attain Self-actualization and transcendence?
Who manages to do all of the following? Who realizes their personal potential, experiences completeness of self-fulfillment, and constantly seeks personal growth and peak experiences? Perhaps you do. Or perhaps you know a few of these pure, loving, generous souls who do; however, even you and I realize that those at the top are often scrutinized and scorned for their lofty behavior.
My Take – Why Good Deeds Are Often Punished
So, ultimately this all leads to my point in this post.
I believe even though people are both intrinsically and naturally good, evil and destructive behavior can be attributed to society (those things learned in a particular time and place), especially when society causes the self to deny its own potential for growth and expression.
The greatest strength of an individual is based on the maximum integration of potential with his personality, and that means also on the maximum of transparency to himself. "Know thyself" is one of the fundamental commands that aims at the goals of ultimate human strength and happiness.
As Erich Fromm stated:
“It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities.”
Fromm contended that there is only one truly social orientation, namely the one of solidarity with human kind. Social cohesion within the group, combined with antagonism to the outsider, is not social feeling but “extended egotism.”
And, Lord knows, egotism thrives on devouring easy prey – the naive and the sincerely altruistic. Altruism, the moral philosophy in which it is argued that moral decisions should be based upon the interests or well-being of others rather than on self-interest, is directly opposed to ethical egoism, the belief that one ought to do what is in one' s own self-interest.
The new credo for success is no longer “know how,” but rather just “know.” The Christian values of humility are no longer effective traits in social society. Instead great numbers of people believe they must keep pushing themselves above the crowd to have a chance of snatching valuable attention. One sure way to do that these days is to question and attack the deeds of others, especially the good actions that people do for no apparent purpose.
Of course, we must give thanks that not every good deed is punished – the phrase is rhetorical and used to make a point. Yet, in the eyes of God, doing good is not about keeping score. We should accept the responsibility of doing good for its own sake.
As we are honest with ourselves, we understand that life is not necessarily fair. No law, man-made or natural, renders prosperity for goodness just as no law demands poverty for evil. Those rare humans who attempt to maintain a virtuous body, mind, and soul acquire their esteem and self-actualization for their commitments to the solidarity of human kind, not for self gain or for gratification from a particular group.