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Sometimes, it hurts to do the right thing. Sometimes, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. And sometimes, what seemed a good idea at the time turns out otherwise. It sounded like the right thing... but it turned out to be Not Quite the Right Thing. May lead to Heel Realization and My God, What Have I Done?.

Whenever a device like this is used in a plotline, it's sometimes used to provide some sort of moral ambiguity to the situation (in which case, there truly wasn't a right thing). Usually leads to a Downer Ending or a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, and is a major part of shows with Black-and-Gray Morality. It can get messy when mixed with a good/evil Karma Meter. A lot of the time, however, this just means that they have to learn from their mistakes and find out the real Right Thing.

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Unfortunately, all too often Truth in Television. There's a reason they say No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

When everyone involved is aware that all options are bad and that there's no right answer, it's a Morton's Fork instead. If a character tries to learn from these mistakes and do the correct thing after, they might be a Moral Pragmatist. If this happens because they're deceived into believing that it was the right thing, they may be in the Wrong Side All Along courtesy of the Manipulative Bastard (especially the Treacherous Quest Giver).

Contrast The Extremist Was Right.


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Examples:

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    Films — Animated 
  • In Encanto, it's revealed that Bruno has been secretly patching cracks in Casita's walls for a long time to keep his family from worrying. It is a noble intention but those were Casita's warning of internal problems with the family. By hiding it just kept the family oblivious of it until it was too late.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The officers of the USN Caine from The Caine Mutiny get a big dose of this from Lieutenant Greenwald, the defense attorney that get Keith and Maryk off for relieving Captain Queeg of command. Queeg was incompetent and paranoid, but Greenwald points out that he was like that from years of serving on active duty in the Atlantic. Instead of bearing with their captain and helping him out, (which Queeg had actually asked them to do and like decent officers should) they scorned, mocked, and undermined him until a dangerous situation came up and the captain broke down at a critical moment, putting everyone's lives in danger. He tells them that Queeg has been serving the Navy faithfully for far longer than any of them, and all they did was bitch and complain about the man and then have the nerve to try to act like what happened was on Queeg's shoulders alone. He's disgusted with them (and himself) since he knows for a fact they just ruined the guy. Lieutenant Maryk, really the only officer among them who tried to help Queeg out, has had his own naval career likewise destroyed.
  • Courage Under Fire features this in the form of Karen Walden. While she was well within her rights as an officer to threaten her men with court-martial and even summary execution for refusing to obey orders in the field, she insists on invoking With Us or Against Us and promising that she would make them pay for their previous actions even after they rally behind her after all. This proves to be exactly the wrong way to motivate them at the critical moment. When faced with the decision of trying to rescue her or evacuating, they promptly leave her behind to die.
    • This can be further extended to the squadmates in question, as well; although Walden had made clear her intention to ruin their careers and attempting a rescue would have been incredibly dangerous, all three suffer crippling guilt from their actions later on.
  • For One Night: a young student tries to stop segregated proms at her school, causing racial tensions to explode in town. To be fair, though, the reporter Desiree Howard added fuel to the fire by breaking the story.
  • The ending of the movie Gone Baby Gone totally qualifies with Patrick's final choice. He takes the little girl back to her mother, who is horribly neglectful, and away from the police who had kidnapped her for her own good and killed several people to cover it up. Patrick ends up losing his fiancée as a result, and the ending of the book sees the girl back with her mother in the same situation. It's generally agreed that there wasn't a right choice by the girl,note  so he took the lawful route: the crime couldn't stand, regardless of other circumstances.
  • John Carter bravely saves the wounded Colonel Powell from a probable quick death at the hands of the Apache and thereby (unintentionally) condemns him to die a lingering and lonely death from exposure and blood loss in a cave. Even worse if you consider the battle with the Apache took place out in the open probably close to the cavalry camp meaning rescue - though unlikely - might have been possible if Carter had left Powell for dead.
  • A Most Violent Year: Cutting Julian loose after the shoot-out on the bridge. If Abel had kept him around, he'd have endangered the terminal deal further and put himself in the distinctly unlawful position of protecting a fugitive — but firing him and turning him over to the hands of the police ultimately shatters Julian's already fragile mental health, resulting in his suicide. Given Abel's motto of always doing the most right thing, this possibility seems to weigh heavily on him.
  • The ending to the Richard Gere/Edward Norton film Primal Fear, where it is revealed that Edward Norton's character really is a murderous sociopath, after Gere succeeds in defending him at his murder trial.

    Literature 
  • This crops up in The Dresden Files all the time, especially for the main character Harry Dresden:
    • In Changes, he discovers his daughter has been kidnapped by the Red Court of vampires. He goes nuts, calls in every ally he can get, makes a dangerous deal with the Faerie Queen Mab, and then kills the entire Red Court, stopping a dangerous war that had killed thousands of humans and wiping out an entire nation of nasty monsters. Then he arranges his own death so he can't be used by Mab and turned into a monster himself. In the sequel, Ghost Story, Harry learns the fall-out of those decisions. (Deep breath)
      • The destruction of the Red Court has created a colossal power vacuum which many power-hungry factions are eager to fill, creating even more conflict and chaos.
      • Eradicating the Red Court also killed many members of the Fellowship of St. Giles, an organization made up primarily of people who were infected with vampirism by the Red Court but had not completed the change. These half-vampires resisted the compulsion to drink human blood and worked to fight the Red Court and help their victims, often for decades, only to end up as collateral damage when Harry turns the bloodline curse against the Red Court. This also left a number of other people who were being helped and supported by the Fellowship suddenly abandoned, as Hannah Ascher relates in Skin Game.
      • Harry's death has left Chicago without a supernatural protector, and now numerous monsters prowl its streets.
      • His friends have almost all been badly affected by his disappearance, especially Murphy, who was fired from her job on the police and is now forced to work with a major crime lord in order to get the resources necessary to protect the city.
      • His apprentice Molly, who had flirted with the Dark Side and whose survival depended on Harry being there to teach until such time as the council deemed her no longer a threat, is so torn up by his death and her part in it that she's gone renegade, withdrawing from almost all human contact and killing people left and right. The White Council of Wizards has issued a kill-on-sight.
      • All in all, Harry MAY have done the right thing, but he did it in the worst possible way, with colossal political fallout that affected the entire planet. Still, at least he saved his daughter, so that's something.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The same night that Professor Trelawney delivers a genuine prophecy about a servant of Voldemort returning to his master, Harry persuades Remus and Sirius to send Wormtail to prison instead of killing him, only for him to escape. Harry is horrified at the idea that he might have helped Voldemort on his way back to power, but Dumbledore consoles him that he only did the best he could at the time. He also notes that Wormtail owes Harry his life, which may come in useful in the future. Sure enough, it finally pays off in Deathly Hallows: when Wormtail tries to strangle Harry, the latter reminds him that he owes Harry his life. This causes Wormtail to hesitate... and his magical hand to strangle Wormtail instead.
  • The Mistborn trilogy has a doozy — heroine Vin thinks she's making the right (if terribly painful) choice when she releases the power at the Well of Ascension instead of using it to heal her mortally wounded husband. What she doesn't know is that releasing the power was exactly what the Big Bad wanted her to do, as it would also release the apocalyptic Sealed Evil in a Can, although given it was powerful enough even while sealed to rewrite anything not etched in steel and only hinted at, it could be forgiven.
  • This happens repeatedly when Bastian recklessly makes wishes using the AURYN in the original novel of The Neverending Story. Perhaps the best example is when he finds a race of beings so utterly ugly that they constantly weep. He wishes for them to become beautiful and always laugh, but it turns out that their tears are actually necessary. The book also contains a variation, in that Bastian frequently commits acts that, while seemingly benevolent in nature, are motivated more by a desire to look good rather than do good, or because he thinks he'll benefit in some way from it. The narration notes that a person's reasons for an act can be just as important as the act itself.
  • The Sex Lives Of Siamese Twins: The protagonist, Lucy, sees a man with a gun chasing two homeless men with the intent to kill them, so she intervenes and saves the homeless men's lives, only to later find out that the two homeless men were child molesters and the gunman was one of their victims.
  • Given that A Song of Ice and Fire is Black-and-Gray Morality verging on Evil Versus Evil at times, it's unsurprising that this happens a lot:
    • Ned Stark finds himself in several situations in which being just slightly less scrupulously moral could have had things turn out much better for him. Among them:
      • When he warns Cersei that he has discovered that her children are bastards and plans to tell King Robert. His intention is to give her the chance to flee with her children, since he (almost certainly correctly) believes that Robert will kill the children when he finds out. Instead, it simply gives her ample warning and time to move her own plans forward.
      • Later, shortly after Robert's death, Renly Baratheon offers to support him as Lord Regent if he'll take Cersei's children hostage to ensure that she doesn't move against them (and strongly implies that he expects Ned's support for his claim to the throne in return). Ned might have accepted Renly's help and supported his claim, accepted his help and then later refused his claim in favor of Stannis, accepted his help on the condition that he renounce his claim, or refused his help but taken his advice to seize the children. Instead, he refuses the help, the claim, and the advice, meaning that he has no support and no leverage when Littlefinger betrays him and sides with the Lannisters.
    • One of the more tragic examples is Robb Stark's downfall; he has been an unstoppable military threat in the War of Five Kings, and the Lannisters are at their wits' end trying to figure out any way to take him on in the battlefield, but then he is "comforted" by a young noble girl while recovering from a wound after one of his conquests. Robb is immediately caught in a dilemma between "doing the right thing" and marrying the girl whose virginity he just took (as he is in a medieval-style world, where without her virginity a girl will, at best, have much lower prospects for marriage and be judged her whole life, or be tremendously shamed and shipped out to a nunnery at worst), or "doing the right thing" and honoring his betrothal to a Frey girl. Robb decides the girl's honor takes precedence over his own and marries her, which results in the Freys betraying him, murdering him and most of his followers, and desecrating his corpse.
      • Of course, the Freys themselves, and their powerful ally Roose Bolton, were already planning on betraying Robb, given the Freys reluctant support, and Roose's undercutting of the war effort.
    • Daenerys Targaryen breathes this trope. She desperately wants to be the best kind of Targaryen, and she makes many decisions that are, at root, both heartfelt and from the moral highlands by many readers' lights. Heck, from an outside perspective, more than a few could arguably lead to a better-run, more economically viable region, if properly researched, planned, implemented and integrated. Unfortunately, Targaryens have this noted... tilt... towards a "go now, go big or go home", The Madness Place/ Mad Science approach when it comes to politics, economics and social engineering, and Dany is also having to play a lot by ear from a moment-to-moment basis both just to stay alive and to get anywhere while doing so. So, yeah: understandable levels of insufficient risk assessment occur. On top of that, both Westeros and Essos are too culturally different (and her worldview is also initially too Black-and-White-and-sheltered-all-over when contrasted with the more nuanced, sociopolitical Grayscale around her) for almost anything she does to try pushing her agendas to have even close to the expected outcomes in either the medium or longer terms. And, it rarely goes well: for example, you'd think trying to rid Slaver's Bay of slavery to be a fundamentally good thing all around, right? Nope: the resulting economic and social collapse that leads to several bloodbaths, what amounts to a budding world war and a pandemic later when trying to do it in only a few months with little-to-no cross-class backing... is kind of hinted at in the millennia-old name of the place. Slave liberation by an outsider needs way more prep work than she put in, in short.
    • Jaime Lannister has a long, complicated and incredibly painful relationship with this trope, one about as much of a rollercoaster as the one with with his sister (who often has something to do with the complexities in both). A Master Swordsman joining the Kingsguard against his father's wishes, but to "do the right/honourable thing" by both his king and maybe-future queen (and beloved sister)? That... backfired. Killing the Mad King for what basically was the greater good? Oh, boy; what a mess. Protecting his lover and kids by throwing a preteen boy off a tower? Duuuuuuuuude. Trying to protect the Stark girls... while still backing his father (who would rather they conveniently died after getting used to cement alliances)? Um. Finally coming clean to his brother about a huge family secret at the worst emotional and political point imaginable? Oops. Cleaning up the Riverlands and reinstating the rule of law (or what passes for it) on behalf of the Iron Throne; you know, this being the same place you earlier actively helped to destabilize on behalf of said Throne? Good luck with that!
  • Directly invoked in To Kill a Mockingbird. After Boo Radley kills a drunken, murderous Bob Ewell in defense of Atticus's children, Lawful Good Atticus Finch is all set to get the authorities involved and begin processing the matter by-the-book. The local sheriff, however, warns him that it's an open-and-shut case of self defense, Bob Ewell is widely known and hated, and Boo Radley's extreme social phobias would make the resulting trial absolute hell for him, however pure and innocent Atticus's intentions might be. The sheriff therefore 'officially concludes' that Bob Ewell got drunk, slipped, and fell on his own knife.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The Valar were motivated to things like bringing the Elves to the Undying Lands or rewarding the Edain with Númenor entirely by good intentions. The text still takes the time to strongly imply that doing so was ultimately the wrong thing to do.
    • In Tolkien's legendarium, trying to impose any vision or much of anything else on the world is likely to end badly, because the free wills and free choices of Elves and Men are so vital, and because no finite entity comprehends enough of How Things Work in the universe to be able to predict the consequences of their actions outside their purview. Tolkien had a low opinion both of reactionaries ('Embalmers') and progressives ('Reformers'), Sauron started out as a Reformer, the Elves of Eregion who made the Rings were Embalmers. Both were Not Quite the Right Thing.
    • The Silmarillion brings this into play a lot. The whole family of Húrin, but especially Túrin's life is this (although Morgoth cursed the whole family into this) for example.
  • Harry Turtledove's World War series puts the Jews in this position. After Warsaw is freed by the Race, the Jews cooperate with them in order to survive, and are seen as traitors to humanity by doing so. The fact that attempts to condemn the Race for their actions such as destroying Washington D.C. are altered and turned into praises don't help.
  • In the Warrior Cats books, occasionally cats do the wrong thing morally in order to follow the warrior code, and later accept that they were wrong. For instance, it's part of the warrior code to defend your Clan and their territory, and in Redtail's Debt, Tigerclaw orders Redtail to brutally attack a trespassing apprentice. Redtail does it, wondering afterward why doing the right thing feels so wrong. He comes to accept that two full-grown warriors attacking a lone apprentice who'd made a mistake wasn't the right course of action after all.
  • Inheritance Cycle: In the first book, Eragon uses the Language of Magic to bless an orphaned baby, saying "May you be shielded from misfortune." In the next book, when he learns more about the language, he realizes that he accidentally said "May you be a shield from misfortune." Upon meeting the child again, he finds that being Blessed with Suck has made her sense threats to people around her and be physically compelled to prevent as much harm as possible (this has also forced her to undergo Rapid Aging, since a baby can't do much to prevent harm to others). To Eragon's credit, he swears to fix his mistake, and does a reasonable job of doing so. Although he's unable to fully remove the curse, he is able to remove the compulsion to prevent the impending harm, leaving her with just the ability to sense impending danger to others.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI. CSI in general (all three shows) has a strong thread of ironic justice running through it. Almost any time a character either breaks the law to bring someone else to justice (say, by planting evidence or searching without a warrant), or kills someone because the law can't punish them for their crimes, it will backfire. Anyone killed out of a sense of "justice" will turn out to have been innocent the entire time, and the killer will always wind up devastated over what they've done. Criminals framed for a crime or illegally arrested will turn out to be innocent as well, potentially resulting in the person doing the frame losing everything in the process. Crime absolutely does not pay - regardless of the reasons - in the CSIverse. Some specific examples include:
    • In the episode "Feeling the Heat" a couple euthanize their child upon seeing symptoms of Tay Sachs, a painful degenerative disease to which they had already lost another child (disguising it as the husband accidentally leaving him in the car on a hot day; itself an example because it opens him up to being arrested for neglect). Turns out that the child was healthy. For added irony the symptoms were caused by exposure to the very weedkiller they poisoned him with. The mother worked with industrial strength weedkiller and brought them home to use in her garden -and didn't wash her hands before handling her child.
    • Inverted in one episode where the father of a missing girl planted an already-dead body he stole inside the chimney of the man he suspected of killing said daughter in order to put police suspicion on him after failing to convince them just with his words (and planting the man's son's ID on it as pure revengenote ). His plan succeeded spectacularly, as his dead daughter's body was also hidden in a brick extension to the chimney in question (and, as an added bonus, the villain tries to pin it on his apparently dead son, who overhears the entire thing and disowns him). Considering the judge limited the initial warrant to the chimney the man not only made his own luck but hit the jackpot with it, making this overlap with Right for the Wrong Reasons. He's still in trouble for mishandling of the corpse or whatever the local law labels it.
  • The Closer: When a vicious killer gets off on a technicality, Chief Johnson sets him up for a Vigilante Execution. This sparks a cascade of consequences, including a lawsuit, a review of many of her old cases, a massive investigation into her team, and worse. Ultimately, the reality hits her hard, and she breaks down crying in her husband's arms.
    Brenda: Oh, God, what have I done? Fitzy, what have I done?
  • Babylon 5: Dr. Franklin gives the audience a double dose of this trope:
    • He performs a life-saving surgery on an alien child, over the objections of his parents that his chest cavity not be cut open or his soul will escape. When they find out, their religion requires them to kill him.
    • He also forces a traumatized war veteran to confront the fact that he's not King Arthur. Re-traumatizing him catatonic. The good doctor then Lampshades that this keeps happening to him, because of his need to fix everything.
  • Game of Thrones: Dany frees a great deal of younger oppressed slaves and incorporates them into her followers. The willing ones seem to make a cult of personality out of her. The only problem being that other classes of bondsmen have taken the opportunity to either become cruel dictators themselves or otherwise allowed their former masters to enslave them again without any complaint since they know of little else, meaning her crusade to end slavery has actually worsened the situation, despite being a morally good course of action. It gets even worse later on, mostly due to the writers making everything easier for her so they could quickly get through the storyline. After taking down the majority of her enemies in Slaver's Bay, she just leaves for Westeros during this unstable economic state. Not before she leaves her mercenary boyfriend in charge, as if he has any knowledge of administrating a city, let alone an entire region! After Season Six, nothing is mentioned about whether the "Bay of Dragons" is doing well or not, so for all we know, it's already on the brink of collapse.
  • Get Smart: During one episode, Max gets a call from 99 while he and the Chief are in the middle of a shootout with KAOS agents. When he expresses surprise that she's home early from her assigned mission, she happily tells him that she fooled the KAOS agents who were following her by sending them on a wild goose chase to pier 47. Max (who's at pier 47) ruefully wishes she had sent them to pier 50 instead.
  • This happens in the episode of House where he is institutionalized; House chews out the doctor who forced a delusional patient to confront the fact that he was not actually a super hero (then went catatonic). House ends up trying to "help" the guy and only makes things worse. But he eventually learns a lesson about the difference between trying to "fix" things and actually just apologizing.
  • Kingdom: The authorities discover the corpses at Jiyulheon and bring them back to the village of Dongnae to investigate the matter. Too bad they're zombified.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, "The City on the Edge of Forever": Saving Edith Keeler's life seems like the right thing to do, but if she lives she will found an influential peace movement, which also seems like the right thing to do but will delay America's entry into World War II and hand victory to the Nazis. One of the best if not the best TOS episodes, combining the grey areas of real world moral choice with a harsh lesson in the nasty implications of time travel, and also an implicit rebuke to the idea that love conquers all. Kirk was very much in love with Edith, she was not just a pretty skirt he was chasing... but that didn't matter. What was necessary was necessary. Spock's emotionless act is transparently undercut by the genuine sympathy and pity in his simple, dry statement to McCoy, "He knows, Doctor. He knows."
  • The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica does this ALL the time. From Colonial One's abandoning of the civilian ships in the miniseries to the Olympic Carrier to mutiny to military dictatorships to banning abortion to baby-stealing to torture to assassination to suicide-bombing to election-rigging - the characters (mainly Commander/Admiral Adama and President Roslin) constantly wrestle with the decision to do the easy thing or the right thing. And they actually make crappy decisions a good deal of the time. Abandoning the ships in miniseries turns out to be tragically right, though. And it's not like they had any choice (those ships didn't have any FTL engines, and would never have been able to escape the Cylons anyway).
  • In Lost season 3, Kate refuses to leave Jack with the Others, so she grabs Sayid, Locke, and Rousseau, and treks across the island to rescue him. She doesn't know that Jack's scheduled to leave the island by submarine the next day, or that Locke's true intention is to blow the submarine up.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Genesis of the Daleks", the Doctor is tasked with destroying or altering the behavior of the Daleks so as to make them a negligible threat. The Doctor, however, realizes that by doing so, he would rob the different races of the universe of a chance to end warring amongst themselves, as countless civilizations put aside their differences to band together in grand coalitions against the Daleks, learning to work together in harmony along the way.
    • Many centuries later in the Doctor's timeline in "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" two-parter, the action starts when his twelfth self is about to rescue a frightened young boy from an unconventional minefield — then he learns that the boy is Davros, who grew up to create the Daleks. The Doctor decides to simply leave the boy to his fate (leaving the sonic screwdriver behind) instead of saving him, but it doesn't take long for him to realize that this probably started Davros on the path to evil; in the present, he seeks to atone for this — perhaps with his own life.
  • In the Farscape episode "...Different Destinations", our heroes get sent back in time and keep trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. Finally, it looks like they've succeeded and you're all set up for the little girl to survive the intervening years...only to find that while they do get back to their own time and fix the timeline, the nurses are slaughtered.
  • This is commented on in an episode of Stargate SG-1, where Daniel recounts the many instances where the team made seemingly good choices which turned out to have completely unforeseeable evil consequences. Oma Desala comments that the universe is an infinitely complicated place full of unforseeable consequences which an individual can't control, but they can control whether they themselves are good or evil.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sunday", a couple of personnel get infected with tumors that explode like bombs. When the team finds out about the tumors, one of the personnel is already in surgery for injuries sustained when the first person blew up. Sheppard calls Dr. Beckett and orders him to evacuate himself and his staff before the man explodes, but Beckett refuses to abandon his patient to die. One of his nurses stays with him to help remove the explosive tumor, which Beckett then takes to the waiting EOD technicians. Just as Beckett hands off the tumor to the bomb squad guy, it blows up, killing both of them. There would have been one less fatality if Beckett had just followed Sheppard's orders.
  • A big part of Deadwood; Seth Bullock has an iron-clad sense of honor and a refusal to abide by injustice, inflexible qualities that arguably wind up hurting the town more than helping it. By contrast, Al Swearengen hasn't an honorable bone in his body, but he's got enough self-interest, moral flexibility (and just enough compassion) to help the town immeasurably.
  • In an episode of The Flash (2014), Barry accidentally time travels to the previous day. When Wells figures it out, he warns Barry that he must let the day's events play out as before, as stopping one disaster can lead to a greater one down the line (i.e. don't screw with the timeline). Which is a bit hypocritical, since Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne is messing with the timeline every day. Barry ignores him and captures the Monster of the Week before he has a chance to destroy the city, causing Wells to flip out on Barry for ignoring his advice. Instead of being killed by Wells/Thawne for unmasking him, Cisco is kidnapped by the Rogues along with his brother and is forced to rebuild their weapons. Cold then forces Cisco to reveal the Flash's identity, which Cold uses to blackmail Barry into letting the Rogues operate without interference.
  • Pops up frequently in Criminal Minds. It would seem to be the right thing to do to help a mother look for her missing child or give a lost teenager a ride or help a woman load her wheelchair into her van. Until it turns out that those people are serial killers, and by helping them, you've unwittingly become their next victim or endangered others.
    • Subverted in one episode. Morgan interviews an inmate at the request of the parole board. After reviewing his prison record and talking with him, Morgan advises that he's been rehabilitated and deserves to be released. Less than 24 hours later, he's been arrested for a new murder. Only, upon investigation, it turns out that he was innocent in the first place and this new crime is self-defense after confronting one of the men responsible for framing him in the first place.
  • In the season 2 of Stranger Things, upon witnessing Will being plagued by what he believes to be crisis born from irrational fears, Bob Newby has a talk to him about learning how to confront one's fear. In the real world, had Will's problem been much simpler, this would have been consider an excellent advice. Sadly, it ends up being the reason for Will's possession by the Mind Flayer, making Bob an Unwitting Instigator of Doom.

    Podcast 
  • During a Behind the Bastards episode "The Non-Nazi Bastards Who Helped Them Rise to Power", host Robert Evans relates a story of how Adolf Hitler, after fleeing the failed Beer Hall Putsch, was cornered by the police in a friend's apartment and threatened to shoot himself. Said friend's wife, whom Hitler regarded highly, successfully managed to talk him down and Hitler was arrested relatively peacefully. The rest, as they say, is history.
    Evans: It's, like, she did the right thing, and we got Hitler.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shows up a few places in Exalted. The Usurpation, several actions of the Scarlet Empress, and even occasionally the Primordial War had results that were kind of good in the long run but the methods to achieve them and their (undecided) ultimate consequences are still a bit... iffy.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Declaring Exterminatus on a planet is generally a delicate matter, as it involves the total and complete annihilation of an entire planet's population. In theory, it's used when they cannot be saved from Chaos or genestealer infection, and this outweighs the planet's benefits (in terms of providing men, materiel or resources), but unfortunately what with Chaos plots and Inquisitors going rogue/falling to Chaos, there are quite a few occasions where Exterminatus merely furthered the enemy's plans.
    • Kryptmann's Gambit: an extreme version of the above dilemma, in which Inquisitor Kryptmann managed to bait an entire Hive Fleet away from countless inhabited worlds by... getting them to go for other inhabited worlds which he Exterminus'ed before they fell, denying the Tyranids the biomass they needed to replenish their losses. Finally the fleet was weak enough that it could be stuck in a stalemate with the ork system of Octarius, at the cost of Kryptmann's standing (he's been declared Excommunicate Traitoris), several trillion people and (much more importantly) several inhabitable planets. Also, the fact that Octarius is now in a Forever War between the two species with the most to gain from it: tyranids devour biomass to create new lifeforms (usually better adapted to whatever they're fighting), while orks create spores when they die that mature into more orks. And orks pour into the system all the time, having heard about the fight to be had. Whichever side wins the war will be essentially unstoppable. This later gets another wrinkle when Ghazgul joins the fight and his leadership turns it into another Armageddon-style eternal stalemate; these massive battles become foci of WAAAGH energy, and every Ork in the galaxy is being empowered by it.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, Roy made the decision to destroy Girard's Gate in order to prevent Xykon, who was on his way, from getting his hands on it, since the heroes couldn't feasibly protect the gate with Xykon closing in on it. While this does delay the villains' plans, it ends up being the biggest mistake he could make as it destabilizes the prison holding the Snarl enough that the gods begin to consider destroying the world to create a new prison.
  • In Pandora's Tale, Isabelle is the most insistent about freeing Pandora from slavery... only for her actions to result in Pandora imprinting on her, effectively making her Pandora's "owner".
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The aftermath of one of the battles causes Onni to fall into a coma after magically helping the crew long-distance, while his younger sister among the crew, Tuuri, ends up in a situation that could potentially be bad news for her. Knowing Onni doesn't deal well with uncertainity, she asks the other members of Mission Control to not tell Onni about it if he wakes up, planning to do so herself over the radio. However, Reynir, another member of the crew, can still communicate with Onni via Talking in Your Dreams, and ends up checking on Onni as soon as he gets the opportunity to do so. Onni's first instinct is of course to ask Reynir how Tuuri is doing, and Reynir lies to him to respect Tuuri's wishes. However, that battle also left the crew's vehicle in a very precarious state, and it ends up breaking down, dooming the radio in the process, before Onni recovers. Tuuri's situation changes from "possibly bad" to "certainly bad" that very evening. Tuuri's reaction is ultimately to commit suicide, which lets her inform Onni on the way to the afterlife. She however uses phrasing that makes it sound like it's Reynir's fault that Onni wasn't informed earlier.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, religious nut Reverend Englund becomes aware that there is a half-demon student at the school who he thinks will take over the world by enslaving people, killing others and using her mind slaves to breed demon spawn. While the Reverend has fought otherworldly invaders and all manner of creatures who did harm, in this case he's actually wrong: Sara/Kellith has actually decided that she's going to do good for the world and promote peace and love. So the Reverend gets the Syndicate (i.e. the organized bad guys) to help him kill her… and what would have been a controlled attempt to kill just one person gets hijacked by the Chessmaster, resulting in a large part of the school getting blown up, a number of security personnel and teachers getting maimed and/or killed and all the students being incredibly traumatised.

    Web Videos 
  • This trope is a consistent running theme in the second season of Cobra Kai, as multiple characters try their best to do the right thing and fail horribly.
    • Moon is well aware of how the Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do students are one bad day away from killing each other, and does her best to encourage the groups to reconcile. Unfortunately, she does this primarily by inviting both factions to a party without telling either that the other is coming as well. As a result, the night kicks off with both groups feeling ambushed and uneasy.
    • Daniel believes that the aggressive teachings of Cobra Kai require a counter to balance them, and teaches his students the much more passive, peaceful Miyagi-Do school instead. Unfortunately, he emphasizes the martial component of the school more than its philosophy, and constantly alludes to how Cobra Kai is an evil force that requires a counterbalance. As a result, his students wind up contemptuous of their rivals and tend to make only token efforts to avoid combat.
    • During the party in Cobra Kai S2E9 "Pulpo", Hawk briefly tries to adhere to Johnny's teachings about turning the other cheek and showing mercy, an act that does not come easily to the Blood Knight. Unfortunately, Deadpan Snarker Demetri simply takes advantage of Hawk's lack of response to double down on publicly humiliating his former friend, further enraging Hawk and helping to convince him that Johnny has simply gone soft.
    • In the finale, Miguel shows mercy on a defeated opponent, and even ashamedly apologizes for allowing his rage to get the better of him. Said enemy was less willing to let the fight end than Miguel was, and takes advantage of Miguel's lowered guard to launch an attack that results in a brutal Career-Ending Injury.
  • At the end of the Briawoods arc in Critical Role, Percy's Revenge Before Reason has gone into overdrive and Orthax, the shadow demon he made a pact with, is starting to outright possess him, demanding he murder Delilah Briawood, the last on his list of targets. Thanks to an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight by the party and a struggle of wills, Orthax is expelled from Percy's body and defeated, and he gives Delilah Restrained Revenge. She's killed by his sister Cassandra instead, and the party throws her body in a vat of acid to hopefully prevent her coming back as an undead. Many episodes later, at the start of the final arc, the party finds Delilah's patron God of Evil was able to resurrect her anyway in a clone body. In a later discussion, they realize that had they let Percy kill her while under Orthax's influence, the demon would have devoured her soul, preventing her from ever returning.

    Western Animation 
  • An early episode of Adventure Time mixes this with Secret Test of Character. While seeking out the heroes' Enchiridion, Finn finds a trio of fairies trapped in quicksand. Naturally, he frees them, only to find that they're evil and quickly use everything he does to justify destroying old ladies. Finn nearly has a Heroic BSoD until Jake reminds him that A. it was still the right decision to make at the time and B. there's no logical reason for all these old ladies to be here, so they have to be illusions and Finn hasn't actually caused any harm.
  • Arcane: Episode Three is absolutely rife with this.
    • Powder tries for a Big Damn Heroes moment. If she hadn't intervened, her family would probably have escaped by the skin of their teeth. Instead, they get blown up by her uncontrolled bomb.
    • A livid Vi hits and blames Powder for the bomb that killed their foster family, which she immediately regrets. When she leaves to calm down and avoid hurting Powder more, this only breaks her sister further because of the perceived abandonment. Silco winds up taking in the resentful Powder himself and Vi is drugged and dragged away by Marcus, confirming Powder's belief that Vi abandoned her and destroying their relationship for good.
    • During Act 2 and 3, it's a recurring theme that while both of them love Jinx, neither Silco nor Vi can really help her with her mental health issues and their attempts to do so just make things worse, Silco by invalidating her former identity as Powder and Vi by invalidating her current identity as Jinx. It culminates in the final episode, when them fighting over her pushes her further and further into a breakdown and Jinx snaps and fires wildly, accidentally killing Silco and then abandoning Vi entirely once he dies.
  • In the Carmen Sandiego episode "The Stockholm Syndrome Caper", Ivy gets captured at the exact time Carmen crashes in the middle of a forest. With Shadow-san occupied elsewhere, Player has to make the call about who to send Zack after first; since Ivy is less trained and skilled than Carmen and she's actively the prisoner of people who A) think she's Carmen and B) wouldn't hesitate to hurt her either way, Player decides to prioritize her over Carmen. This ends up causing Carmen to nearly freeze to death because while Ivy escaped her captors, making her rescue unnecessary, Carmen was injured in her crash and couldn't make it to shelter before succumbing to the elements.
  • Futurama:
    • "Jurassic Bark": Fry changes his mind about resurrecting his dog when he found out Seymour lived far longer without Fry than he did with him, so Fry figured that meant he had a long fulfilling life. Long? Yes. Fulfilling? No — he never got over Fry's disappearance, and spent the rest of his life waiting in front of Fry's old workplace. Fry never finds out about this. We call that a Downer Ending.
    • Thanks to Time Travel in Bender's Big Score this ended up becoming the right thing again. A copy of Fry is sent back in time and lived the other 12 years of Seymour's life with him in the 21st centurynote . This was probably done because the original ending crushed souls with its sadness.
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Signal from Sector Six", Kaz and Poe rescue a woman, Synara, from a derelict freighter, and she's taken to the Colossus and registered. Unfortunately, she's actually one of the pirates who attacked the ship, and the gang she's part of has been hired to take down the Colossus, so all this does is give her the perfect inroad as a spy. However, Synara eventually ends up Becoming the Mask and becoming a useful hero, so maybe it was the right thing in the end.
  • The Weekenders, "Band": Carver writes a note to Chum Bukkit, his favorite band, on a napkin. His handwriting is so terrible that, when the band reads them, they come up with song lyrics which they incorrectly attribute to Carver. Eventually he admits the truth, simply because he thinks that lying about the band dedicating their local show to them was enough lies. Turns out that because of that, Chumbucket doesn't have to pay royalties. Carver is seething.
    Carver: [clenches teeth]
    Tino: You Did the Right Thing.
    Carver: Still... [clenches teeth again]
  • In W.I.T.C.H., the main characters ultimately agree that the best thing to do regarding their friend Elyon being the Princess of Meridian is to not tell her, believing that doing so would cause her unnecessary stress and panic while trying to deal with the Big Bad. This works...until said villain, who is Elyon's older brother, realizes that they're doing this and decides to tell her everything himself, causing her to despise her friends and join his side, making everything worse.

Alternative Title(s): The Wrong Right Thing

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