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Good Cannot Comprehend Evil

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"How could they? Treating life like it's something to throw away!? Like death is nothing! I'll never understand these people! Not in a million years!"
Asta, Black Clover

Bob and Alice are being terrorized by Doctor Deathmurderkill. He has hunted them, attacked them, and nearly gotten them killed on several occasions. Bob is convinced that Dr. DMK has kicked the dog more than enough times to warrant fighting back with lethal force. Alice, however, insists that he must have a good reason, or maybe that it's all just a big misunderstanding. Despite any evidence to the contrary, Alice refuses to believe that he can actually be 'evil'. After all, no one's that heartless, right?


This trope is, in its essence, a character who refuses to believe that someone could simply be evil for its own sake. If this character can just talk things out with the villain, then surely their motive will come out and together they can find a better solution (perhaps after pounding them into submission). It doesn't occur to them that there might not be a motive to discover. This character may also spare a villain, thinking that there's still some good in him, or that he can change for the better... only for the villain to commit more crimes.

Whether Alice is right or not depends on the work's placement on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. In an idealistic show, this attitude could very possibly lead to a Heel–Face Turn. In a cynical one, expect her death to be the very thing to push the villain over the Moral Event Horizon, assuming she’s not just treated as Too Dumb to Live.


This trope is usually limited to the very naive and very young, or the very old and war-weary, who've grown tired of the "black and white, us vs. them" attitudes of those around them. It also usually applies to older people who can't believe people make the same decisions over and over that lead to their own downfall while bringing misery to everyone else, often asking Was It Really Worth It?

Note: Be careful not to just stick this trope onto any pacifistic characters, whether technical, actual, or martial. The tropes are related, but one does not automatically imply the other.

Compare Stupid Good, The Pollyanna, White and Grey Morality. Contrast Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, This Is Unforgivable!.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Seiichiro Kitano from Angel Densetsu is always the target of thugs or other people who try to attack him because he looks like a monstrous, evil devil or something like that. Kitano is so naive and good that he never has bad thoughts and has no idea why would people do bad things and he cannot recognize bad actions very well. When people attack him, he believes that he did something bad to them that made them angry, that's why he lets them keep hitting him. And if (it happens rarely) he recognizes bad actions (which he mostly misinterprets), he tries to stop them.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou says he just doesn't get why people are assholes who grab power at the expense of others, constantly asking them why they don't use their abilities to make the world a happier place. However, this doesn't diminish his effectiveness at all. Just because he doesn't know why people do bad things, doesn't mean he's unaware that they do.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Goku frequently underestimates just how evil some people can be, and is all too willing to give them a Last-Second Chance when he has them at his mercy. For example, he falls for Raditz's pleas for mercy and grants it to him, only for Raditz to knock him down and mercilessly break his ribs; all the while, Goku is absolutely shocked that Raditz lied. He also spared Frieza's life twice out of a misguided act of mercy, and both times, Frieza used it to his advantage and tried to stab him in the back. He does get better over time, realizing that Cell and Majin Buu were beyond redemption and actively trying to kill them.
    • Even after all of the atrocities he's committed, Gohan still doesn't want to kill Cell and actually thinks he can reason with him, begging him to repent of his crimes and surrender peacefully. Instead, Cell goes out of his way to torment Gohan and force him to bring out his hidden power; when he finally crushes Android 16's head underfoot, Gohan finally snaps, goes Super Saiyan 2, and completely shifts gears, going from not wanting to hurt Cell at all to making sure Cell suffers as much as possible for everything he's done.
    • In the Future Trunks Saga of Dragon Ball Super, this is Gowasu's primary problem. He underestimates Zamasu's hatred of mortals because of Zamasu's pure heart and strong sense of justice, failing to realize until it's almost too late that in Zamasu's case, Pure Is Not Good. Even when he discovers Zamasu's true colors and how far gone he is, Gowasu still thinks that he can reason with Goku Black and Future Zamasu and get them to stop their rampage. This almost gets him killed.
    • While it's a bit of a stretch to consider Rō, the jerkass Supreme Kai of Universe 9, "good," he expresses the belief that even the most heinous of people have someone or something they hold dear and wish to protect, and is genuinely shocked that Frieza literally doesn't care about anyone or anything but himself, to the extent he's willing to betray all of Universe 7 for his own benefit.
      : How could you? Even the most despicable of villains has something which they hold dear and wish to protect! A loved one? Cherished memories? A precious place from one's childhood, even?
      Frieza: Excuse me, my good man: I simply do not understand what it is that you are prattling about.
  • Jean from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, aside from being the nicest guy in the show (and Adorkable), is quite upset when Captain Nemo informs him that the Nautilus can be used for destruction if in the wrong hands. When Nadia expresses suspicion about the Nautilus, Jean replies that the Nautilus ''is a good ship… because the Captain is a good man!" Which is what makes his experience of witnessing his new friend Fait die at the hands of technology all the more heartbreaking.

    Comic Books 
  • After being put in charge of Hell in The Sandman, Remiel proclaims that the purpose of Hell shall no longer be punishment, but purification with the aim of redemption. The demons of Hell will no longer punish you for punishment's sake, or for their own pleasure, or because that's what demons do. They will punish you for purpose, for your own good, and because they care. As one of the damned comments, having redemption dangled in front of your nose at the end of it all only makes it worse.
  • In the Vertigo series Hard Time Ethan is a 15-year-old who takes part in a "prank" shooting at his school only to realize his friend Brandon is using real bullets. Sentenced to a maximum security prison, Ethan talks to a pair of lawyers about how he was ruthlessly bullied by the jocks and pretty girls at his school. He relates how he point blank asked the ringleader, Travis the quarterback, why he was doing this and the man just replied "because I hate you." The female attorney (an attractive black woman named Truth) is thrown, unable to understand this but her husband Julius (a more nerdy white man who undoubtably has gone through at least some of what Ethan has) is quick to answer.
    Julius: My wife is a triathlete, Ethan. Her compassion is genuine, but there are certain kinds of arbitrary hatred she's just never had to endure.
  • For Shazam's Billy Batson, this flaw seems to exist across multiple continuities: he's willing to work with, or at least support, evil people because he's an innocent child who's powers are a direct result of being one of the purest souls on Earth. In the mainstream universe, this happened when Lex Luthor became president; in Kingdom Come, Luthor basically brainwashes him into an evil Atoner; in Injustice: Gods Among Us, he's willing to follow an increasingly Knight Templar version of Superman (and gets killed for finally saying he's gone too far), etc.
  • Batman has a recurring problem with The Joker because of this. He can understand Greed or lust for power, he can understand Vanity and the urge to show off, he can understand Revenge on a very deep and personal level and he can probably understand the sadism of a weak man who wants to feel strong by picking on people even weaker than himself. But Joker? He frequently doesn't seem to have a motive he can articulate beyond It Amused Him and/or It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. He's as close to an Anthropomorphic Personification of Chaotic Evil as you can get while still being a corporeal, mortal(...ish) human being. And that makes it really hard to be Crazy-Prepared for dealing with him.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mirage): In the short story "Swan Song," taking place in the future, Radical, who had become Leonardo's Love Interest by that time, is attacked by her Arch-Enemy Complete Carnage, who snaps her neck right in front of Leo. Many years later, Leo, having become a Buddhist monk, tracks Carnage down to Hong Kong, where he has kidnapped several people, intending to forgive him for Radical's murder and free the hostages. During the ensuing fight, Leo tries to persuade Carnage to give up his evil ways and learn to understand the true value of life... but when Carnage gleefully kills one of his hostages and mocks Radical's death to Leo's face, Leo snaps, declares that Carnage has long since passed the Moral Event Horizon, and slices him clean in two in a Moment of Weakness.
    Leo: You... You killed her... Like it was nothing... Like you did Radical. I really did come here to forgive you. But you... you're not worthy of forgiveness!
  • The Punisher gets this from Thou Shalt Not Kill heroes who think he's just a Serial-Killer Killer that hasn't killed any innocents (yet). Frank himself rarely debates or justifies it (he works around heroes or neutralizes them), he just tells them that until they're ready to kill him, he won't stop killing criminals. In one issue, Daredevil was chained up with a gun pointed at Frank (who was getting ready to snipe a mobster), and while he did end up pulling the trigger, the gun was empty.

    Fan Works 
  • True to the show, Steven in A Triangle in the Stars can't grasp the fact that someone can be truly, thoroughly evil, and believes there's a reason behind everything. He's right.
  • Fluttershy in Post Nuptials could not understand why a creature like Discord could be so cruel and sadistic. Of course, the fanfic was written before season 3.
  • In Child of the Storm, this is one of Harry's defining characteristics. He knows better than most that there are people who are cruel to others for petty reasons, or no reason at all. But he simply can't understand why people are like that.
    • By the sequel, however, thanks to encounters with HYDRA and the Red Room and one brief period as the Dark Phoenix, he's entirely capable of understanding why people are evil. He doesn't like it very much.
    • It's mentioned that Steve Rogers, interestingly enough, averts this trope-he may be The Cape and a Knight in Shining Armor, but he grew up in the Depression and fought in World War Two. He's definitely not naive.
  • In Build Your Wings on the Way Down Hughes as a man who loves his family cannot understand why Tucker would do such a horrible thing like turning his own family into chimeras.
  • In The Very Secret Diary, Ginny ultimately realizes she can't quite figure out what the hell is wrong with Tom and why he is the way he is, and gives him an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    Ginny: Was it a terrible place, Tom?
    Tom: Oh, are we back to Tom? And now comes a surge of pity… yes, I feel it. God, how insipid you are. How predictable. How full of drama and tepid romantic conclusions. It was just a place like your sorry little Burrow, overrun with children. No different.
    Ginny: You say that you can feel my lies. Well, you are in me so much now that I can feel yours too. And I do not feel sorry for you at all. I have been thinking. Harry is an orphan, and he is not horrible. And Prissy has everything she wants, and she is still nasty. So I do not know how much it counts. I cannot work out what is wrong with you.
    Tom: ...Get. Out.]
  • Fire Emblem Fates: Aftermath: Corrin agrees to a duel with Jiro in chapter 14, expecting him to adhere to Hoshidan honor and accept his defeat. He's proven wrong when, after he wins, Jiro impales Corrin with a wyrmsbane lance the second he turns his back, sending him into a coma for two months and nearly killing him. When he awakens in chapter 15, Azura calls him out on it, stating he has to accept that not everyone is as good-hearted as he thinks.
  • Fire Emblem Awakening: Invisible Ties: Emmeryn gravely underestimates Gangrel's insanity and bloodlust, thinking that he'll eventually see reason if she keeps trying diplomacy. It isn't until Gangrel kidnaps Maribelle and tries to ransom her for the Fire Emblem that Emmeryn is forced to acknowledge that there's no reasoning with him.
  • Only Human: In this Frozen fanfic, while Elsa, Kristoff and Anna agree that what Hans did was morally wrong in the movie, they're shocked that his family would casually sell him off to slave merchants. Conversely, Hans is confused why the three of them are pitying him even after what he did.
  • Kingdom Hearts 4: New Light: Ryo is a Martial Pacifist who is firmly convinced that everyone can be reasoned with and hates having to resort to violence. It takes getting near-fatally stabbed by Jazzy's Wolverine Claws, followed by Training from Hell from Vanitas, for Ryo to finally accept that some people just can't be reasoned with and sometimes Violence Is the Only Option.
  • While it's hard to tell the good guys and bad guys apart in The Conversion Bureau: A Beacon of Hope the main reason why the political situation between Equestria and New Athens is so complicated and tends to work in the latters favor is because both the Princesses and the leader of the New Athens Socrates take for granted that the Equestrians all think alike, think whatever Celestia tells them to and couldn't possibly like Socrates and his nation or want to work for him because Socrates openly hates ponykind. Fortunately for Socrates his advisors are savvier and when immigrants from Equestria start showing up they tell him sending them away is a bad idea.
  • More like Good Cannot Comprehend Good but in Figuring Out Fluffle Puff Twilight Sparkle is confused as to why Fluffle Puff likes Queen Chrysalis.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku can't wrap his head around the Ultra-Humanite's desire to destroy the Tokyo National Museum over having an exhibit of Endeavor erected there. It's extremely arbitrary and petty on top of being callous to anyone who doesn't share the Villain's viewpoint.
    Izuku: Y-You're going to destroy the TNM? Just because they're getting rid of some good-looking art? That-That's so stupid!
  • In Faded Blue, the Crystal Gems (or at least Rose and Garnet) understand by Chapter 11 that Steven is probably not Blue Diamond – however, they are having trouble understanding why Blue Diamond would fall in love with a human, or have a son at all.
  • Downplayed in Where Talent Goes To Die. While Miura is by no means naïve and realizes that people can do bad things for a variety of reasons, she can't wrap her head around the idea of Ultimate Despair committing crimes, including killing their own loved ones, for the sake of despair.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is one of Danny's major flaws in Cats Don't Dance. He proves to be too naive to realize how evil Darla Dimple really is. This comes back to bite him in the butt when she sabotages his and the other animals' audition for movie studio mogul, L.B. Mammoth, initially thinking she wanted to help.
    Sawyer: She [Darla] was your "little angel"?
    Danny: She said she wanted to help us.
    Tilly: And you believed her?!
  • In The Condor, Tony has a hard time believing that his own cousin Reuben is a Jerkass unrepentant gangster. Even after Reuben sabotaged his skateboard and later cooperated with Taipan to set fire to Tony's house, Tony still thinks he can "save" Reuben and extends an olive branch. After Reuben angrily rejects him, Sammi gently explains to Tony that he can only save Reuben if Reuben wants to be saved.
  • Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon 2 is insistent on trying to reason with Drago despite his father's warnings. Later events transpire to teach him that, unfortunately, some people just can't be reasoned with. Specifically, Hiccup is at first optimistic that he can talk Drago out of his warmongering, but upon meeting Drago, hearing his story and, witnessing his conviction/insanity, he rapidly realizes that there is no reasoning with him. Drago's actions are not based on ignorance or fear like so many Hiccup has encountered before, but rather a deeply dark and warped view of the world.
  • Soren from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole refuses to believe that his brother Kludd had willingly joined the Pure Ones. He even mourns for Kludd when the latter apparently falls to his death in a forest fire.
  • Megamind:
    • Realizing he needs a new enemy with Metro Man apparently dead, Megamind grants superpowers to low-level cameraman/slacker Hal to become Titan. Megamind figures that anyone granted powers will naturally use them to become a hero and help the city. Instead of a hero, Hal turns into a greater menace than Megamind ever was. It never occurs to Megamind that someone with the power to do great good would choose to do great evil instead.
    • Also, when he discovers Metro Man faked his death in hopes of escaping his persona, free of the pressure of being a hero, Megamind is stunned, unable to accept that anyone beloved by the masses like Metro Man would ever give it up for a "normal" life. This is more Good Cannot Comprehend Neutrality, though.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • The Jedi Order suffers from this problem, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe has shown again and again that for a group that acts as champions of good, the Jedi Order has absolutely no understanding of the dark side. Justified since many of them refused to so much as study the Sith or the Dark Side, believing that even trying to understand evil would lead them to fall.
    • This is taken to Up to Eleven with the Jedi Order in the prequels, who, through a strange mix of Christian and Eastern philosophy, are convinced that all evil comes from emotional attachment, and the Jedi prohibition on said attachment is quite alienating for those who want to, y'know, keep their emotions. For example, in Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin goes to Yoda for advice about fear and the possibility of loss, Yoda simply doesn't have the moral flexibility and/or life experience to give Anakin anything but platitudes about how emotional attachment is dangerous and wrong. Palpatine, on the other hand, gives Anakin actual advice, setting the stage for his More Than Mind Control.
    • In the Expanded Universe (Legends canon), this is a problem for several species who can't wrap their heads around the ideas behind Imperial ideals of Dystopia Justifies the Means and power for power's sake. A species who got hit hard by this were the Miraluka, a species of Blind Seers who has no functioning eyes and see everything through the Force. They had a comprehension of evil, but not to the degree the Empire could bring. As a result, the Empire hunted them for their inherent Sensitivity and the Fantastic Racism against any non-humans, forcing many of them to masquerade as blind humans to escape persecution.
  • Marge expresses this in Fargo, as seen in the film's page quote. Marge, a Nice Girl By-the-Book Cop, has just arrested Grimsrud after she caught him stuffing his partner's corpse into a wood chipper. She simply can't believe that the crime spree that ended with five people dead, lives ruined and families destroyed, was all for money.
  • Most characters in No Country for Old Men also struggle with this, usually when they are facing Anton Chigurh. Likewise, Anton Chigurh cannot understand why his victims always implore him to have mercy.
  • In The Dark Knight, Bruce hits a dead end trying to understand and figure out the motives behind The Joker; it's with a little help from Alfred that he comes to accept that there is no why behind The Joker, he just is.
  • In Star Trek Into Darkness, the heroes had a lot of trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that Admiral Marcus is a corrupt traitor.
  • Schindler's List: For a long time Oskar Schindler seems to think that Amon Goeth would be a much better person if there weren't a war going on, which Schindler thinks brings out the worst in people. He's incredulous that Goeth could enjoy killing people until Stern confirms the number of atrocities that the Nazi Captain has already committed.
  • Richie Rich:
    • It's obvious to most everyone Laurence Van Dough is jealous of the Richs and wants the business for himself, but even after he's marooned on a desert island by him, Mr. Rich can't grasp how bad Laurence is.
    • This plays into the finale when Van Dough breaks into the Rich family vault, only to find that instead of gold and money, it contains personal items and memories of the Richs' lives. To them, it's perfectly logical that they would use the vault for the stuff that's most important to them and they're astounded Laurence would think they hoard their money away.
      Van Dough: Where's the money?!
      Mr. Rich: In banks. Where else?
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Philip Swift is a Good Shepherd who believes that everyone has some good in them and can be saved by God's grace, and attempts to reach out to Blackbeard, admitting that trying to save Blackbeard's soul was "a bit of a long-shot." As the film goes on, however, Philip changes his mind and declares that Blackbeard is evil beyond any hope of redemption.
  • In Disney's live action Cinderella, when Cinderella can no longer take anymore from Lady Tremaine, she breaks down, asking her "Why? Why are you so cruel? I don't understand it. I've tried to be kind to you."
  • Downplayed to "Good Underestimated the Power of Evil" in Wonder Woman (2017), where Wonder Woman believes that the humans are only fighting The Great War because of Ares' influence. She believed the humans are being corrupted to fight one another, but after Ares reveals himself as the British politician Sir Patrick Morgan, he reveals to them that he only gave the humans tools and ideas to kill as their personal muse. The humans themselves chose to listen and follow Ares' influences.
  • Halloween (2018): The other characters have no ability to understand why Michael Myers does what he does. Laurie and Hawkins don't even try. As Dr. Sartain demonstrates, even lesser evil cannot comprehend evil; Sartain drove himself mad trying to understand Michael and dies knowing him no better than he did at the beginning.
  • In Demolition Man, Chief Earle can hardly believe it when Simon Pheonix unleashes a torrent of violence against a couple of hopelessly unprepared cops. He stares, aghast, and wonders aloud "how can anyone be so flagrantly sadistic? This was fun for him!"

  • Harry Potter: Dumbledore has shown that he can understand quite a bit about Lord Voldemort. However, it turns out that Dumbledore was unable to figure out that Voldemort hid one of his Horcruxes in the Room of Requirement. Why? Because Dumbledore was a model student who never cheated and hence had no need to use the room to hide anything. Harry, however, was certainly not a model student, he cheated a couple of times, and he used that room, so he could figure it out once he knew Voldemort had hidden a Horcrux at the school in Deathly Hallows.
  • In Death series: Dr. Mira in Midnight in Death is unable to find out why David Palmer is such a bastard - particularly notable because Mira is an NYPSD psychiatrist and profiler whose job involves understanding the minds and motivations of criminals. Eve Dallas is unable to find out why her own mother is so bad in New York To Dallas.
  • The Silmarillion:
    • It is said that the Valar didn't understand Morgoth's evil. The most obvious manifestation of this failure is when Morgoth was imprisoned for millennia after his first rebellion; eventually, the Valar king (and Morgoth's brother), Manwë (whose name means something like "incorruptible") frees him because he claims to have repented. Not all of the Valar seem to have been convinced, but Manwë didn't question it.
    • For what it's worth, Morgoth tried begging for mercy again after his second rebellion. This time the Valar weren't fooled, and literally kicked him out of the universe.
    • In the Akallabêth (the tragic account of the rise and fall of Númenor, a land of many blessings set up to reward those humans who had fought against Morgoth), Manwë learns the hard way that humans often take benefits for granted and feel entitled to more.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: The Vigilantes have shown that they cannot understand why people like the Monarch HMO in Payback, Karl Woodley in The Jury, and Maxwell Zenowicz in Fast Track are such evil people.
  • Discworld:
    • Early in the series, we have Twoflower who thinks the best of everyone and is convinced that no problem can't be solved when people sit to reasonably discuss them; his worldview is helped by the fact that he also thinks that "he can not get into trouble, because he do not want trouble to anyone" even in the face of the danger. This baffles danger so much it that passes by his side (preferably by the one in which Rincewind is) letting him unfazed. Only the star cultists make him realize that they weren't going to "reasonably discuss" anything.
    • Granny Weatherwax of all people. The Duchess mocked Granny's attempt to make her have a Heel Realization, claiming that Granny was naive for believing that all people really are good deep down. One of Granny's core philosophies is basically "Once you truly comprehend good, you can't choose to be evil." A philosophy that she started vocalizing after her encounter with the Duchess.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, when Bluestar's suffering from dementia and is absolutely convinced that WindClan is stealing prey, she won't listen to Fireheart when he gives her evidence that a dog has been killing the prey. She tells him that he's a good and noble warrior, so he can't comprehend that other cats would have morals any less pristine than his own. He especially thinks this comment is odd, since he was the one that exposed Tigerclaw as a traitor and murderer.
  • Annabeth Chase from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians refuses to believe her former best friend Luke Castellan is evil, even after he attempts to kill her several times throughout the series, insisting that he is just being manipulated by the Titans and is a victim.
  • Catch-22: Yossarian has heard stories of slave traders in Africa kidnapping little boys and selling them to men who disemboweled and ate them. He wonders how a child could suffer such a horrible fate without showing the slightest hint of fear or pain, but takes it for granted that somehow they do; he refuses to believe that anyone could knowingly cause a child to suffer.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This along with Horrible Judge of Character is the Fatal Flaw of most of House Stark. They really never catch on that not everybody in Westeros holds the same lofty moral standards that they do, which eventually gets most of them betrayed and massacred, leaving only a few scattered surviving children.
  • Almost deconstructed in Villains by Necessity. After the forces of darkness have been all but entirely wiped out, heroes swarm the world brainwashing evil-doers and driving monsters to extinction. The fact that the world needs evil to exist (and will literally cease to be without it) is something that none of them can understand, and the book's group of villain protagonists are forced to fight against them until the end.
  • In the trilogy Losing Christina, Christina tries in vain to get the adults in her town to realize that the seemingly kindhearted Shevvingtons are a pair of twisted monsters who play games to destroy innocent lives. It takes the Shevvingtons claiming Christina is acting out from the long-term abuse of her parents for the friends of the family to realize something is wrong. At the book's climax, they basically apologize to Christina and admit that they just didn't want to face the fact that "we invited a pair of sociopaths into our town."
  • Discussed, albeit in a very watered down way, in Jane Austen's Emma. Emma and her former governess, Mrs. Weston, talk about Frank, Mrs. Weston's stepson, who has been raised by his uncle and aunt since he was very small. The aunt basically rules the roost, and the two women are debating whether she could have enough influence over Frank to prevent him from visiting his father and stepmother. Mrs. Weston advises her young friend not to assume the best of the aunt: "My dearest Emma, do not pretend, with your sweet temper, to understand a bad one."
  • This and Evil Cannot Comprehend Good slam headlong into each other in The Interdependency. In the second book, Cardenia makes an offer to a major noble house: instead of executing the countess's daughter for treason, she'll be confined to a Luxury Prison Suite. Both Cardenia and Kiva Lagos, the heroes, parse this as an olive branch: instead of a painful death, the noble daughter in question gets what amounts to a permanent four-star hotel stay at the state's expense. Neither imagines that the countess, an antagonist, might parse this as an insult or attempt to hold her daughter hostage, which of course she does.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This, combined with Honor Before Reason, is the key flaw of the Starks on Game of Thrones. Eddard is the worst, assuming the royal court must hold to ideals of honor and fair play; he is totally unprepared for how ruthless they can be, and he pays the price. Robb follows in his footsteps with the mistake of assuming anyone entering into a treaty will naturally hold to it and not, say, get paid off by his enemies to lure him in. Jon Snow also emulates his father and half-brother, believing that everyone will just set aside their differences and work together against a common threat, but he overestimates even the notion of self-preservation people have in the face of pride or spite like Alliser Thorne or Cersei Lannister.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Savage Curtain", Surak, Spock, and President Lincoln have a hard time understanding the motives and actions of the opposing "evil" side. Only Kirk seems to have a grasp of their potential for deceptiveness and duplicity.
  • The Highs in Red Dwarf when presented with the Lows.
    High Kryten: The poor wretch, he has a faulty gun! He's accidentally shot me five times! Oh, how I love him!
    High Cat: Brother, there is a grievous fault with thine weapon. It keepeth shooting people.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Mentiads in the serial "The Pirate Planet" state this as the reason they had not deposed the Captain prior to the Doctor's arrival. They are incapable of understanding why he does what he does, and are unable to properly work against him as a result.
    • In the revival series, there's a downplayed example. The Doctor can't work out why the Weeping Angels' method of attacking Amy involves needlessly tipping her off in advance. He's briefly dumbstruck when he finds out that they're just doing it to terrorize her.
  • The Torchwood episode "Countrycide"note  ends with Gwen confronting the main villain with a simple question, and suffering a minor Heroic BSoD from the answer.
    Gwen: Why? Why would you wake up one morning and decide that this is what you want to do?
    The villain: Because it made me happy.
  • Fargo:
    • The murderous liar Lester is in conversation with his brother, Oswalt, who grasps to understand him and states, "There's just... something missing." Oswalt admits that was why he didn't want to listen to his deputy's theories about Lester being the killer, that he didn't want to face the idea the world could be this way.
    • In Season 2, Hank becomes an Expy for Marge from the original movie, giving a brief Call-Back to her speech about this trope from the film (see Films — Live-Action, above) that echoes her word-for-word in several places.
  • The reason the team of Leverage get so much business. There is no shortage of people who find themselves the victims of scam artists or corrupt businesspeople, good and decent folks who can never conceive being taken advantage of. That includes people who trusted the crooks, even friends and can't believe they were ripped off so badly. Sadly, this counts as Truth in Television.
  • Daredevil (2015): Father Lantom, a Catholic priest, discusses the topic of Evil, Satan, and the like with Matt Murdock, the titular hero. The priest admits to once holding this view, questioning even if Satan truly existed. Then he was in Rwanda during the 1990's genocide. He was in a village with a peaceful and highly respected chieftain. The leader of a Hutu militia came to the village and spoke with the chieftain for hours. Then the Hutu leader brutally killed the chieftain and his entire family. Father Lantom states he was given a Sign from God that Satan does exist and saw true evil in the Hutu leader's face while he killed these peaceful people.

  • Old Harry's Game: One episode has Satan and the Professor embarking on a Journey to the Center of the Mind to see why Thomas is the way he is. At one point, the Professor comes across a hidden-away memory which is marked with tons of warnings not to open it, which shows Thomas as a child being bullied by his classmates. The Professor assumes that this is a Freudian Excuse that Thomas locked away because it was painful for him to remember, but when he tries to offer Thomas consolation, Thomas reveals that the memory was actually of an unspecified crime (presumably involving killing the bullies) and he had hidden it away to avoid accidentally incriminating himself.

    Video Games 
  • Warcraft
    • According to now-non-canon sources, this is what happened with Sargeras, the creator and leader of the Burning Legion. Originally belonging to a race of god-like beings called the Titans, he and his kind traveled throughout the cosmos to bring order to worlds; they were so powerful they defeated the Old Gods, the Eldritch Abominations of Azeroth, and created the dragons to become the world's stewards. While defeating and imprisoning the demons of the Twisting Nether, their evil caused Sargeras to question the Titans' quest for order. He was driven into depression after witnessing the chaos wrought by the demons, especially after defeating the vampiric Nathrezim, whose manipulative bastardry on various worlds affected him deeply. Eventually, he went completely off the rails with the belief that the Titans' quest for order was essentially wrong, given that he saw the Universe as intrinsically chaotic and evil. The last the Titans saw him, Sargeras had freed the demons he had personally previously imprisoned, made them a part of his army, and sent his Burning Legion to bring war upon the Universe, putting into action the corruption of the Draenei and Orcs, the birth of the Lich King, and the multiple near-destruction of Azeroth itself. An example of Good Cannot Comprehend Evil taken to epic proportions.
    • A more low-key example would be the nuking of Gnomeregan. Unlike most of Azeroth's denizens, the Gnomes didn't have any history of fighting among each other, which is why Mekkatorque didn't suspect Thermaplugg's seemingly obvious traitorous plan, even if it involved setting off a nuke in their own capital city. He is not proud of this.
  • In Mass Effect 3:
    • A defector from an evil organization thought that she had hidden families safely on a remote world, because she "couldn't imagine" the organization's leader coming after them. Shepard says "That's what evil counts on..."
    • After discovering the various atrocities at Sanctuary, Ashley (who is by no means a naive character), says she truly cannot understand what motivated it. She also says that she's actually glad she can't, as it makes her feel human.
    • Earlier in the series, this is the reaction of the mainstream geth (who primarily want to be left alone) to the heretics (who worship the Reapers and want to help them wipe out everything). Legion, a "normal" geth, expresses outright shock at the very idea that the heretics are spying on the mainstream.
    • More generally, the Reapers are a race of robotic Eldritch Abominations who cull all advanced societies every 50,000 years. Many in the galaxy at large cannot comprehend that the Reapers are engaging in a multi-species war of extermination, not a war of conquest. The Reapers exploit this by using Mind Rape to make leaders tell their populations to stop fighting while a peace deal is hammered out. The Reapers offer no peace, but a docile populace is easier to exterminate.
  • In the first Kingdom Hearts game, there's a bit where the cute and cheerful ninja girl Yuffie says that she just can't understand why people like Ansem are so intoxicated by the power of darkness.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Having lived much of his life in isolation, Knuckles grew up believing in honesty and holds a firm and steadfast belief that there is good in everyone, which always lets him give people second chances. Naturally, Eggman has used this to his advantage to dupe him into fighting Sonic on multiple occasions; his being a Horrible Judge of Character in regards to Eggman has become something of a Running Gag.
  • Star Wars Games:
    • Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords show the Jedi to be very ignorant of the Sith order and the motives of those who turn to the dark side. In particular, Darth Revan was able to convert so many Jedi to his cause not only because of this trope, but also because he was a notable aversion of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. Revan understood the order and its flaws far too well, exploiting them to deadly effect. In the first game, Carth and Mission (the highest rated party members on the Karma Meter) frequently comment on how little they understand the stupidity and greed of an NPC pushing a Dark Side choice.
    • Star Wars: The Old Republic
      • The Jedi order is apparently blind to the massive corruption in the Republic and a large number of dark Jedi, Sith aligned and otherwise, in their own ranks. There's some implications in-game that the Senate and the military deliberately don't tell the Jedi about some of their shadier operations because of this trope. What's believed necessary to bring down the enemy doesn't often agree with the Light Side option.
      • This trope directly leads to the downfall of one Jedi Master. He believes all beings can be redeemed, and that he is just the one to do it. When he tries to convince the Sith Emperor into a Heel–Face Turn, the realisation of exactly how evil Vitiate truly is causes his worldview to snap messily.
  • Treasure of the Rudra takes this almost to the point of Running Gag. Surlent assumes that everyone he meets is as honest and compassionate as he is, which leads to him trusting the wrong people and getting screwed as a result of it several times throughout his scenario.
  • In the intro chapter of Bravely Default, the Wind Vestal Agnés is being hunted by soldiers from the Duchy of Eternia. At first she is willing to surrender to them to stop their attack on the city of Caldisla, assuming "they are men, not monsters". When she goes to turn herself in accompanied by Tiz, she meets the leaders of the assault. When they tell her how they want to beat her to within an inch of her life, then heal her just so then can do it again over and over, she realizes that they are, in fact, monsters. So begins the game's first boss fight.
  • Fenthick in Neverwinter Nights is another example; he is so good that he simply cannot conceive of the possibility that anyone else could be evil. It comes back to bite him.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: While it's a very long stretch to call Hot Coldman "Good," the entire reason for the Peace Walker project is because he genuinely believed that even the most strong-willed humans would be too moral to retaliate against a nuclear strike and would gracefully accept death instead if it meant not bringing about a nuclear apocalypse. He went so far as to have Peace Walker transmit false data to NORAD in order to force the military to decide whether or not to retaliate, firmly convinced that they would stop at the last second, thus proving the need for Peace Walker's existence. Posthumously, Coldman is proven wrong when the military actually does try to order a retaliatory strike, and are only prevented from doing so when Peace Walker drowns itself in Lake Nicaragua to stop the data transmission. Venom Snake even lampshades it on a cassette tape in The Phantom Pain:
    Venom Snake: "Humans are incapable of destroying themselves?" Turns out he never knew what humans are capable of.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations Iris tends to see everyone in the most positive light possible. This is especially visible when it comes to her Evil Twin Dahlia. Iris saw her as a misguided girl who turned out the way she did because no one loved her, even though Dahlia makes it clear that she never cared about anyone but herself. That being said, Iris makes it clear that if she knew about Dahlia's plans to kill her boyfriend she'd do anything to stop her, including killing her.
  • In Persona 4 this trope crosses over with Children Are Innocent in the case of Nanako Dojima, the protagonist's young cousin. During one of her Social Link events, she asks why people do bad things, and responds most favorably if you say you don't know, either.
    Nanako: I see... You're not a bad person, so I guess you wouldn't know.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A vlaath is a predator found on the Lower Planes in the Planescape campaign, and one of the most sadistic of beasts, torturing prey to death via the most horrendous means imaginable. One researcher who refused to believe they did this simply For the Evulz formulated the theory that vlaath were Emotion Eater who fed on their victims' fear, possibly giving the creature some justification. This theory was debunked when the researcher sedated a vlaath to talk to it. Or rather, thought he had sedated it.(The researcher's assistant managed to escape with the recording mimir and published the research posthumously.)

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: When Jaune comes face-to-face with Cinder near the end of Volume 5, all he can do is struggle to understand what kind of a person can relish in the countless atrocities she's committed and brag about it. Tears start streaming down his face towards the end of his outburst as he demands that Cinder say something in response. She stares at him for a moment, then simply asks who he is. He is frozen with shock for a moment, before his rage snaps and he charges towards her, sword first.
    Jaune: What is wrong with you? How can you be so broken inside? To take so many lives, and then come here, and rub it in our faces like it’s something to be proud of! All with that damn smile on your face! I’m gonna make you pay for what you did! Do you hear me! Well, say something!
    Cinder: [Beat] Who are you again?

  • Schlock Mercenary: This comes up in the Dom Atlantis arc, when a foreign power is attacking a city to make it look like Earth is undergoing a civil war. Kathryn can't figure out how they expect to win; eventually the army arrives, and the heroes win. Mako bluntly says that Kathryn isn't monstrous enough to think of the simple answer—the enemy is going to overload the city's reactor, killing themselves, the heroes, the civilians, and all evidence that the attack was anything other than a civil war.
    Murtaugh: You're a monster.
    Mako: [resigned] I never get tired of being told that.
  • A minor, somewhat downplayed example shows up in The Order of the Stick prequel "Start of Darkness" which is, well, the Start of Darkness for Redcloak. Near the end of the story Redcloak's younger brother, who by that point is the Token Good Teammate that Xykon has Trapped in Villainy, comes up with a plan to attempt to betray and take down Xykon while Xykon is locked in battle with a powerful wizard, and a plan to disguise himself so Xykon won't be able to tell him from the other goblins Xykon has forced to serve him if the plan fails and Xykon lives. Redcloak responds by pointing out that his brother is counting on Xykon to react to not being able to tell which particular goblin betrayed him by letting it go, when in reality Xykon is likely to slaughter every goblin there instead, in order to make sure he gets the right one.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • In the episode "The Saint", Gumball does a bunch of horrible things to Alan (including framing him for cheating on Carmen and having his parents tortured by a clown) all for the sake of trying to find something that upsets him. Not only does Alan forgive Gumball right off the bat, but he views Gumball's actions in such a ridiculously optimistic light that he doesn't even believe he did anything wrong.
    • In the episode "The Wicked", Darwin repeatedly insists that Mrs. Robinson must have some redeeming quality or Freudian Excuse and tries to find it, despite all evidence that to the contrary. He only realizes he's wrong and Mrs. Robinson is just pure evil when she sees him choking and does nothing but give a Psychotic Smirk and watch. From there on out, his motive changes from trying to prove that she has some good in her to simply trying to get her locked up.
  • American Dad!: In the episode "Ricky Spanish," Steve tries to prove to Roger that everyone can be redeemed by redeeming Ricky Spanish, Roger's titular Ax-Crazy persona of the same name, only for "Ricky" to use him as an Unwitting Pawn to set up a robbery and leave him to take the fall with the cops. Steve's final scene in the episode is of him exercising in prison while swearing revenge on Ricky Spanish, now hating him just like everyone else in Langley Falls. To twist the knife even further, there's even a Hope Spot that makes it look like Roger is going to help Steve escape... only to steal his wallet and throw him to the cops, who promptly beat him senseless.
  • Henry Pym, in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!, will often try to reason with enemies first, especially if they used to be his villainy-rehab patients. In his defense, it almost works on Wonder Man before Iron Man brings down an Interrupted Cooldown Hug.
  • The Batman has one episode where Batman actually tries to make sense of The Joker. By the end, it is safe to say that Batman figures out that doing this is an exercise of futility and madness.
  • Macbeth in Gargoyles didn't even consider the possibility that Duncan (and later Demona) might be... less honest than he, until they betrayed him.
  • Hego from Kim Possible insists on believing that his sister Shego still has good in her, even after she directly backstabs him. However, it's implied that Hego was right about there being some good: she won't be doing a Heel–Face Turn anytime soon, but for all her evil, Shego couldn't fight her brothers. As Dr. Drakken pointed out, they defeated her suspiciously easily after she stole all their powers.
  • In King of the Hill, Hank Hill seems to assume everyone is as honorable and law-abiding as him.
    • In "Ho Yeah!", an angry pimp gets into a car chase with him. Hank crosses a stoplight just before it turns red and thinks this has bought him time. When the pimp crosses the red light to continue chasing him, Hank is incredibly shocked.
    • Hank was swindled by a used car salesman for 25 years, ever since the salesman told the teenage Hank buying his very first car that paying sticker price was a huge discount available only to a privileged few. Present-day Hank is of course an extremely honest salesman (of propane and propane accessories), and it seemingly never crossed his mind that a salesman could be dishonest.
      Salesman: What can I say, Hank? I'm a salesman.
      Hank: I know! You're a salesman! That's why none of this makes any sense!
  • Steven Universe:
    • The title character is so upbeat and selfless he assumes that anything "mean" is a simple misunderstanding. The following quote refers to an alien invader who has already tried to kill him, and is currently en route to exterminate mankind.
      Steven: Maybe when Peridot gets to Earth, she'll see how nice all the people are. And she won't want to hurt anyone.
    • This works out for him quite a bit. Peridot does eventually make a Heel–Face Turn, basically for the reasons he suggested. But in later episodes that same approach fails to work on other, less amenable characters, enough so that it's starting to traumatize him as he struggles with the notion that some people simply can't be reasoned with no matter how pure your intentions are.
  • Ella from Total Drama Pahkitew Island is one of nicest characters of the Total Drama franchise. She desperately wants to be Sugar's friend and absolutely does not understand why Sugar (a Fat Bitch and an Attention Whore that sees Ella as a potential rival) hates her so much.
  • Wander from Wander over Yonder goes both ways with this trope, with the title character being aware that evil beings exists but that still doesn't stop him from attempting to befriend them anyway. Even though later on, he comes to terms that some villains like Dr. Screwball and Lord Dominator aren't worth befriending. In the latter's case, Wander is insistent in the second season finale in reforming Dominator, despite his full attempts, he finally gave up after Sylvia persuades him to stop.
  • Samurai Jack: Up to Season 5, everything Jack seen has been black and white, and while he clearly believes humans have free will, he overestimates the power of such a concept. The idea that anyone could be influenced by outside forces (as the Daughters of Aku clearly have been) is new to him, and until he actually manages to talk to Ashi, he's almost as bad at understanding how it works as she is.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): In "New Girl in Town," Leo repeatedly insists that Karai isn't as evil as she appears and believes there must be some good in her. He realizes otherwise in "The Alien Agenda" when Karai meddles with Kraang tech, accidentally creates a monstrous super-mutant, and then abandons the Turtles to clean up her mess, all while mocking Leo to his face for trusting her.
    Leo: I trusted you!
    Karai: I know! That's messed up, right?
    • He falls into it again in "The Wrath of Tiger Claw," where he instantly believes Karai's claim that she now believes that Splinter is her true father and blows off Raph's objections. It never once occurs to him that Karai might be lying until she, having actually discovered the truth from Splinter, confesses and reveals the tracking device she just activated to lure Tiger Claw to their lair.
    Karai: I-I can't believe it. You're telling the truth! All these years, the Shredder has been lying to me!
    Leo: Wait, you can't believe it? I thought you did believe it. If you didn't believe it, why did you come down here?
    • Later subverted when Karai eventually does reform and, as of Season 4, is now a key ally to the Turtles.