They say no good deed goes unpunished.
But I’ve never really understood that sentiment.
First, because it implies a victim mentality, like you are somehow at the mercy of the world, and you’re the martyr of chance and circumstance (anyone can find evidence to make that claim in their lives; I personally find that I get much less done, and am a lot less content when I do). And also because it sounds kind of like an excuse to just never try.
But mostly, just because it doesn’t make sense.
That’s because it assumes the world can be broken into “good” and “bad”, deeds or otherwise.
Anyone acting upon the assumption that they are doing a “good deed” is mistaken. Your deed of picking up garbage is no better than the guy’s action when he put it there or the next guy who throws a piece down in that same place tomorrow.
Ultimately, those are just concepts we attach to things, like teaching kids colors of the rainbow, or apples versus oranges. It’s a tool to get through life, to some extent, but it doesn’t actually help people when they use it against others and themselves– which is basically the most frequent way we use it as adults.
In reality, IT IS WHAT IT IS.
I used to hate that saying. Now, I live with it and love it.
It is what it is, and all labels of good or bad, nice or evil, are simply manufactured systems of the mind. You can think war is the most evil thing in the world, and you can ask people on either side, and both will point the finger at the other. One country is evil according to a neighbor, and their neighbor will tell you just as vehemently that the title of evil belongs squarely on the shoulders of the first.
How to determine who’s truly the evil one? Take it to the polls? Number of casualties? Gallons of blood shed?… Come on.
Labels are an attempt of the human mind to make sense of a universe it can’t quite comprehend. Once you comprehend that, you’re golden.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean never take action, or to stop taking pride in what you do.
In my experience, it means the exact opposite.
You do everything out of love of doing what you’re doing; and nothing with expectation in return. That way, you cannot lose. It’s impossible.
If you’re clear that your intention is only love, and only to do something for the sake of the act itself, with no regard for the outcome, then you can observe whatever appears to happen after your action, as simply part of the bigger plan, nothing personal, and nothing which fails according to your heightened expectations of what would happen as the upshot of your deepest sacrifice.
If you want to pick up garbage, good for you. Do it happily. Just for the sake of picking shit up and making the world around you a little more aesthetically-appealing. It’s a nice feeling.
And you can thank the guy who threw the can, for allowing you that experience.
If that’s what you want to be doing, there’s no reason not to be happy in that moment. And there’s no reason to judge the person who threw it down.
(What would you do if no one put that garbage on the grass; then how would you ever feel like god’s gift to the world? 😉 )
If you do things with an expectation of a return or reward, or things going “your way”, it will be easy to buy into the idea that no good deed goes unpunished. You can look all around and find examples of things where people thought they were doing “the right thing”, and then it appeared to blow up in their faces.
That’s because they made the mistake of thinking they were doing something good in the first place.
And also because they were using the single thing in the world which was within their power–their thoughts or actions– in an attempt to control something they could not: the world, other people, random events.
It sounds like a plan for disaster to me.
So instead, use those things in service of the only thing that always works: yourself.
If you’re looking for reward beyond the action itself, you’re doing it wrong.
Do things (“good” or otherwise) because you want to do them, not because you see yourself as “doing a good deed”. Or that you expect something out of it.
Chances are, you won’t get it. Or the outcome will be less than desired, or much different. In life, there are no guarantees, except for the way you make yourself feel.
This may sound pessimistic, but it’s not. It’s actually optimistic and completely freeing, when you finally realize that your ability to feel good lies solely on your shoulders; and can’t be found in what anyone else says or does.
This puts the power back on you; and you can stop giving it away in an attempt to make an impossible barter for something that someone else can never fully promise.
Personally, I just live life as an experiment. I do things (or not) because I want to and I see what happens. It’s like an on-going lab experiment; and whatever the outcome, I’ve come to find, that it really is all good.
The “goodness” you so desperately seek is only in how you feel when you’re acting– not in the outcome itself (which, by the way, is just an imaginary construct… what’s the ultimate outcome? Death? Whatever seems to be an outcome in one moment, swiftly becomes the path to another outcome the next).
When it comes down to it, each and every moment of your life, how you feel about yourself is all that counts. It’s the only thing you know for sure, the only thing you can control, and the only way in which you know whether what you are doing is right or not.
Not how much outside praise or appreciation you do or don’t receive upon doing it.
That will change like the wind. Your inner climate is the only constant in this lifetime. So start working with that, and leave the things alone that you can’t control.
You’ve been attempting to fly a rocket ship this whole time, when you’ve only got your driver’s license. You don’t even know whether or not to push the red button.
[Don’t push the red button… Okay, go ahead. What’s the worst that could–]
Your entire life, you perform an infinite series of small actions, which are neither good or bad. There is no such thing as punishment; simply cause and effect.
The fascinating thing when you live your life with this understanding, is that you realize everything happens for you, and not to you.
If something happens which appears to me at first to be what I did not want, I go deeper, beyond my initial reaction (even if it’s just red cheeks, a pounding heart, and the feeling I’m about to die on the spot from internal combustion) to see the way I can learn from it.
When you do something that you think is good, and what you perceive as the effect is something “bad”, why not think of it another way? I tend to think of it as free schooling.
(Do you know how much tuition costs? That’s a gift right there.)
The onus is not upon anyone else to exhibit a particular reaction to your deed, so don’t look there unless you want to spend your life chasing your tail (or somebody else’s). You do one thing, someone else responds with how they see it. And it’s always an equal exchange.
It’s not the world’s job to look at you with greatness for what you’ve done, good, bad or otherwise. The best and only thing you can do is act in accordance with what you want for yourself, and for others.
And the rest is out of your hands.
Which isn’t a bad thing once you accept it.
In fact, it’s a gift.
(No strings attached.)