Wants a Prize for Basic Decency

aka: Virtue Is Its Own Reward

Buffy: What are you doing?
Spike: Making this woman more comfortable. I'm not sampling, I'll have you know. Just look at all these lovely blood-covered people. I could, but not a taste for Spike, not a lick. I knew you wouldn't like it.
Buffy: You want credit for not feeding on bleeding disaster victims?
Spike: Well, yeah.

Bob just isn't good by default. Where some people cleave to good behavior more or less naturally, Bob does not, either through being a Jerkass or an outright villain. He needs to be pushed and prodded — by himself and others — into being a decent person, and because this process is a struggle for him and because his good behavior is above and beyond how he might be acting otherwise, he believes he deserves exceptional acknowledgement for his efforts.

This is Wants a Prize for Basic Decency. A character expects extra kudos for behaving in a situation like a decent human being instead of a Jerkass, even though basic humanity is expected of others by default.

It can inspire Then Let Me Be Evil if the character is treated as a real villain despite their good deeds.

Compare It's All About Me, Entitled to Have You, Dogged Nice Guy, and Condescending Compassion. Contrast Dude, Where's My Respect?, in which a character does heroic things but gets no positive acknowledgement for it, and Think Nothing of It, in which a character avoids being praised after doing heroic things. Also contrast strong cases of Crapsack World, where having a shred of humanity actually is exceeding any reasonable expectations. Furthermore, there is the idea of Blue and Orange Morality coming into play (where the person has inhuman or bizarre morals and standards to where 'basic human decency' is actually pretty high standards (or out of character) for them)


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     Anime & Manga 
  • Coupled with Deliberate Values Dissonance in Anatolia Story. Ramses abducts Yuri, and then tells her off for screaming and trying to escape. He tell her she isn't very grateful for how "nice" he's being, whereupon Yuri asks why the hell she should appreciate his kidnapping her as "nice". His response? He wasn't raping her while kidnapping her, was he?

     Comic Books 
  • The Kingpin in Ultimate Spiderman explains to Peter that this is why normal people resent superheroes like Peter. Normal people, according to the Kingpin, are sheep who just want to do the bare minimum of what is expected of them and want someone like the Kingpin to give them a big cookie for it at the end of the day. Seeing heroes like Peter going above and beyond makes them realize that they don't really deserve that cookie.
  • There is Zoe Zimmer from Ms. Marvel (2014), who is just concerned about the wellbeing and financial status of her classmates. She is even willing to shop where one of them works, and can't fathom why he wouldn't make coffee for her for this great act of charity. The others are divided whether or not her "concern trolling" is an act or cluelessness. Exposure to Truth Serum reveals that she is genuinely mean.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Everything Must Go," (DC Comics #48) Mojo Jojo conducts a yard sale of his destructive wares. The Amoeba Boys buy one of his items—a magnet that pulls the moon towards the earth on a collision course. When he intervenes and stops the machine, sending the moon back to its rightful place, he thinks he deserves a "thank you" from the girls. They lock him up in jail for starting the whole thing with his yard sale to start with.

     Fan Works 
  • In the Death Note fic Lab Specimen L thinks Light should be grateful to him despite L's invasive and dehumanizing treatment of him and sexually assaulting him because at least L wasn't torturing him.
  • In the Death Note fic To Feel Alive Ryuk is quite put out when Light doesn't seem too thrilled when Ryuk makes the promise that his death would be quick and painless:
    Shouldn't he be grateful that he wasn't planning on giving him a painful, lingering death?
  • In Wish Carefully, Lucius Malfoy thinks the women of the Cabal, who were kidnapped from their homes to be breeding concubines, should be grateful to him because he gives them whatever they want in reward for them birthing and "took them from poverty". And he lets them see their own children.
  • In the Maleficent fic Your Servant, Mistress this trope is averted and discussed: Maleficent repeatedly congratulates Diaval on being a decent human being, and he's surprised that she thinks whatever he's done, or not done, noteworthy, assuming that everyone would act like this. He complains that she has really low standards at one point.

  • In Maleficent it is implied that Stefan expects gratitude for not killing the title character, but merely cutting off her wings.
  • In La cintura di castita, a hermit enlightens Boccadoro that though Delioso has been trying to abduct and even rape her, he didn't kill her though he could. And why? Because he loves you, my child!
  • A downplayed example appears in In the Loop. Toby, an aide of British cabinet minister Simon, is in Washington D.C for a meeting with a senior American government official. The night before, he goes out clubbing with an old university friend, hooks up with her and oversleeps, resulting in him missing the first half of the meeting. After Simon "reads him some extracts from the Riot Act" in response, Toby protests on the grounds that "it's not like I threw up in there, is it?" Unfortunately for him Simon's not impressed with this line of defence:
    Simon: No. You're right. I'm being unfair. I should be thanking you for not throwing up. Well done. You're a star. And you didn't wet yourself, did you? You're in the right city. You didn't say anything overtly racist. You didn't pull your dick out and start plucking it shouting "Willy Banjo!" No, I'm being really unfair! You got so much right... without actually being there for the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career. Thanks. You're a legend.
  • Zig-zagged in Scent of a Woman, during the climactic hearing. The dean intends to punish Charlie for not naming names, yet also intends to reward George for testimony that is only slightly less vague than Charlie's. After Frank's Rousing Speech, the school disciplinary committee, in addition to excusing Charlie from any further involvement in the case declare that George's should not receive recognition or reward for his testimony.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu constantly reminds Peter Quill that were it not for him, his crew would have eaten him when he was a child. It's implied he's been bringing it up for the past twenty-six years.
    Quill: Stop acting like you did me a favor by keeping them from eating me! Normal people don't eat people!

  • In Fire and Hemlock, the protagonist's mother acts like she's a saintly martyr for watching the school's nativity play (in which her daughter plays a part), because it's boring - of course, in comparison to the father she is the better parent.
  • Invoked in The Picture of Dorian Gray, when Dorian realizes that his painting is reflecting all the hedonism he's committed, and thinks that not picking up this country girl he comes across will improve it. The painting promptly develops a smug grin of hypocrisy.
  • One Dave Barry column has this insight into the male mindset: being little more than toilet-trained cavemen, they will occasionally perform an act of great heroism like doing the laundry without being asked or making spaghetti without setting the house on fire, only to be confused when other people (read: women) don't consider this an accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Deathly Hallows, Aberforth Dumbledore says this of his late brother Albus, more of an intellectual than a guardian figure.
    "Bit of a comedown for Mr. Brilliant, there's no prizes for looking after your half-mad sister, stopping her blowing up the house every other day. But he did all right for a few weeks ... 'til henote  came."
    • The Dursleys show this way of thinking sometimes too; the only reason Dumbledore asked them to take care of Harry is because it kept him from being targeted by any lingering forces working for Voldemort, and he would've been in danger anywhere else. They're openly abusive and disdainful of Harry, who shows psychological effects of abuse even as he enters adulthood, and yet Vernon still believes they deserve credit for not just chucking him to an orphanage the day he arrived. And even then, he tried to have him thrown out at least once before being told that wasn't an option.
  • Twilight:
    • Edward Cullen has this mindset. "I'm not killing every random human in my path, I deserve a cookie!", even though he's never lifted a finger to stop anyone else from eating people, or tried to save anyone in danger of getting eaten, unless they're a member of his little familial unit. He claims to have eaten only bad people in the past to justify his actions but we can only take him at his word. His telepathy only works on surface thoughts, so he really can't tell the difference between someone genuinely plotting a murder and a person who might just be mad at their boss and fantasizing about committing a murder.
    • Jacob's the same way—he forcibly kisses Bella against her will, not letting go until she punches him so hard she breaks her hand, and his only defense is basically, "Well, at least I didn't rape her."
  • In A Wise Mans Fear Kvothe seems to expect gratitude for not being a rapist - his not ogling naked women, or raping his friend while she is drugged (or in once instance while he is drugged) is not treated matter-of-factly, but portrayed as something special and impressive about him. To be expected, as the whole story is told by him, after all.
  • In the final Incarnations of Immortality book, two female characters learn that All Men Are Perverts, and gain a newfound appreciation for the amount of restraint the average man shows in not raping them. Yeesh...
  • In Hush, Hush, Patch wants Nora to love and trust him... because he didn't kill her. And not that he was planning on killing her because he was lied to or brainwashed or anything. He wanted to kill her because it would make him human and thus let him feel things. Truly, it was so wonderful of him to drag her to a motel room, isolate her from her friends and family, scare her out of her mind, and then assure her that he had no intention of going through with murdering her.
  • Vern the dragon from Karina Fabian's "DragonEye, P.I." series thinks he's learned more patience and long-suffering than a dragon was ever meant to know now that he resists incinerating or eating anyone who happens to annoy him.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike the erstwhile evil vampire tries to impress Buffy by helping people injured in a roof collapse, and wants credit for not drinking their blood. This disgusts Buffy.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", Blon Slitheen has a nice chat with a young pregnant woman about family instead of eating her. The Doctor doesn't fall for it.
    Blon: I spared her life.
    Doctor: You let one of them go, but that's nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim's spared... because she smiled, cos he's got freckles, cos they begged. And that's how you live with yourself, that's how you slaughter millions, because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind's in the right direction, you happen to be kind.
  • Played with on an episode of The X-Files. Agent Mulder says something along the lines of "If I had a peg leg, everyone would applaud me just for being alive, but because I'm normal, I'm expected to exceed."
  • Gul Dukat of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine shows continual annoyance that the Bajorans didn't give him any admiration or love for being a more merciful prefect during the military occupation of their world, and later even rants to Captain Sisko about how just he was in ordering proportional executions of alleged suspects in response to Cardassian deaths from a terrorist attack.
  • Schmidt on New Girl harangues his friends to say he's a good person for saving a man from choking on gum (after crashing his bike and breaking both legs, for which Schmidt didn't even bother to call 9-1-1). This after he had just cheated on CeCe with Elizabeth and vice-versa, and tried to break up Jess and Nick because he thinks they were to blame for the former.
  • Happens with Meadow on The Sopranos. She throws a party at her grandmother's abandoned house, which gets completely trashed. When her parents later take her to task for it, she complains that they aren't giving her any credit for not trying Ecstasy at the party, which she totally could've done.
  • In a Thanksgiving episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm goes into a huge drunken rant about how he was too nice a guy to sleep with a girl who was barely conscious when she came on to him. His family are unimpressed.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • One Baby Blues strip featured Zoe excitedly telling her mom that she just saw her brother Hammie bend over in front of her, and didn't kick him! The last panel has her complaining about how hard it is to get brownie points.
  • For Better or for Worse: John flew into a blind rage and spanked Michael for not agreeing that he, as the child, owed his parents for feeding, clothing and housing him. Elly's objection was not that Michael didn't owe his parents every single cent spent on him with interest rates that would make a Mafia loanshark sick but that he lost his temper.
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin seems to have something of this mindset during the holiday season. He has actually mentioned that the sort of pressure of behaving correctly would be easy for a normally good kid, but for a mischievous troublemaker like Calvin, it is quite difficult, thus playing with the trope.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • A gem from Chris Rock's "Black People vs. Niggas" routine, which the thesis is "Everything white people don't like about black people, black people really don't like about black people." That would make an excellent page quote if not for the, ahem... controversial language;
    You know the worst thing about niggas? Niggas always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A nigga will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A nigga will say some shit like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" Whatchu want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectations-having motherfucker!

     Tabletop Games 

     Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 1, after rescuing Shepard and team from a volcanic eruption, Joker makes a comment about expecting a medal for the timely save. Renegade Shepard responds thusly:
    Shepard: Saving my boots from burning lava is part of your job, Joker. We don't give medals to soldiers for doing their jobs.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Blades will eventually demand that the Dragonborn kill Paarthurnax, former lieutenant of Alduin and cause of many atrocities, or else they will refuse to help you any further. Paarthurnax asks for his life, and cites his long history of peace and meditation. He asks the player, "Which is better, to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?" As a dragon, he struggles constantly with his inherent tyranny, and as a result one might very well be forced to concede that yes, he does indeed deserve not to be executed simply for not hurting anyone and being somewhat helpful to the player.
    • Note that Paarthurnax does not whinge about this trope himself; he freely acknowledges that the Blades' fear of him is perfectly logical, is quite understanding should you choose to kill him, and never really claims to be "good" simply because he refrains from evil. Consequently, many players turn against the Blades for their insistence that he be killed for the crime of "being a dragon", especially since the arguments they use to support their case are essentially "killing dragons is what we do". For the record, if you do decide to kill Paarthurnax, he won't retaliate against you and will even wait until you've chipped off a large amount of his health before attempting to fly away, implying he's genuinely repentant about his past.

  • There was a Zogonia strip that went something like:
    Kev: I can't believe you don't trust me! All those times when I was on guard duty, I could have slit your throat while you slept and taken all the treasure, but I didn't! And this is the thanks I get?
    Domato: I was never really asleep.
    Kev: Yeah, I know.
  • In the The Order of the Stick prequel, On The Origin Of PCs we have a Belkar example. He thinks he deserves a reward for the restraint he showed by not killing all the barmaids in a tavern brawl, and suggests that if humans don't want him to murder people, they should put up a sign saying "Thank you for not killing more than five of us".
    Prison Guard: We don't want you to kill ANY of us!
    Belkar: Now you're just being unreasonable!
  • Homestuck: Cronus believes that the other characters should be totally impressed that he doesn't nearly lord his highblood status above them all as much as he could.
  • 'Sinfest'': Slick managed to do something good and Nana goodheartedly gave him a cookie and he mildly rubbed it in Xanthe's face. This trope would be in play, but he actually didn't really expect to get a cookie.
  • Katamari has Ace, whose desire for personal recognition makes him a completely self-absorbed Jerkass. Upon learning that his Snowlem cousin Sherman has mostly melted and needs help building up a body, Ace refuses to help until the other brings up a potential reward.

     Web Original 
  • Youtuber the1janitor, talks about how a lot of guys claiming to be in the "Friend Zone" are really entitled Extreme Doormats that really aren't as nice as they claim to be.
    "Look dude, the world doesn't owe you shit for being nice, and girls don't either. You're supposed to be nice to people. You don't get a cookie for doing what people are supposed to be doing anyway."

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The group was talking about Zuko's sudden Face-Heel Turn, and citing setting Appa free instead of leaving him to rot as one good thing he's done.
    Sokka: (Sarcastically) Oh, hurray! After a lifetime of evil, at least he didn't add animal cruelty to the list!
    Toph: I'm just saying that considering his messed up family and how he was raised, he could have turned out a lot worse.
    Katara: You're right, Toph. Let's go find him and give him a medal. The "Not-As-Much-Of-A-Jerk-As-You-Could-Have-Been Award"!
  • In X-Men: Evolution, after Lance saves an elderly lady (out of genuine decency) from a train wreck Wanda caused and the lady richly rewards the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood begins to do "good deeds" — but only for the reward, occasionally engineering the situations in the first place. When their reputation collapses and the rewards vanish, they go back to their typical Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain routine.
  • The Simpsons:
    • There was a plot where Homer and some of his friends become firefighters and get so many thank-you gifts that they come to expect it. They steal from Mr. Burns when he refuses to reward them, then just start robbing places as a matter of course.
    • Homer once saved Mr Burns' life by allowing Bart to be a donor during a blood transfusion, solely on the basis that he expected some kind of reward from Mr Burns. When the only reward he got was a thank-you note addressed to Bart, he sent him an abusive letter in return.
  • On South Park, Cartman is freaking out around Christmastime about whether or not he's been "nice" enough to merit Santa's favor. He suggests that brushing his teeth counts as a "nice" action, only for his "naughty and nice accountant" to note that that doesn't really count.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Even after notionally "reforming", Discord has distinct shades of this, claiming to be just as good a friend of the Mane Six as they are to each other in spite of all the trouble he's caused (and keeps causing) and then complaining when they don't immediately return the sentiment. Being the Trickster, how much of this is genuine sentiment and how much just to jerk somepony's (usually Twilight's) chain for the lulz isn't always easy to discern.

Alternative Title(s):

Virtue Is Its Own Reward