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Does it pay to be Good?

I just got off the phone with one of my closest friends and I am left questioning whether or not it pays off to be a good person.  Being a Buddhist, part of the belief structure is that not only does Karma exist but even if it did not we should still all strive to be good and right.  Even in Christianity and Judaism, in fact most religions are based upon some construct involving this same tenant.  Do good and act right or face the consequences.  But is this really practical? Does it actually work out this way in reality?.  I am not so sure anymore.

My friend is an awesome person. He is kind, loving, talented, attractive and amazingly considerate.  He would much rather hurt himself than hurt someone else.  I find all of these qualities amazing and unique but he is still fighting depression and a lack of self-esteem and self-worth.  As I have been struggling with the same thing, we have had many conversations of this nature but this one left me particularly despondent.  He told me that he no longer believed in Karma or even that people got what they deserved whether it be good or bad.  That from what he had learned over the years bad people got away with hurting good people and that they were happier despite their actions.  He believed that no matter how much good we do or how well we try to act inevitably we will still be hurt and most likely be screwed over by all the bad people in the world. His question to me being, so what is the point? Yikes.

I wanted to say something deep, profound, poignant and wise but I was rendered temporarily speechless.  For once I could not honestly argue the point.  I suddenly recalled a conversation that I had with my brother several months ago.  I had called my brother, who lives in the Cayman Islands, distraught.  It was shortly after my break up and I was asking him whether or not I had deserved what was happening to me.  I had chosen my brother to question about this because the nature of our relationship would lend itself to brutal honesty and I wanted an unbiased opinion.  Given that my brother waits for me to make mistakes so that he can point them out, I knew I would get the unadulterated truth.  The conversation that ensued was nothing short of a typical conversation with my brother, all logic and no emotions.  His wise words were something to the effect that bad people do bad things to good people because that is what they do. He said that there was no way that I deserved what was happening but that was beside the point. I was involved with a bad person and he did a bad thing.  That was it.  Nothing deep and profound just you got screwed by someone because they are lacking, not you.  I guess it made me feel better?

It seemed that I had been a frog.

As I tried to gather my thoughts in order to tell my friend something positive, I recalled all the situations in which I had witnessed Karma.  I recounted as many as I could to him so that perhaps he would have some faith that all his good deeds and kind behaviour would eventually be rewarded.  As I attempted to demonstrate this, I felt somewhat fake.  Given all my recent experiences I had a very hard time convincing someone that being good IS the point.  After all, I had been destroyed by someone’s actions and he is not effected in the slightest.  I have not even received an apology and he was supported by his entire immediate family in his actions.  He left the country and is apparently quite happy in South Korea.  He does not miss his animals, he does not think about the children we could have had, nothing.  So the question still remained, does it really pay to be good?  Is there a point to always acting appropriately and kindly?  Or are we just fooling ourselves?

My friend also said that he would rather be blissfully ignorant right now than knowledgable and miserable.  He said that maybe all these people who are living in denial and delusion are better off than we are.  It has become such a hard topic for me to argue.  I used to think that being intelligent and self-aware were blessings.  I used to think that Karma was a universal law.  You get back whatever you put out. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  But in a world where people can hurt each other so deeply and commit such heinous crimes against one another, all the while never having to face the consequences is this universal law obsolete?  And if it is what IS the point? Does it really pay to be good?

I hope that it does.  I HAVE to believe that it does.

“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.” – Buddha