Never go unpunished, or so Oscar Wilde wrote. Oscar was the master of verbal gymnastics and this may seem to be just another of his bon-bon mots for flippant consumption. But let us turn the grim chemistry of modern psycho analysis upon it. A little work and we can harvest the guilt and bitter regret.
First question: What exactly is a good deed? Before you mention helping old ladies across the street or some such, try for a more general definition. Is it a deed that creates good, harvests good, shares good? Or is it a deed that looks good from the outside? How good is it, and where does the goodness reside?
Remember that corn flakes and Indian ponzi schemes are all referred to as being full of goodness, so the very word may be more elastic than we would like to admit.
I like to think that the goodness of the deed resides in the intention of the performer – not in the results for the recipient. The old lady who is now safely across the 10-lane freeway may actually have been on the right side at the start of the affair – and be left in terrible danger if the good deedist walks off whistling and carefree – but the goodness of the deed was nevertheless performed, and the next deed resets the mechanism.
Second question: Is a bad deed ever good? Some people think sex is a bad deed but I know people who would welcome being sinned against. They would accept being sinned against a gasworks fence in the rain, repeatedly, if the opportunity presented, and I cannot say I disagree with them. Bad for one, good for another.
Third question: If a good deed turns bad and a bad deed turns good, what shall we say about deeds that are neither? Washing your dishes in the sink is a pretty innocuous sort of activity. Do it and you have clean dishes, don’t do it and you have dirty ones – but there’s no moral judgement either way. Breakfast may taste odd if you never wash the porridge bowl but if you are the only one eating it, who cares?
So good deeds, their rewards or punishment, shall have to remain up in the air. Had the AKRON, MACON, or CITY OF LOS ANGELES been able to sustain this healthy attitude we would not be in the mess we are in now.