Sometimes in mythological, religious and fantasy works, somebody does or says something that shows he's in need of an attitude adjustment. Either a being (often a deity or similarly powerful creature) or Fate itself will act overtly to teach this lesson. Unfortunately, the direct victim of this tutelage isn't the person in need of the lesson, but rather one or more persons close to him, who have not been shown to have done anything wrong. Typical victims are children, spouses and colleagues of the culprit, and the suffering often involves their deaths. In light of this, the culprit expresses remorse and either changes his ways or gives way to grief. Either way, he won't be making that mistake again. It is rarely, if ever, mentioned that the entirely innocent suffer the most.
This is quite common in many mythologies, where the gods teach someone a lesson by cursing his entire family — but not necessarily them — or setting up his descendants for misery. Sometimes this is the result of severe Values Dissonance. In comic books and the like, in Stuffed into the Fridge's purest form, female supporting characters die so that male heroes can learn vague lessons about the price of heroism, after which said heroes usually find new love interests and generally get on with their lives. It's also a part of It's a Wonderful Plot stories, as the people around the hero have to suffer in the alternate timeline to persuade him that he needs to return to existence. It's definitely part of The Punishment where the punished usually becomes some kind of monster that hurts innocent people.
This often overlaps with Revenge by Proxy and Misplaced Retribution. Naturally, Innocent Bystander is an aspect of this trope. Generally a result of Protagonist-Centered Morality. Can be considered a Hard Truth Aesop in its harshness — the culprit is taught that his actions have consequences that affect others. For cases when the aesop-learner directly causes the damage, see Kick the Morality Pet.
- Lelouch, the protagonist of Code Geass, started war against empire of Brittania, but early on didn't fully understand the consequences of war. Sure, he knew that he's putting his life on the line and that he'll have to kill in order to win, but he didn't care much about casualties on any side, and while he tried to avoid or at least minimise collateral damage he didn't give much thought to it when it happened. Until he finds out that during one battle he accidentally killed his friend's father.
- Batman: Dr. Leslie Thompkins purposely let Stephanie Brown die just to demonstrate to Batman the dangers of letting kids fight crime. The subsequent Retcon held that it never happened; Dr. Thompkins faked Steph's death and lied to Bruce about it.
- In John Ostrander's take on The Spectre, this was sometimes used to illustrate the dangers of the Anti-Hero protagonist's extreme Black-and-White Morality, which bordered on Blue-and-Orange Morality at times. In one example, the Spectre threatened to slay every living person in the state of New York if an innocent man was executed, since technically the State of New York passed the sentence. The children, anti-death-penalty protesters, and the man's defense attorneys would presumably be among those killed.
- Since the late 1990s, this has been played up frequently in Daredevil, as his supporting cast start to notice that they're often the collateral damage that teaches Matt Murdock a lesson about something or other.
- In Hellblazer, John Constantine constantly pisses off powerful beings like Heaven and Hell and flips them off when he's satisfied. Though his enemies can't touch him, his family and friends substitute to pay the price which was supposed to be his in the first place. He ends up mourning them afterwards.
- Happens a lot in Chick Tracts. A particularly nasty example is Mean Momma, where the title character and her delinquent sons commit various crimes, from petty grudges to robbery. What follows is that the elder son dies in a crash, driving a truck he stole, then the middle kid immediately hangs himself for hearing that the late was his mom's favorite. Then, while the mother is away from town to buy medicine for her feverish baby, a tornado razes their house with the baby still inside. All happened with the implication that it was God's handiwork, so that the mother will repent. And the mother thanks God for his kindness in saving her, ignoring that the children whom she raised to be hateful and bitter individuals are now burning in hell.
- Spider-Man: Uncle Ben's death teaches Peter that he should use his powers with responsibility, and most versions of Spider-Man across the multi-verse (non-Peter versions of Spider-Man substituting Uncle Ben for another character, like Peter for Spider-Gwen or Miles Morales) and in most adaptations of the comics.
- In Runaways, whenever Nico needs to face consequences for a bad decision, said consequences usually involve something bad happening to one of her teammates. Her decision to kiss Chase indirectly led to Gert getting killed. Her hasty use of magic against the Light Brigade caused the Runaways to become scattered until it was too late to effectively fight the Brigade, causing Xavin to hand themselves over in exchange for the Brigade sparing the rest of the team. And her decision to quit the team in order to join A-Force (which in turn led to her becoming a wanted fugitive) led to the Runaways' hideout getting raided and Klara being hauled away to foster care.
- Disney's Pinocchio. Pinocchio plays hooky from school and ends up being kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island. His creator, the kindly woodcarver Gepetto goes looking for him and ends up getting trapped inside Monstro the whale. Pinocchio learns a lesson about being a good boy from the experience.
- In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the household staff are cursed, as well as the Beast himself. The Broadway version and live-action remake (see below) softens the collateral damage by having the staff discuss that they were the ones who had let the Beast turn into a Spoiled Brat in the first place, however it still doesn't justify turning a seven year old into a teacup.
- Clash of the Titans. Queen Cassiopeia says that Andromeda is more beautiful than the goddess Thetis herself. The goddess says that Cassiopeia will repent of her boast and demands that Andromeda be sacrificed.note
- The Sunset Limited (2011). Black recounts his story of finding God after being being shivved in the jailhouse and includes a part where he busted open the head of his attacker and gave him permanent brain damage. White is unimpressed.
White: You don't think this is a strange kind of story?
Black: Yeah, I do think it's a strange kind of story.
White: No, what I mean is that you didn't feel sorry for this man.
Black: You're getting ahead of the story.
White: The story of how a fellow inmate became a crippled one-eyed halfwit so that you could find God.
- In Spider-Man, Peter refuses to stop a fleeing criminal as petty revenge against the fight promoter, who refused to pay Peter his award, and subsequently the hero's beloved Uncle Ben is killed by that criminal, teaching our hero that valuable lesson that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
- This lesson is flipped on its head in the third film when we see that Uncle Ben wasn't shot by the man that Peter let escape but by the man's partner, and, in fact, the shooting was a complete accident for which the shooter felt tremendous remorse.
- In the cheesy sci-fi movie R.O.T.O.R., the protagonist Barrett Coldyron eventually learns a valuable philosophical lesson, albeit at the cost of his robot killing or maiming several people.
- Beauty and the Beast (2017) tries to deal with the implications in the Disney version by having the servants take some blame for the Prince's behavior since they did not protect him from his abusive father after his mother died. However this still does not explain Chip (a child) and Garderobe and Cadenza (performers who were hired and simply happened to be at the party that night). The opening scene makes it look more like the curse just hit whoever didn't get out of the room in time. Even worse, once the last petal falls the objects will turn inanimate effectively killing the servants and others who got caught in the curse. Belle's town is also collateral damage as they all magically forget about the nearby castle and all its inhabitants which includes family members and loved ones for the duration of the curse. No wonder the Enchantress shows up herself to fix things once the last petal falls right before Belle can say she loves the Beast. A cut scene even had Lefou call her out on it!
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin involves a town that has a rat problem, which the title character proceeds to help them with by using a set of magical pipes with which he lures them into a nearby river and drowns them. The town refuses to pay him for his service, which gets the piper pissed enough to come back on a church day and play the pipes again, this time taking the town's children away. Many versions differ on what fate befalls them, but in the darkest ones, the kids meet with the same fate the rats did.
- In the children's book Sam, Bangs & Moonshine, Sam is warned that her habit of making up false stories, or "moonshine", will get her into trouble. She tells her friend, a little boy named Thomas, that her mother is a mermaid who lives in a distant cove. Thomas believes her and goes off to the cove, followed by Sam's cat Bangs, and both are presumably lost in a storm. Sam is very remorseful about their loss and learns An Aesop about not lying to people. Thomas and Bangs are eventually recovered alive, but Thomas is ill from his ordeal.
- A horrific and intentional example of Aesop Collateral damage is found in Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story Hell Screen. An obsessive and sadistic painter cannot paint anything he hasn't seen, so when he is commissioned to paint a picture of Hell by the tyrannical Japanese lord he serves, he tortures his apprentices to get the references he needs. Finally, he decides he needs to have a carriage set on fire and the woman inside to burn alive. The lord agrees. The victim? A pure, innocent and intelligent young woman ...the painter's daughter, and the one thing on Earth he truly loved. According to the servant narrating the story, the Lord does this to teach the painter a lesson about putting art above all other duties and concerns. However, the servant is unlikely to be telling the precise truth, out of fear of or devotion to his lord, so it seems more likely that this was the lord's twisted revenge on the daughter, Yukimi, for spurning his advances...advances that the narrator claimed never happened, despite witnessing his attempted rape of Yukimi. After the execution, the painter finishes his screen and is Driven to Suicide - the lord is a Karma Houdini.
- Linda Fischer in Blubber is bullied to the point of tears to set up for the protagonist's eventual fall from popularity so she can learn a lesson. Unfortunately, the lesson doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the protagonist and Linda never receives any sort of compensation or remotely happy ending after all she went through.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q Who". Irritated by Picard's arrogance, Q sends the Enterprise light years across the galaxy to an unexplored region of space and then disappears. They run into the Borg, who kill eighteen crew members. Picard learns his lesson, but eighteen innocents die for it: Picard calls Q out on what he has done and says that while he understands the lesson and appreciates its message, there must've been a way to teach it that didn't result in the deaths of eighteen people, to which Q retorts "If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you should go home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here, it's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But, it's not for the timid.". Later episodes revealed that Q actually did this in part to provide the Alpha Quadrant with a disguised warning about the existence of the Borg so that Starfleet could start mobilizing and be ready before they arrived.
- In a Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode, Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey is turned into a beast by her saintly but ugly cousin Susie, who has green skin and warts, to teach her lesson about shallowness. Cousin Susie is treated as entirely justified in teaching Sabrina her lesson, while everyone ignores the fact that the blameless Harvey is the one who finds himself growing fur, claws and tusks.
- My Name Is Earl: Earl develops a gambling addiction. He takes Catalina to a seedy underground "casino," and lends her his car because she's late for work. She ends up speeding to make up for lost time, gets pulled over, and the cops discover that her driver's license is a fake. She ends up getting deported back to her homeland (at this point, assumed to be Mexico, later called "Guadelatucky.") Earl has to go down there and bring her back to Camden.
- Merlin (2008) has an episode, which is about Prince Arthur being cursed after he killed a unicorn and didn't even show any remorse. Which would have been fine, except for that this just leads to his innocent subjects suffering from hunger and thirst (all the crops suddenly wither and all the wells also dry out at the same time) until things are back to normal by the end of the episode. Unusually, it is actually stated in this case that this is completely unfair. The innocent poor people shouldn't have to lack both food and water, just so their prince can learn a lesson about not being arrogant!
- 7 Yüz: Happens pointedly in the episode "Refakatçiler". To prove her point, Vildan draws Serdar's attention to Semih's new car, which seems a tad too expensive for his family's income bracket. Jumping to immediate conclusions, Serdar storms to Alihan's apartment in a rage, accusing the father and son of shamelessly stealing from him. Alihan and Semih are naturally hurt and offended by the accusation, and the unpleasant incident prompts them to sever their relationship with Serdar, who while regretful, seems too proud to apologize.
- The Christmas Shoes gets a lot of hate based on this trope. The narrator interprets a young mother dying of cancer as a deliberate attempt by God to teach him the meaning of Christmas.
- The Bible is full of these:
- King David has sex with the wife of one of his generals and gets said general killed in battle to get away with his adultery. God inflicts an illness on the child coming out of this affair. David repents and God forgives him. The king, that is. To really teach David that justice has to be done, the child however still has to die from the illness. David, and his new (stolen) wife have another son though, the future king Solomon, and seem to live happily ever after except for that David's oldest son rapes his half-sister, and another son goes to war against his own father.
- The general Jephthah hastily pledges to sacrifice the first creature he encounters after an upcoming battle if God helps him to win it. His army is victorious, but the price for his hubris is quite terrible: As he's returning home, his daughter runs out to meet him.
- A tragic example occurs in Joshua, when he warns the Israelites who have just conquered Jericho not to take any of the treasure for themselves, but to deposit it in the treasury. Unfortunately, Achan takes a Babylonian garment, 200 silver shekels, and a gold ingot weighing 50 shekels for himself, and after the Israelites are defeated at Ai, lots are cast, indicating that Achan was the one responsible for taking part of Jericho's plunder for himself. As a result, his wife, children and livestock suffer as they are stoned to death along with Achan.
- The story of Job is actually not an example, though it might seem so — it goes one step further, and beyond the trope, in that even the person who is "punished" by having his loved ones die is innocent. Job loses everything, including his family, but though his friends insist he must have done something to deserve it, he's in fact innocent and God is just (sort of) testing him. Still, the logic is much the same in terms of collateral damage — he even gets new children in the end. This is considered a happy ending, but not for Job's first kids. They're still dead.
- Although some have noted that technically, the Biblical narrative never says they died—just that messengers TOLD Job that they did. This has led to an alternate interpretation that the two sets of kids are actually the same.
- As Mark Twain points out, there had to have been the usual proportion of children born to the people of Noah's generation. Then God sent the rain, "and drowned those poor little chaps".
- It is very common in Biblical stories that innocent descendants (even if they lived centuries after the crime in question had happened) are punished for what their ancestors did. One example is when Noah puts a curse on his innocent grandson Canaan and his descendants, since Ham (Canaan's father) had peeked at a drunk Noah's naked body! note And in the end of the Book of Genesis, when Jacob is proclaiming his last blessings to his sons, he brings up Simeon's and Levi's violence and wrath (he is probably referring to how they had killed all the men in a city, because one guy had raped their sister), before he proclaims that their descendants (who are not even born yet and thus had nothing to do with that event) are cursed to be scattered among the other Israelites. note And that is only two examples from the first book!
- Greek Mythology:
- A strong example to modern eyes is the story of the Minotaur. King Minos of Crete received a white bull from the gods. It was intended as an offering to Poseidon, but Minos kept it as a prize of his herd instead. Aphrodite retaliated by making his wife, Pasiphaë, fall in lust with it and arrange to play the part of a cow. Sure, Minos was stuck with the result of that union: a Minotaur, that would eat human flesh. But he only had it locked up in a labyrinth, and then periodically fed innocent Athenians to the beast until Theseus killed it. So let's do a recap: Queen Pasiphaë, the Minotaur and many innocent Athenians all had to suffer. But as for Minos himself, he kept the bull, stayed as king of Crete, and was even made one of the three judges in the paradisiacal section of the Greek afterlife. So except for the shame that his wife had sex with a bull (which would have been a blow to his ego, even if she was basically brainwashed into doing that), Minos came out unscathed.
- Queen Niobe was severely punished for boasting about her fourteen children, comparing herself to the goddess Leto and condemning the people for worshiping Leto. Leto's two children (Apollo and Artemis) started to kill off all of Niobe's fourteen children with arrows. Niobe's husband, King Amphion, was Driven to Suicide or killed by Apollo for wanting to avenge his children, depending on the version of the story. Niobe herself would grieve so much that she was turned into a cliff, with a powerful stream caused by her neverending tears flowing down from it. She was never forgiven for her stupid moment of hubris. And yes: her family were killed just so she could be taught a lesson, even though at least her children hadn't done anything wrong.
- King Midas had made a stupid wish for that everything he touched to turn to gold. But after this wish had been granted, it started to backfire on him (for example, he could no longer eat without turning all his food into gold). But the culmination was that Midas accidentally turned his daughter into gold (this part is seen in the page image).
- Laocoön nearly stopped the plan with the original Trojan Horse, since he was smart enough not to trust it. But as the gods couldn't let him jeopardize the Greek victory at the last moment, they sent a sea serpent to devour him. Which sounds terrible and unfair enough to our modern ears, but it becomes even worse: Said serpent also killed Laocoön's two innocent sons!
- One of the biggest examples in Greek mythology comes from the House of Atreus. Tantalus, the family's patriarch, was a demigod who got along with his divine relatives rather well until he decided to test the limits of their omniscience by killing his son Pelops and baking him into a pie, which he then served on Mount Olympus. Nearly all the gods immediately saw through the ruse (with the exception of Demeter, who had recently lost her daughter Persephone to Hades and thus took a small bite before she too stopped) and were absolutely furious. The gods gave Tantalus his famous punishment—to be cursed with a burning hunger and thirst and forever trapped in a pool of water with a fruit tree right above his head, with the water and fruit always moving just out of reach—but that apparently wasn't enough retribution for what he'd done. His entire family line was cursed: Pelops (who the gods revived) had three children who did horrible things including murder, incest, and forced cannibalism, while his grandchildren included Agamemnon and Menelaus, who you might know for their involvement in that whole Trojan War thing. And Agamemnon himself also killed one of his daughters to appease the gods and ended up murdered himself (as did the psychic Cassandra, whom he'd taken as a war prize, and who was cursed by Apollo to never be believed for refusing him), which led two of his remaining children - Orestes and Electra - to cause even more death and destruction until Orestes finally begged Athena for forgiveness, at which point the curse was broken. So to recap: wars were fought and raged, innocent children were killed, rape and incest occurred on a grand scale, and countless people died...all because one person decided to test the power of the gods. Yikes.
- According to some maltheists, the idea that everyone is burdened with "original sin" inherited from Adam and Eve is a variety of this trope.
- In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the beast-man Enkidu is the gods' response to the people's complaints that Gilgamesh is an abusive king. He's civilized without his permission, forcing him to lose his friends among the beasts, and becoming Gilgamesh's counterpart leads to Gilgamesh taking them on a quest to kill a forest demon that results in Enkidu's death—all so that Gilgamesh can experience friendship and grief, thus learning to care about someone other than himself.
- The old-time radio show Diary of Fate had as its constant Aesop, "Choose evil and you will be destroyed." Okay, but often three or four people other than the main character would die in the process of him learning that lesson, without having chosen evil at all.
- Gamer arguments about the moral/ethical status of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft often hinge upon this trope, with fans who believe them to be malicious and/or terribly corrupt citing the large number of innocent non-monsters who are trapped there, at the mercy of the Land's many monsters and alongside the darklords (who do deserve their fate). Those fans who consider the Dark Powers' actions to be justified have been known to argue that everyone there must've done something to merit their captivity, or even that the native peoples are merely constructs that look and act like actual people, but aren't "real".
- The 5e update makes it clear that the vast majority of native Barovians really are just soulless constructs who exist to fill out the world. That said, some people , like Ireena, the reincarnation of Tatyana, Strahd's "lost love" (ie, constant stalking victim) are still real, and Ireena/Tatyana hasn't done anything to deserve being repeatedly reincarnated and tormented to teach Strahd a lesson he'll never learn (though at least if you do the exact right sidequest, you can bust her out of the cycle).
- RWBY: This is ultimately the source of everything wrong with the world. The gods punished Salem for her hubris in trying to trick them into resurrecting her love by giving her Complete Immortality. Whether that is a reasonable punishment is up for debate, but at least it only affected the guilty party. When she gathered an army to attack the gods, they decided to punish her by wiping out all of humanity, leaving only her alive. Furthermore, the God of Light resurrected Salem's lover Ozma with instructions to unite the remnants of humanity; once he believed he had succeeded, he was to summon the gods back, who would either restore humanity's full magic to them or destroy the entire planet. Ozma was at least given the option to refuse, but the rest of humanity has no idea they're caught in the middle of a massive Forever War between two immortals on behalf of the gods.
- This is parodied on The Simpsons: The "Treehouse of Horror XXII" story "Hex And The City" had a fortune teller curse Homer's family because he insulted her. They suffer through freakish transformations, and Bart actually dies, but Homer goes on refusing to reverse the curse by apologizing because none of it's happening to him. It's especially egregious given that the apology would even resurrect Bart.
Homer: Apologizing won't bring Bart back.Marge: The fortune teller said it would.Homer: (crosses arms, looks away sulkily) She's not the boss of me.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: After Iroh's son died during the Earth Kingdom campaign, Iroh went into Heroic BSoD and wanted nothing to do with ruling the Fire Nation. His scheming brother Ozai tried to convince his father Azulon to name him as heir, Azulon did not take it well and ordered Ozai to kill his own firstborn, Zuko. And Ozai would cheerfully have done it too, but he made a deal with his wife: she would make an untraceable poison with which to kill Azulon, in exchange for letting Zuko live. Ursa then fled the Fire Nation, leaving Zuko a "Well Done, Son!" Guy, his sister Azula a Daddy's Little Villain, and Ozai free to continue trying to Take Over the World.
- Parodied in Yin Yang Yo!: A fairy creates a villain that grows every time Yin and Yang lie. At the end, she shows up and congratulates them on learning their lesson... only to have the townspeople angrily point out that she destroyed the city in the process.