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Being Good Sucks
"I'm not the man that killed President Luthor. Right now, I wish to Heaven that I were, but I'm not."
Superman, Justice League Unlimited

You can't spell sympathetic without pathetic!

If being good were as easy as most cartoons make it out to be, everyone would be a saint. Truth is, sometimes Being Good Sucks. Doing the right thing doesn't always feel good, is hard to pull off, and is often very painful, sometimes even harmful, to yourself and others. Being good requires a Heroic Sacrifice, keeping your word, and thinking of others before yourself. It means swallowing your pride, owning up to and apologizing for your mistakes. Oh, and it also means doing the above without expecting a reward (even a spoken thank you), refusing one if offered, and most ego-crushing, accepting the punishment for being good.

The variations are endless, but below is a condensed catalog of horrors that will make you doubt in the Auto-Revive of Crystal Dragon Jesus.

At times, it can lock characters into Status Quo Is God, where success requires an evil action, making winning and staying good impossible.

On the other side of the fence, this crops up when Evil Feels Good. Often applies to a Heel-Face Turn character, or the Bad Ass of the team who laments that they have to save somebody they hate from a burning building, or they don't get to kill their most hated enemy, all because of a stupid oath they took.

In a Crapsack World, not only does Good Feel Crappy, but it will eventually destroy you, your soul, and everything and everyone you love and care about. Granted, usually there's a reason behind that, like, say, Redemption Equals Death— for everyone involved. At least these characters get to go to the inky Nothing After Death knowing they lived a life of principles which was cut tragically short, changed nothing and on the whole made many other people suffer more than just ducking his head would have. Still, most authors will at least throw them a bone and have the Pyrrhic Victory lean towards the Bittersweet Ending end of things, bringing some good out of all the suffering, or showing the villain Lonely at the Top. No promises though.

Contrast Being Evil Sucks. Also, see Downer Ending, or, if you're lucky, Earn Your Happy Ending. Compare No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, where the good action (rather than the process of being good) is what gets the characters in trouble. May result in someone expressing Sympathy for the Hero. Contrast Karma Houdini Warranty, where trying to turn over a new leaf can bring down heaven's wrath.This is one way people become an Iron Woobie or a Knight in Sour Armor, depending on whether the suffering is taken with quiet dignity or grumpy complaining.

Of course, there are many instances in real life in which being good doesn't suck that much. Scientifically, deeds perceived as good entail social recognition and approval, and bad deeds entail reprisal. Justice is one of the fundamental evolutionary imperatives that allows human society to function coherently; we may not all be saints, but we're not all lawless murderers. And especially when you haven't got superpowers, it's usually more profitable to abide by society's rules. At least unless you just so happen to be a Villain with Good Publicity...


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • Anpanman. Sometimes feeding the hungry means getting your head chewed apart on a daily basis.
  • Fushigi Yuugi. Being the Priestess sucks. Sure you get 3 wishes, and people bow down to you. But, either you use your wishes solely for the good of others (with the possible exception of making one specifically to get home safely) and put up with Virgin Power in a Cast Full of Pretty Boys deterring your love life, or you are consumed body and soul by the Beast God you summon if you fail this Secret Test of Character.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica pounds this trope in excessively. Sayaka's attempt at being a moral crusader backfires and the strain of fighting as a Magical Girl while not getting what she wanted causes her sanity to start leaking down the drain. The ending also qualifies, as Madoka's tradeoff for saving magical girls from their inevitable fate was being erased from existence
  • Jean from Attack on Titan, comes to realize this after joining the Survey Corps. Doing the right thing, in this case, involves giving up his shot at a comfortable life in order to regularly risk his life fighting Titans. He readily admits that it sucks, while remaining resolute in his decision.

    Comics 
  • Spider-Man. Come on, everyone he gets close to dies (Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy), gets critically injured (Aunt May, Betty Brant), goes insane (Harry Osborn, Dr. Connors), and he still is the best of the good guys .
    • Spider-Man is the best of the good guys because he always has the option of walking away. He can just throw away his costume and live in obscurity whenever he chooses, but he doesn't. He accepts that the good he does is worth the price he pays and fights the good fight. It's slightly masochistic, really.
    • More like he's always reminded by fate every time he goes off course. Just remember when he gets the dark suit (in all instances, comic, cartoon, movie) and just lets his impulses go a bit. Then, when he decided to make money with his new powers, Ben dies. And so on. He tried to be, if not bad, at least something else than saintly, and it all blew up in his face most disproportional to his "crime".
      • He's sacrificed everything he is on multiple occasions, one might as well call this trope Being Spider-Man Sucks.
      • At best, when he retired he was followed by an idealistic fan who got her powers through mystic ritual and dressed up as Spider-Man to keep up with the name. Peter ended up taking back his name and she became Spider-Woman when she failed and Peter had to save her.
    • Of course, you have the simplest of his problems, crime fighting doesn't pay the rent, and keeping a steady job while savings peoples lives is at times completely impossible.
  • Daredevil is possibly the best example of this trope. His life as both a crime-fighter and lawyer have caused endless tragedy in his life. Being good sucks but it really, really sucks when You're named Matt Murdock.
  • The X-Men protect a world that fears and hates them.
  • Before the X-Men, there was Doom Patrol. The world thinks they're freaks, the other superheroes think they're too strange, and they have the highest fatality rate of any hero team in the DCU. No less than three of the team's incarnations have been killed off.
  • This could apply to almost every superhero at one time or another, even Superman. Sure, he has much better publicity than Spider-Man except for the government conspiracy that wants to kill him and all of his people and most of his friends and family are still around (except for Pa Kent), but deep down he really just wants to be Clark Kent. And like Spider-Man, he could just leave the Superman identity behind and live his life — if he could ignore the screams for help his super hearing picks up every minute of every day. One of the reasons he's a hero is that he can't. Being Superman may earn him a lot of adulation and respect, but he would probably be happier without it.
  • This is one of the major themes of Sin City. Every protagonist goes through crap and sometimes has to forfeit his life in order to do the right thing.
  • Batman is full of this. At any point he could give up his identity and live the easy life as Bruce Wayne. And he keeps going. Against a Monster Clown who embodies everything he hates, along with some of the most bizarre enemies any hero could have, but his determination and borderline insanity has kept him fighting, even going as far as to go toe-to-toe with a god. He died, he got better, then he franchised. Robin and the rest of the Batfamily tend to go through this as well, but the extent varies from character to character. This is not to say that some of them get off easy, but some get even worse than the others. The recurring theme of the Batman and Batfamily books is generally about determination and staying true to your ideals in the face of the worse.
  • John Constantine the Hellblazer isn't a good guy always, being a Knight in Sour Armor. But when there's a time that he's being a goody-good shoes, the world fucks him. Not only that, his friends, that sometimes joins him in his goodly crusades, gets fucked too.
  • The opening narration of Forever Evil Issue 1, provided courtesy of Lex Luthor, takes this tone. Of course, this changes by the end of the issue when the Crime Syndicate takes charge.

    Film 
  • Casablanca. Pretty much every main character gets this at some point during the movie, and Rick gets it CONSTANTLY. All three of the primaries make (or try to make) absolute soul-crushing personal sacrifices for the greater good, and as often as not, it hardly matters. They all get a roughly happy ending, but none of them get what they want, or deserve.
  • John McClane of Die Hard lives this trope. Over the course of all five movies, his wife has divorced him, his adult children are distant from him, and he simply finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at all times. His fellow officers don't seem to care much for him, he's nearly an alcoholic, he's bitter, alone, and depressed, yet time after time, he continues to save the day simply because he's "that guy", as he puts it in his own words.
  • Referenced in Star Wars: "Is the dark side stronger?" "No, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive."
  • In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy refuses Glenn's advances because they were there for Tina's benefit and needed to behave themselves. Later, Glenn hears Tina and Rod having loud, enthusiastic sex in the room above him. He sighs and says "morality sucks."
  • Metro Man in Megamind, which led to him faking his own death so that he could finally get a chance to live his own life.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow learned this lesson long before the movies began. Though his father was a high-ranking pirate, Jack tried to find legitimate work as a merchant in the East India Trade Company. Then one day he discovered his cargo was slaves, whom he freed. His employer at the time Cutler Beckett branded Jack as a pirate and sank his ship. Ever since then Jack has tried his best to live for himself and only himself. Unfortunately he can't always ignore his conscience...and when he does follow it he usually ends up suffering for it.
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Doniphon sacrifices his One True Love (and credit for killing the titular character) for the sake of winning US statehood of an unnamed Western state.

    Literature 
  • Discussed a lot in Night Watch: the protagonist constantly wonders if it is really worth being good if all he does is angst about not being able to do more.
  • It's a fairly well-known fact that Granny Weatherwax is good only reluctantly. She has stated that she only became the Good One because her sister usurped her chance to be the Bad One. In Maskerade Granny gets an entire speech about all the things she could do if she'd just let herself be Bad, but sadly admits that when you know the difference between Right and Wrong you can't choose Wrong.
  • Harry Dresden's life would be one hell of a lot easier if he wasn't so prone to trying to save people. Additionally, if he was more amenable to making questionably-moral bargains with supernatural nasties, he could pretty much be a god by now. He, of course, is aware of this and hangs lampshades as necessary.
    • One particular example of Harry lampshading how Being Good Sucks is when he's lent a Rolls Royce just as the situation starts to hit rock bottom. He finds the car irrationally comforting because he knows there's no way he's driving to his death in a car that nice.
  • Winston and Julia in 1984 know this pretty much from the beginning.
  • In Ivanhoe, Rebecca refuses to marry Wilfred of Ivanhoe because she was Jewish and he was Christian and crossovers were looked down on on both sides. Sir Walter Scot said specifically that he was trying to avert Good Feels Good because he thought teaching readers to be good for that reason was a Family-Unfriendly Aesop.
  • Played with in the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels, where the heroes have to acknowledge that being an ethical being often ends up...well, sucking, due to how ineffective it sometimes makes them. During this particular timeframe in the Star Trek 'verse, the Federation doesn't yet exist, meaning that those who live by an actual code of ethics have it far harder than in later eras. The people of Rigel X and Adigeon Prime demonstrate the lifestyle that ensures prosperity in this era; selfish greed, piracy, and a general policy of closing your eyes to injustice. Indeed, the leader of the Thelasian Trade Confederacy in Rosetta almost pities humans for their appeal to ethics. In The Good That Men Do, Archer and Shran acknowledge that currently the "good guys" are somewhat powerless; while at a slave market on Rigel X, there isn't anything they can do to help, not without bringing a worse fate down on themselves. Of course, as Shran is often a Honor Before Reason character, he almost does it anyway.
  • A recurring theme in A Song of Ice and Fire, with the biggest example probably being Ned Stark, whose unrelenting efforts to do the right and honorable thing ultimately result in his execution, the near-destruction of his family and all the many calamities that Westeros has endured since his death.
  • Airframe: Towards the end of the book, the heroine is feeling this way. She's been investigating a strange near plane crash and has been trying to do the right thing throughout and all she has to show for her efforts are a couple of videos showing the terrifying ride, she's being hounded by reporters who sense blood in the water, and it turns out she's been set up to take the fall if the plane is discredited.
  • The Marquis de Sade's most famous novel is literally subtitled The Misfortunes of Virtue.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Daniar wonders if her merciful nature is a curse because her enemies keep coming back to torment her.
  • If one trope were to sum up Jean Valjean of Les Misérables, this would be it. His first struggle, after getting out of prison, is to learn that being good is worthwhile. It's remembering that lesson in the years afterwards that proves the challenge. Time after time, he's presented with chances to escape the law and live the life that would best please him, but at someone else's expense - and, even though no-one would ever be the wiser, he always chooses right, even if it means putting himself through hell to do so.

     Live Action TV  
  • Clark Kent on Smallville has had many hard decisions, but he always makes the difficult and right ones. Luckily for him, Karmic Death and Easy Amnesia are practically his personal bodyguards.
    • Touched on in "Nemesis". Lex Luthor is trapped in some underground tunnels rigged to explode. Clark and Chloe are sorely tempted to leaving him to die for what he did to Chloe and her mother before, but she reminds him that he doesn't get to choose whom to save, or otherwise he won't be Clark Kent.
    • Happens to Chloe herself too. When she ran away with Davis Bloome so she could keep Doomsday in check and protect Clark, seemingly forever:
    Clark: But what about you, Chloe? Chloe, I'm gonna spend every second looking for you. I will find a way to save you!
    • And then...
    Chloe: I must have thrown a million green rocks away and I've never really saved you. Now, I can.
    Chloe: Clark, if there's one lesson I've learned from you, it's that choosing the greater good is never a sacrifice.
    • Especially tear jerking when you remembered that a few episodes ago, Clark told her that she saved him more than he could ever have saved her, but she didn't know that because she was unconscious.
    • She also gets a small one in "Sacrifice" when she clearly doesn't like her decision to save Tess.
  • Pretty much the deal on Supernatural. Dean, Sam, Cas, Bobby and everyone else fighting to save the world get no reward and endure seemingly endless suffering for their heroism (see also: Crapsack World).
    • Even the bad guys lampshade this. Meg Masters, a demon, is in the process of what could have been a Heel-Face Turn (if she hadn't been killed by Crowley later that same episode.), and complains, "I'm... kinda good. Which sucks."
  • Battlestar Galactica, Roslin, Tory, Tigh and Dualla Help rig the presidential election so that Roslin wins. A Baltar presidency was thought by most intelligent characters to be potentially disastrous because his platform was for settling the fleet permanently on a less than ideal planet rather than find Earth. Adama finds out and calls out Roslin on it. Despite her less than stellar moral record, she was a champion of democracy for much of the series (despite her veering dangerously close to authoritarianism at times), so this gets her to tearfully confess and call off the fraud as a matter of principle. Pity they were proven horribly right about Baltar.
    • In the pilot miniseries, Helo gave up his seat on a Raptor ride off of Caprica to Dr. Baltar, thus condemning himself to an almost certain death, because Baltar was one of the Colonies' most brilliant scientists and thus Helo thought Baltar was more important to the human race's survival. The same Baltar who, unbeknownst to any other human, had given Number Six access to the Colonial defense mainframe, causing the holocaust in the first place. It doesn't turn out that bad for Helo afterward, but in the Miniseries itself this is definitely the trope played.
    • Also during the Pegasus story arc. It was obvious that Admiral Cain was going to take over and completely undermine everything Adama and Roslin believed, and yet Adama was reluctant to do anything about it. (Probably because he had faced many of the difficulties she had.) Roslin has to practically order him to have her assassinated. Both Adama and Cain make plans to off the other, but wind up calling it off. Fortunately, Baltar released a Cylon prisoner who really hated Cain, and she did the job.
  • In Firefly, Simon got rewarded for rescuing his sister by having to live a life on the run for the rest of his life, where he periodically gets threatened with gunshots and being burnt to death.
    • In a straighter example, Mal and Wash get kidnapped and tortured for refusing to steal medicine from a planet where an epidemic had broken out. (Not to mention the time and fuel they wasted without even getting paid.)
  • In the Buffy-verse, the character Angel suffers from this. Once a horrific vampire, he was given a soul and forced to deal with the accumulated guilt of more than a century of evil deeds. In combination with his constant struggle against his vampiric urges, never-ending struggle against the forces of evil, constant loss of hopes for a Happily Ever After, and the knowledge that, no matter what he does, he is STILL going to Hell, being good REALLY sucks for Angel.
    • He believes he's going to hell. His status as a champion for The Powers That Be and their intention to reward him suggests he might not. At the very least, it's unlikely his soul will go there.
    • This is all a case of Misplaced Retribution. Angel was the victim; Angelus committed all the crimes he's suffering for. Stupid tragic.
  • In 24, if Jack Bauer would simply let someone else worry about national security, he might actually have a good day. Being Jack Bauer, this will never happen.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor has to deal with this all the time, in particular during his tenth incarnation. He's constantly trying to do the right thing, often though, his over objectivity causes more trouble than it seems worth (see what he did to Harriet Jones career - by ruining her career because she made a choice he considered immoral, he unintentionally paved the way for the Master to become prime minister and turn Earth into a dystopia in a prequel to destroying it completely). People also tend to get killed trying to save him leaving him with one hell of a Guilt Complex.
    • Jack, too. When he goes into a suicide mission against the Daleks, he even says that he was better off a coward.
  • Jonathan the angel in Highway To Heaven and his sidekick Mark Gordon both dislike the fact that they have to do God's will when they'd rather beat someone up. In one episode, Jonathan goes against God's will and beats up a group of guys for (gasp) stealing a guy's lunch.
  • A Blackadder's Christmas Carol seemingly confirms this trope, showing the main character just how much Being Good Sucks and how much improved his life and the lives of his descendants will be if he turns evil. Then it goes and subverts it at the end by having Blackadder's newly acquired nasty behavior cost him a knightship and a large sum of money. (Although said behavior did finally get all of his leeching freeloaders off of his back, so that accounts for something.)
  • On Bones, Booth's boss, the Deputy Director of the FBI has a teenaged daughter who's dying from lung cancer. Bones refuses to let it lie (as that's very unusual) and discovers that her broken leg the previous year was grafted not with a 20-year old donor's body part, but the bone from a 60+ year old woman who was riddled with cancer. On learning this, and that it doesn't in any way changes his daughter's death sentence, Booth's boss thanks them for the information, informs them that the FBI isn't his personal police force, tells them to hand the information to the appropriate agency, and walks back into his daughter's hospital room, fighting off Manly Tears.
  • Jeff Winger comes to this conclusion in the season 4 premiere of Community after deciding to turn over a new leaf and abandon his self-serving ways.
  • Shinji Kido in Kamen Rider Ryuki tries his damndest to stop the other participants of the Rider War from killing one another. It does not do wonders for his emotional well-being. Towards the finale, he even decides to outright participate in the Rider War. And then, he dies.
  • This has more or less become the theme of the Game of Thrones. Many of the characters that try to do the right thing, end up suffering for it in the end. While the characters whom plot and scheme against others, typically get their way.
  • In episode 1836 of Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleupagus enters the New York Marathon, which only Big Bird is aware of, due to the adults not yet believing in his existence. Eventually, Big Bird waits for Snuffy, who comes in last, long after the race ended, while Gordon and Susan agree to wait in their car, falling asleep by the time Snuffy shows up. Big Bird wants to wake them up so they can see Snuffy, but Snuffy tells Big Bird not to, since it's not nice to wake people up. Big Bird remarks, "it's not easy being good. Sometimes I wish I was a grouch."
  • Earl Hickey on My Name Is Earl. Making up for mistakes is not easy. Sometimes people are too angry with him for his former misdeeds to accept his efforts to make up to him, or are just plain selfish. Sometimes making up for list items (or even helping people not on the list!) costs every dime he has. Although he always gets the money back eventually. Sometimes (OK, most of the time) Randy doesn't understand what he's doing or why and/or screws up Earl's mission. Sometimes Earl doesn't know how to make things right, especially since usually the problem is a lot more complicated than it's written on the list.

     Religion/Mythology  
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Book of Job in The Bible.
    • The Bible in general describes the path of righteousness as a narrow and perilous road, compared to the wide and easy path of sin.

     Tabletop RPG  
  • New World of Darkness is pretty much Scylla and Charybdis in RPG form. You can either be good and stick to your principles, which will likely get you killed or hurt badly (and there's no guarantee you can Earn Your Happy Ending in this Crapsack World). Or, you can be a Jerk Ass who amasses power and lives longer at the cost of a laundry list of minor and medium sins... which usually ends with you either dead at the hands of a monster, or becoming one to stop it from killing you (or to stop the previously mentioned good guys from killing you).
    • Exception: Promethean: The Created. Sure, there are even more obstacles in your way than any other supernatural. For one, every living thing hates you by instinct. But you can Earn Your Happy Ending - humanity, freedom from the pain of Promethean life and acceptance by Nature. There are rules for getting a happy ending. Just stick very, very tightly to being good.
    • Changeling: The Lost has Clarity as its Morality meter; at the very bottom of this meter are things like kidnapping, because acting more like the True Fae that abducted you makes you more like them. This still applies if kidnapping someone because you can't explain why you need to get them out of their situation immediately since it doesn't make logical sense. Stealing a baby gets you that same degeneration roll, even if you're doing it because the Wild Hunt just burst out of the garden archway of a daycare playground.
  • Exalted, also from White Wolf, applies this to renegade Abyssals, who can't settle down or huge bursts of necrotic Essence will kill everyone in the area; they can't directly oppose their former patrons, or they'll take enough lethal damage to cripple them or knock them unconscious; and people tend to be even more afraid of them than the normal Solars, because of the whole "sometimes looking like a skeleton and bleeding from the forehead for a caste mark" thing.
    • Fortunately, new rules have been provided which allows an Abyssal's Lunar Exalted Mate to ease their burden through The Power of Love (or friendship, if that's how they roll). An Abyssal can freely commit "sins of Life" with their Lunar Mate (protecting their lives or having sex with them, for example), and the Neverborn are incapable of punishing them for it. If the Abyssal actually cares for their Lunar, they can even freely commit "sins against Death" for them with impunity — which includes directly opposing their former patrons. This same update also included guidelines for how Abyssal Exalted can redeem themselves into free, untainted Solar Exalted, a process which Lunar Mate makes much easier.
    • Same thing applies to the Green Sun Princes. If they decide to go against the will of their Yozi patrons (which is usually "Make Creation such a shithole that it can technically count as Hell, which means we can get out of our prison"), they begin to accrue Torment that leaks out and affects others. In fact, the only way to bleed off Torment is to perform cliched acts of utter bastardry... mind you, it says nothing about who you have to perform them on...
      • And unlike Abyssals, Green Sun Princes cannot be redeemed into normal Solars during life. However, the same difference also means that if their essence was somehow delivered to Autochthon, the Unconquered Sun, or a similar entity after death, it could be purified in this manner.
      • Of course, part of this is because Infernals don't need to redeem to do good, unlike Abyssals. Infernal Charms were specifically designed to subvert Bad Powers, Bad People by seeming evil at first glance, yet not being particularly malevolent in practice. You can use Infernal Charms to feed the hungry, force corrupt gods to do their damn jobs, protect your loved ones, bestow regeneration on loyal agents and turn into a benevolent counterpart to a hostile Exalt, while most Abyssal Charms boil down to "hurt people" and "be like the dead".
      • GSP's who are serious about breaking out can kick the snot out of this model around Essence 6, however. There's an entire keyword, Heretical, for Charms that revolve around flipping their patrons the bird, and one such Charm allows them to tell the will of the Yozis to go screw.
  • Deadlands, with "Faustian" morality, narratively fits in the same niche as the above example. Later settings, including Hell on Earth, went so far as to codify how much Being Good Sucks for most of its Arcane Backgrounds. Templars, for instance, lie to almost everyone they see about who they are and seem to blithely pass judgement on everyone they meet. Muggles that aren't "good enough" are left to their own devices or even hunted. But, as ultimately heroic souls, they all know that the "hardest thing you'll ever have to do is walk away."
  • Ravenloft is a world purposely designed to make sure evil always flourishes and good never triumphs. The entire world is ruled by the dark powers that put psychotic overlords in charge of each land. Even if you kill them, someone else will likely take their place. Oh, and you can no longer talk to your gods. The book series really brings this home, with every hero dying pointlessly while evil flourishes. This is also a setting where being evil isn't much better, since the Dark Powers enjoy tormenting the aforementioned overlords even more than they enjoy tormenting the good guys.
  • Paladins of first through third-edition Dungeons & Dragons generally suffer some degree of this trope: the frequency and intensity depend on how strictly your game group judges actions on the alignment spectrum. Sure, the benefits of the class are pretty sweet, but you Can't Get Away with Nuthin' , and the rest of your group - even though you're not required to enforce Lawful Good beliefs on them - are going to have difficulty pursuing any evil, or even chaotic, goals.

    Theater 
  • Fiddler on the Roof: "Yes Lord, I know we're the Chosen People. But couldn't you choose someone else for a change?"
  • A major theme in A Man For All Seasons, which provides one of the quotes above.
  • It's worth noting that almost all 'good' characters in Les Misérables come to bad ends and die. Valjean especially suffers under this. Trying to feed his sister's starving child lead to 19 years of incarceration, and it gets worse for him from there.

     Video Games  
  • Just every First-Person Shooter so far this generation of gaming that isn't mercenary work. Yes, it is no longer worthwhile to fight for your country
  • Kotomine in Fate/stay night. The prequel goes in depth into the reasons why as he desperately searches for something that he likes to do that isn't, well, evil. Or failing that, someone who was at least empty like he was, which is why Shirou interested him so much. In any case, had to sacrifice his happiness, ambitions and act good when he really wanted to act evil but was in denial about it. But hey, he's still very honest, and he does feel guilt! Which causes other problems.
  • The peculiarly Genre Savvy Ganondorf makes use of this trope in a few installments of the Zelda series, most notably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. By tricking the hero and princess into doing what they are led to believe is the right thing for the good of all, he's able to (temporarily) achieve his own ends.
  • inFAMOUS. Yes, Cole, being good means you have to get mindraped, go hungry, watch your girlfriend die, and give up the arc lightning. Suck it up.
    • It gets worse in the sequel. Being good means, in the end, that you'll have to kill thousands of people, including yourself, some of your closest companions, and many innocent or outright heroic individuals to save billions.
  • Prototype. Yes, Alex, being good means you'll continue causing all the death and mayhem you have since the beginning, and you'll also have to deal with a conscience on top of it all. Suck it up and enjoy your guilt trip.
  • Dr. Freebird's wrestling with this is central to his storyline in Trauma Team.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics - Ramza's a Wide-Eyed Idealist in a Crapsack World. Even after it's made very clear that he's going to spend the rest of his life (if not the rest of history) branded as a heretic, he remains determined to Do The Right Thing.
    • Marche in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance also falls under the same boat. He knows that by getting his friends to come home to the real world means destroying their happinesses and he will be hated for it, but he does it anyway because it's ultimately the right thing to do for his friends' well being.
  • The Followers of the Apocalypse in Fallout: New Vegas have an ethos of providing medicine, food and education to anyone who needs it. In the post-apocalyptic Fallout-verse, this results in them being understaffed and forever running out of supplies.
    • Similarly, companions Arcade Gannon and Veronica Santangelo, both idealists in their own way will not end up with particularly satisfying endings. Arcade will see that an Independent New Vegas isn't as perfect as he wants it to be but do what he can to help others. Veronica will either stay with the Brotherhood of Steel despite knowing that their current path will lead them to ruin or be forever traumatized by their zealotry after leaving to join the Followers. J.E. Sawyers states that one of the themes of the game is that in a world as harsh as the Fallout setting, the idealist is the one to be hurt the most.
    • This also applies to the Honest Hearts DLC with New Canaanite Missionary Daniel. If he succeeds in evacuating the Sorrows as he wanted, he'll forever question himself on whether or not he did the right thing. If they instead choose to stay and fight the White Legs, he'll be forever haunted by their loss of innocence.
  • A milder variant in Mass Effect, no matter how nice Paragon Shepard is and how many good things s/he does at his/her own personal risk, s/he still gets reprimanded and screwed over by the politicians of the Citadel Council and Ambassador Udina around every corner.
    • In ME2 and especially ME3, it gets really bad, and there are conversation options that indicate Shepard is feeling this trope quite heavily.
    • Not to mention that in the original, no matter how strict of a Paragon you are, you still have to choose between letting the Council die, or allowing the human Alliance fleet to suffer heavy casualties. There is no Third Option, and no "reward choice" for being a good guy.
  • Being the team's healer in a multiplayer. You will have a lot of responsibility and you'll often get the blame if something goes wrong. Even if it isn't remotely your fault.
    • Aside from shouldering the burden of keeping your team in fighting form, you'll also be the number one target of any enemy team — often times trying to stay alive against enemies much better equipped for killing than you are. Being Good Sucks Indeed.
    • "Excuse me, but you stood on the instant kill fire."
    • "Dude, the mob called for reinforcement! The dialog box stated so."
    • "I’m rather new here. I wasn’t aware of that difficult-to-find sniper’s spot, and neither were you!"
    • "Well, I could have healed you if you didn't run out of range."

  • This is a huge part of the backstory of Touhou's Byakuren. Attempting to achieve piece and equality between humans and youkai? Enjoy your millennium in Makai, traitor.

    Webcomics 
  • Acknowledged in The Order of the Stick when Roy dies and is interviewed in the afterlife. He passes because even though he isn't always a paragon of Lawful Good, he always tries, rather than accepting an "easier" alignment that would require less work.
    • Likewise, in Start of Darkness, Xykon explicitly argues this to a Professor X expy as a reason he's turning towards evil. Why the hell should Xykon protect a world that hates and fears him?
      • The real reason Xykon is evil is because he's a dick.
  • At the beginning of the Sam and Fuzzy NMS revived arc (when Devahi starts working for them), Sam and Fuzzy are dispatched to take care of a problem that involves megalomaniacal gerbils and some really sinister wine. When, at the end of the job, Sam tries to take the wine with him, the owner of the restaurant who hired him stops him, because even though it's opened, and partially drunk, and incredibly dangerous, it's still gotta be worth at least as much as he's paying Sam to save his sorry hide. Sam walks out, with the wine but sans pay, commenting that doing the right thing sucks.
    • Sam always tries to do the right thing, and it always sucks for him.
  • Big Ears from Goblins: puts it best.
    Big Ears: "Imagine the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Now imagine that it's not just happening to you, but to everybody you care about. That's what evil feels like."
    Chief: "Blaah! That sounds unbearable, why would anyone want to become a Paladin?"
    Big Ears: "So others don't have to."

     Western Animation  
  • In Futurama, Fry at length anguishes but decides not to clone/resurrect his dead dog, imagining he lived a full and happy life in the 21st century. He was wrong.
    • It turns out Fry was actually around that whole time, so he did have a happy life.
      • Except for when Fry spend years searching for Leelo the narwhal in the Artic. A pat on the head before getting killed doesn't really help much.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Zuko suffers a Heroic BSOD after setting Appa free from captivity to help Aang, symbolically ending his quest to capture the Avatar.
  • The Justice League quote above comes from a scene in which Superman compares himself to his Knight Templar Evil Counterpart from another dimension, and he won't reduce Lex Luthor to a splatter across the nearest building for the loss of The Flash. Hopefully, after the League rescued Flash immediately after that, he could take some pride in retrospect at showing how strong he really is, deep down.
  • Kronk from Kronk's New Groove IS this trope combined with "Well Done, Son" Guy. Despite how much he feared his father for not being successful, he gave up a good home, and a girlfriend so that his friends would not be harmed or have bad lives due to his desires. Subverted as he at least gets a thumbs up from his pop and his girlfriend back.
  • The amount of abuse Buttons the Dog gets while protecting little girl Mindy in Animaniacs, not to mention the thanklessness and misunderstanding of the dog's owners, who Once per Episode think the dog is disobeying their orders, is only rewarded at the end by Mindy patting the bruised and battered canine on the head and saying, "Silly puppy!"
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Shane Gooseman was already questioning his purpose as a living weapon and unwilling to accept unnecessary casualties during Supertrooper training. Because he decided to stay loyal to his creators during the riot, he is considered a traitor by his brethren and was forced to accept a deal where he became a Hunter of His Own Kind. As Killbane aptly pointed out, he's considered a slave, neither human or Supertrooper.
  • In one episode, Doug finds an envelope with a large amount of money and decides to turn it in at the local police station. His friends and his sister Judy give him a fair amount of flack for it until the thirty-day waiting period is up; since no one has claimed the money, it is now legally his. But just as he's adding it up, a Coincidental Broadcast airs about a little old lady who is missing the exact same amount of money. Reluctantly, he returns the money to her, whereupon she rewards his honesty with a pack of spearmint gum. At least Judy takes him out for a milkshake as a sign of implicit approval of his honesty.
  • The title character of Daria is usually too cynical and lazy to actually try doing something good. When she does, she usually runs into this trope, with her efforts proving ineffective ("The New Kid") or only partially effective ("Fizz Ed," "See Jane Run"). Quinn also runs into this in the Grand Finale: she confronts her friend about her alcoholism, but this creates a rift in their relationship without having any apparent effects on her drinking.
  • PJ from Goof Troop lives his entire adolescence with this trope as its message. At best, he gets someone to console him, fix things for him, or make up with him after they or someone else maliciously or carelessly hurt his feelings or made things difficult for him. Most of the time he has to seek a resolution himself and sometimes has to resort to passive-aggression or violence in order to achieve the right results. Otherwise, his somewhat selfish friend and extremely selfish father always both have the upper hand over him, meaning that he spends most of his time doing other characters' bidding. He's not only treated as an Extreme Doormat, but also a (sympathetic) No Respect Guy and The Drag-Along, and has been actively slandered by a talking hat before. He does eventually get a happy ending in the second movie.
  • Goliath's Clan (Gargoyles) constantly put human lives above their own. Their reward is being called monsters, having objects thrown at them and sometimes an organization with full military troops seeking to either kill them or capture and dissect them.
  • Kyle in South Park always tries to do the right thing, even if it doesn't get him rewarded or gain happiness. It becomes more apparent when Cartman, a sociopath at the age of 10, is involved because despite Kyle hating him with all his heart, he could never let Cartman suffer from his own stupid actions and wants to at least see him do the right thing once in his life.
  • The titular character of WordGirl finds a hard time in having fun due to her crime fighting.
  • Lion-O in ThunderCats (2011) was looked down upon by both his own people and others for showing mercy to the other races of Third Earth, and when he tries to do the right thing, it's often at the expense of either his own safety or happiness. At the very least, Lion-O's actions are shown to have positive effects in the long run despite the hardships.

     Real Life  
  • The Paradoxical Commandments outright state that every attempt to be a good person will be met with failure and resistance, and that this should in no way stop you from doing good.
  • This happens far more in real life than any of us are comfortable with, what with the fact that if you try and oust any of the people in power doing horrible things, most likely you will either suffer for it or lie unnoticed.
  • Oskar Schindler, due to his way with people, managed to shelter over 1200 Jews during the Holocaust by claiming they were "essential workers" at his enamel factory. Unfortunately, this bankrupted him.
  • Having to tell the truth and own up to people whenever you get in trouble for doing something wrong or commit a crime. Be honest and tell them what really happened and hope for forgiveness? Unlikely, since you'll be punished for your honesty, as you will be held accountable for your actions, regardless of if you truly regret them. Little wonder that people will go to great lengths to justify or lie about their actions.
    • If your conscience ever does get the better of you, and you want to confess your crimes to the authorities, always get a lawyer first. Otherwise you could very easily talk yourself into more punishment than your crimes deserve.
  • Also applies to witnesses to crimes who want to testify, but fear retribution by the criminals or their associates.
    • You could go into witness protection, only to lose everything you have to live a completely different life.
  • Two girls were suspended and faced expulsion when one had what looked like an asthma attack and the other shared her inhaler.
  • Anytime anyone sacrifices their own life to save another. Sure, dying so that others may live is perhaps one of the most selfless things that anyone can do, but you still have to die.
  • It's a well-known (and sad) fact that kids who are bullied at school often get in trouble for retaliating in self-defense. Now, go ask somebody who has tried to interfere and protect a victim from being bullied. Chances are they got in trouble along with the victim.
    • It's also not unheard of for kids who try to defend a victim from their bullies, only to become the next target.
  • This high school student was unable to graduate because he missed 16 days of school. Those days were spent caring for his cancer-stricken mother. Fortunately, the decision was reversed.
  • Many victims dealing with spousal/parental abuse who retaliate against said abuser (especially physically in self-defense) will often find themselves facing the charges, while the abuser ends up the one interpreted as the victim by the authorities.
  • Altruistic people may get exploited by freeloaders.
  • Being a Whistle Blower at your job. You will be thanked and given a small reward, but good luck ever finding another job.
    • It's gotten worst, since a person can also face criminal charges depending on which company or organization they blew the whistle on.
  • Politics. If you do something right; it will probably be forgotten tomorrow. If you do something wrong; you're vilified for life.
  • Working as a clerk or in customer service can be quite stressfull as you probably have to talk to angry people. Let's take airport clerk as an example; A plane has been cancelled and angry would-be-passengers will probalby blow their steam on you, even though you're not remotely responsible for the inconvinience.
  • One of the few reasons why sexual harassment at the workplace usually goes unchallenged. Sometimes, if the person who is doing the harassing is a vital employee to the company whereas the victim is just some new guy/girl or desperate for their job, it's not too unheard of for the company to just fire the person complaining about the harassment.

The AtonerResponsibility TropesThe Chains of Commanding
    TragedyDespair Event Horizon
Pay Evil unto EvilQuirky GoodGood Flaws, Bad Flaws
Beauty Is BadCynicism TropesBelief Makes You Stupid
Befriending The EnemyGoodness TropesBenevolent Conspiracy
Being Evil SucksMorality TropesBeing Tortured Makes You Evil

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