Does Doing Good Things Make You a Bad Person?

However naïve, abstract, or idealistic it may seem, I believe in karma. The whole “what goes around comes around” mentality is comforting. It is reassuring to think that the universe or some other outside force takes into account the type of behavior, good or bad, and provides a fitting reward or punishment.

People experience karma all the time. I can recall countless instances when I stopped myself from doing something because I thought it would give me bad karma. Over the sumHomeless_Manmer, I accidentally walked out of a store wearing a bracelet I had tried on. While it was only $10 and I was embarrassed to go back and explain what happened I told myself that something bad would be coming come my way if I didn’t. Likewise, I’ve done kind things hoping for something in return. On my way to an exam, for example, I stopped and gave a dollar to a man who I pass everyday on the same street corner. Usually, I walk past him without a second thought, but on that day, he caught my attention. And it paid off; I got an A on the exam.

Returning the bracelet and helping the man put my mind at ease, as it usually does when I listen to my karmic conscience. My actions were making the world just a tiny bit better. So I should feel good about myself, right? If you asked me before we studied Hobbes, I would say yes. Afterwards, I wasn’t so sure. Hobbes believed that everything humans do is selfish, including seemingly altruistic actions. In essence, people do good things to make themselves feel better or for reward. For example, I perform good deeds in order to feel better.

My-Name-is-Earl

In My Name is Earl, Earl tries to right his wrongs because he fears that his bad actions in the past gave him bad karma

This idea of selfishness even in the most unselfish of situations is hard to ignore. I began to fear that Hobbes was right, and my whole concept of karma was skewed. Merriam-Webster defines karma as “the force created by a person’s actions that some people believe causes good or bad things to happen to that person.” There are two key components to this definition. Emphasis on one half over the other can help classify karma as altruistic or selfish. If we focus only on a person’s actions then we can see the beneficial results of people doing good things. However, if we look at the belief that it causes good or bad things to happen to that person, it is seems that people only do things because they want to be rewarded. Doing something kind or morally right also gives a special kind of satisfaction, and that is reward in itself for many. Hobbes would support the explanation including rewards and results. People who do good deeds aren’t doing them solely to help others, rather for the benefits that come with it.

tumblr_m6k7knLU1z1qjumyqo1_500So, is karma a selfish concept?Yes. But does that mean that people should stop believing in it? No. It still makes people do good things and help others. It shouldn’t matter what someone’s motives are, as long as their actions are good and kind.

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6 comments

  1. mollygrant41 · November 17, 2014

    I really liked your post. I believe that people do good things because not only do they believe that it is the right thing to do, but they are acting out of goodwill and hoping to make the world a better place. I don’t think that they simply do good things just to “increase their belief” that something good will happen to them in return. Personally, I don’t give much attention to karma, but I agree, if they are doing something that benefits society, then by all means perform good deeds in society. With the Christmas season coming up, I will be looking out to see how people react to all the giving and good cheer.

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  2. kevingay3 · November 17, 2014

    I thought that this post was interesting to read. First, I like how you contrasted your experience of giving money to the man as karma with your giving of the money as a way to make yourself feel better. There is an interesting article I once read contrasting the morals of Harvey Dent and the morals of Batman, saying that Harvey Dent did things in order to make himself look better to the people of Gotham, whereas Batman’s concealing of his own identity leads him to using a different set of morals, one in which he does things simply because they are good. As far as karma goes, I do not think it’s true and I actually think Machiavelli makes a pretty good case as to karma being nonexistent, but I do agree that karma may be a good ideology for society to follow because it will yield more positive results.

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  3. benlangt · November 17, 2014

    I found this post to be very reflective of societal actions. Today, you often see people donating money to various groups after committing some wrongdoing in hopes of improving their current predicament. It is hard for me to say if karma is 100% selfish because you could be doing something for someone else in the process of doing an action for yourself. When I think about whether or not karma plays a significant role in my life, I would probably have to say no. I usually do not deviate from my daily actions because I feel doing some particular action might help me obtain something I desire. Sometimes I ask myself if karma even exists, and that in actuality everyone is playing a psychological game with themselves. In relation to Hobbes, I do not feel all human actions are selfish. Every day people do things for others because they feel it’s more important for others to be satisfied than themselves. However, no one can guarantee that positive actions will lead to positive outcomes and vice versa.

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  4. ethanmartin95 · November 18, 2014

    This is a very thought provoking article. Just as you have second guessed yourself, I have as well. Am I actually helping people to help them? Or am I doing it for some selfish reason? This sounds terrible but I have to admit, sometimes I do nice things in hopes someone is watching. Don’t get me wrong, I like helping people, but there is a bonus when someone acknowledges your sympathies. Everyone likes to receive compliments because we like the 5 second stardom it gives you. But even if no one is watching, is it selfish to do nice things for someone to make yourself feel good? Maybe it is. I like helping people not only to make someones day better, but also because it makes me feel better. I feel awful saying this but perhaps I am not a nice guy. Maybe, as Hobbes would (partly) say, I am a self interested jerk. I still want to help people but I am definitely going to be thinking about what my motivations are the next time this happens.

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  5. aricerq · November 18, 2014

    I too believe in Karma, just the other week on game day I took a donut that didn’t belong to me, and wouldn’t you know, just a few minutes later I tripped on a curb and cut my chin. That’s karma if you ask me! I thought your post was very creative, and it wasn’t something I had thought about before. You should know though, that just because Hobbes had a theory about human nature, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s right. Personally, I disagree with the idea that we only do good things for selfish reasons, I think that we often do kind things at our own expense. And even if he was right, as you said at the end, at least at the end of the day two people are benefitting from the action, and I don’t think thats selfish at all.

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  6. jmd96 · November 18, 2014

    I absolutely fell in love with this blog. I loved your personal encounters, that led you to good karma. I believe that while karma is a thing, most people do good things purely to help someone else. Just the feeling of helping someone should be more than enough than waiting for some sort of good karma to help. This being said, I think that us doing good things only for us is wrong. If we start to look at it like this, then we would start to be criticized for doing good things. I think that even if some people are doing good things just for the attention, they are still doing good things and impacting other peoples lives. I feel that good karma will come slower to those that flaunt their good deed as to those who do them for other people. In the end i thought your blog was very interesting. I never really linked those two things together when thinking about Hobbes. It challenged my mind and I in return thank you for that.

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