Right Thing Hard to Do? Do it Anyway…

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” — a cynic

A quick Google search failed to give attribution to the person who originally came up with this saying, but I’m pretty sure most of us have heard it and / or used it on numerous occasions. So – I just attributed the saying to a “generic” cynic.

If we were to take the saying’s content literally, we would ALWAYS expect to get punished for doing good deeds. And, if we were rational beings, we would then (using the learning from the “never put your hand on a hot stove twice” experience) stop doing good deeds. What a sad, sad place it would be if that was to happen.

Recent Punishment for One of My Good Deeds

Unfortunately, I’m suffering from an experience where some of my “good deeds” have fit into the category of “causing punishment” for me.

While I won’t go into all the details (I honor the confidentiality that is central to the work I do), suffice it to say that I felt as if I should have shown up recently at a client wearing a “whiplash collar.” The context switching in this situation was abrupt and, well, unfortunate.

Now, I need to be accountable here. I know I risked “punishment” due to my approach. I knew I was reaching into some sacred space when I started addressing the organization’s issues related to what I saw as “doing the right thing” (accountability, fairness, integrity) — but I went there anyway.

Turns out I awakened a bear, or two, or three… The good news is the organization GOT CLEAR — and realized they were not interested in continuing to be “subjected to” my philosophies of leadership and decision making. Fair enough — the world is a big place, not everyone is destined to successfully work together, and my ego doesn’t need me to be the smartest person in the room.

So, I was released. But — as a consultant I knew I had been successful in helping my client get clear, to be aligned, and to get focused — even if it was a result of my self-described good deeds being the cause of my punishment.

Oh, and as I’ve gotten older, I realize that there’s learning available in every situation — if I wait long enough to squeeze out the lesson. Much as my ego would like to “think” that “I’m right” most of the time, that’s irrelevant. The more important lesson is this — what can I learn as a result of this situation and my role in it? That’s FAR more powerful and beneficial than assigning blame, or pointing fingers.

Why risk punishment for doing good deeds?

Because — I only have one way of operating. I try to do the right thing, always, in every situation.

Always. Even in situations where others might say, “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business…” To me there’s no difference. It’s the same — what you do personally is what you do in business, and vice versa. I do not subscribe to the theory of “situational ethics” (a term that gained popularity during president Clinton’s impeachment). Is there a difference between what happens behind closed doors and things deemed “business” or “presidential?” No, not in my mind.

However, I learned the lesson (again) that different people can have wildly differing views of “what’s right.” That said, using the deep resonance of enlightenment, self-actualization, and esoteric philosophy, it’s pretty clear what’s “right” to me when it comes to leading people: 1) Provide basic dignity, 2) Establish the opportunity to meet clear and reasonable expectations, 3) And then, and only then, enforce specific consequences when and if the person should fail to succeed.

Now I know no one can “enlighten” someone else — it doesn’t work that way. All we can do is choose to do the right thing — even if it’s likely to fail — and hope that we are demonstrating an example of a better, more excellent approach to things.

Time will tell — but all of history’s most powerful teachers (MLK, Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, etc.) have been calling us out to do the right thing — even (or especially) when it’s hard.

What do you think?

“Anyway” by Martina McBride

About six or seven years ago, a song called “Anyway” by Martina McBride summed up my feelings about all of this pretty well. Here’s a YouTube video of her singing it at the 2006 Country Music Awards.

(I’d properly attribute it — with all the right copyright notices, but to my chagrin the video looks to be a pirate copy. So — hopefully the copyright police will give me a pass on this — and call it “fair use” as I am not looking for any commercial benefit by sharing the video.)

Also — I’ve copied the lyrics to the song below. They’re pretty amazing.

So… When you’re faced with a difficult choice, where doing the right thing may be hard, and you may be assured of some level (or total) failure, do it anyway.

The right thing is always the right thing to do. Always.



by Martina McBride

You can spend your whole life buildin’
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway

You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

God is great but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray
It doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This worlds gone crazy
And it’s hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway

You can love someone with all YOUR heart
For all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away
love em anyway

God is great but sometimes life aint good
And when I pray
It doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
Yeah I do it anyway, yeah,

You can pour your soul out singin’
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yeah sing it anyway, yeah, yeah

I sing
I dream
I love anyway, yeah.

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