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Wants a Prize for Basic Decency

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Black Mage: I can't believe the nerve of that anchor guy.
Red Mage: Still, you didn't have to kill him.
Black Mage: Hey, I waited until the cameras were turned off. You ask me, that's a crap load of control there.
Thief: Not immediately indulging in murder isn't a sign of self-control. It's a sign of, what is it, sanity.

Some people just aren't good by default. Where most people cleave to good behavior more or less naturally, this one does not, either through being a Jerkass or an outright villain. They need to be pushed and prodded — by themselves and others — into being a decent person, and because this process is a struggle for them and because their good behavior is above and beyond how they might be acting otherwise, they believe they deserve exceptional acknowledgement for their efforts.

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

It can inspire Then Let Me Be Evil if the character is treated as a real villain despite their good deeds. It can also be a way for a character to be Damned by Faint Praise, if the highest compliment you can give them is along the lines of "They're not a total jerk."

Compare It's All About Me, Entitled to Have You, Dogged Nice Guy, and Condescending Compassion. For a similar phenomenon in advertising, see Asbestos-Free Cereal.

Contrast Dude, Where's My Respect? (in which a character does heroic things but gets no positive acknowledgement for it), Think Nothing of It (in which a character avoids being praised after doing heroic things) and strong cases of Crapsack World (where having a shred of humanity actually is exceeding any reasonable expectations).

Furthermore, there is the idea of Blue-and-Orange Morality coming into play, where the person has inhuman and or bizarre morals and standards to where what would count as "basic human decency" is actually legitimately very difficult and or alien for them to accept and go through. Alternately, outside sources or some Fatal Flaw for the person means that achieving human decency in some form or fashion is difficult.

Likewise, someone who is simply pointing out that they do not conform to some fashionable/goodthinkful False Dichotomy of characterization will often be mistaken for this trope.

Lastly, other factors such as Values Dissonance can come into play; after all, what could be taken for granted as basic human decency in one setting may be seen as very progressive where the subject comes from. For these reasons, among many others, no Real Life examples, please!

It should also be noted that in real life, indulging this trope is probably the best course of action. Positive enforcement is a powerful tool for building behaviors, so if you want an otherwise bad person to keep being good, then prizes are quite effective. (Assuming the prize isn’t more than you’re willing to pay for a baby step toward reforming a Jerkass.)


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    Anime and Manga 

  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • During his brutal beatdown of Vegeta, Frieza lectures him on being an Ungrateful Bastard and betraying him despite showing him "favoritism". Frieza is an utterly sadistic, Ax-Crazy Jerkass who kills whoever and whenever he wants For the Evulz, and his idea of "favoritism" was making Vegeta one of the three Saiyans he didn't kill.
    • After Dende heals him as part of his Deliberate Injury Gambit during the fight with Frieza, the first thing Vegeta does afterwards is kick Dende aside and angrily tell him to be grateful he didn't decide to kill him. This is despite the fact that, as Dende himself pointed out beforehand, Vegeta was just as evil and cruel as Frieza and had personally killed numerous innocent Namekians, and Dende had no reason whatsoever to help him (aside from the hope that he would fight Frieza and leave Dende alone).
    • Vegeta gets another moment during the Buu Saga. Before his Heroic Sacrifice, he asks Piccolo if he'll be able to see Goku in the Other World. Piccolo tells him point-blank that Vegeta is most likely going to Hell because, unlike Goku, he has spent his entire life being a selfish, evil bastard and one selfless act is not enough to make up for his sins. Nonetheless, Vegeta accepts that and goes through with it.
  • In the manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, when Link shouts at Vaati for turning the Great Mayfly Fairy into an insect monster, the wizard just says that he wasn’t killing her.
  • In Red River (1995), Ramses abducts Yuri, and then tells her off for screaming and trying to escape. He tells her that she isn't very grateful for how "nice" he's being, whereupon Yuri asks why the hell she should appreciate his kidnapping her as "nice". His response? He wasn't raping her while kidnapping her, was he?
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: The very moment the Four Cardinal Heroes are summoned to Melromarc and are explained they must save it from the Waves of Catastrophe, all of them except Naofumi immediately began demanding rewards and respect, threatening that if they didn't get that, they'd go from allies to enemies. Naofumi's creeped out by how smug they were being at the time. While at the same time; despite the fact that Naofumi is being absolutely cordial and not trying to start anything, the King doesn't even bother to give him a chance to say his name when he asked all of the Heroes to tell them aloud.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: During the Battle City tournament, Joey is in danger from Marik, the arc villain. Kaiba finds him using technology and expects thanks from Yugi for his help. There's only one issue with this — Kaiba is the overseer of the tournament, and therefore responsible for the safety of every contestant, so he should have wanted to find Joey anyway regardless of his dislike for him.

  • One segment from Chris Rock's "Black People vs. Niggas" routine, which revolves around the idea that "everything white people don't like about black people, black people really don't like about black people" that would make an excellent page quote if not for the, ahem... controversial language;
    Chris: You know the worst thing about niggas? Niggas always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A nigga will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A nigga will say some shit like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" Whatchu want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectations-having motherfucker!
  • Old one-liner: Nobody ever compliments me for the times I wasn't a cannibal.
  • Similarly, "I only threatened to kill everyone Once. You should be thanking me."
  • George Carlin has a lengthy routine about this and the "Self Esteem Movement" in his final comedy special, It's Bad For Ya, saying not allowing a child to simply fail or be bad at something will ultimately leave them unprepared for adulthood, where they'll still expect to be rewarded simply for showing up.
    George: And Bobby's parents can't seem to understand why he can't hold a job. In school, he was always on the honor roll. Of course, they don't realize that, to be on the honor roll, you have to maintain a body temperature somewhere roughly in the nineties.
  • Old Soviet joke: Once Vladimir Ilyich is sitting on a bench, sharpening a razor. And a little girl sits on a bench nearby. Vladimir Ilyich looks at her affectionately, and sharpens again, looks, and sharpens... but he could have slashed her neck! (Thanks to this joke, "But he could have slashed!" became a very popular expression of this trope.)

    Comic Books 
  • There is Zoe Zimmer from Ms. Marvel (2014), who is just concerned about the well-being and financial status of her classmates. She is even willing to shop where one of them works, and can't fathom why he wouldn't make coffee for her for this great act of charity. The others are divided whether or not her "concern trolling" is an act or cluelessness. Exposure to Truth Serum reveals that she is genuinely mean. Surprisingly enough, Zoe does go through a large amount of Character Development to make her a sincerely nicer person. The fact that it was revealed that she is a lesbian contributed to it as she became a more empathetic person and much nicer.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Everything Must Go" (DC Comics #48), Mojo Jojo conducts a yard sale of his destructive wares. The Amoeba Boys buy one of his items — a magnet that pulls the moon towards the earth on a collision course. When he intervenes and stops the machine, sending the moon back to its rightful place, he thinks he deserves a "thank you" from the girls. They lock him up in jail for starting the whole thing with his yard sale to begin with.
  • In Red Robin Damian complains that Tim and Dick, though mostly Tim, don't give him enough credit and trust for turning on his training and upbringing by the League of Assassins as a Tyke-Bomb, joining his father's crusade, and working hard to curb his more murderous impulses, despite the fact that he hasn't stopped sabotaging Tim's equipment in ways that could kill him.
  • One issue of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose sees Jon ascending towards Heaven and assuming that he must have earned it because he brushed his teeth a few times.
  • In the Transformers comic More than Meets the Eye this is actually inverted. Rodimus invents a morale booster called the Rodimus Star and gives it out for the most trivial things. Ultra Magnus, who is always a good person, gets one for "best handwriting" while Megatron gets one for "not reverting to his evil ways". Whirl gets one for some unknown reason, and this was before his Hidden Depths began to be plumbed, and Rodimus even offers one to Swerve if he can keep from speaking for one day (which Swerve fails).
  • The Kingpin in Ultimate Spider-Man explains to Peter that this is why normal people resent superheroes like Peter in the Marvel universe (or at least Ultimate, though the main one could qualify to a lesser extent). Normal people, according to the Kingpin, are sheep who just want to do the bare minimum of what is expected of them and want someone like the Kingpin to give them a big cookie for it at the end of the day. Seeing heroes like Peter going above and beyond makes them realize that they don't really deserve that cookie.
  • Wonder Woman (1987) & Wonder Woman (2006): Hercules seems to think he deserves to be forgiven and liked by the Amazons because he spent time imprisoned for taking over their country and turning them into sex slaves. It's a major sticking point to him that the women whose rapes he condoned and conducted don't think he's a hero, since he feels they're being petty and ridiculous. Though some of them have forgiven him, Hercules is pissed they don't trust and revere him.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Baby Blues strip featured Zoe excitedly telling her mom that she just saw her brother Hammie bend over in front of her, and didn't kick him! The last panel has her complaining about how hard it is to get brownie points.
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin argues that since he's such a little hellion that being nice is difficult for him, any good deed he does should be worth five good deeds of some kid who wants to be good in terms of Christmas presents. Hobbes points out that the question of his good deeds is purely theoretical anyway, but Calvin insists that not putting a rock inside that last snowball was already something. Of course, this is Calvin we're talking about — he's also stated that he's done his part in the world just by being born and thinks everyone else ungrateful for not thanking him for it.
  • For Better or for Worse: John flew into a blind rage and spanked Michael for not agreeing that he, as the child, owed his parents for feeding, clothing, and housing him. Elly's objection was not that Michael didn't owe his parents every single cent spent on him with interest rates that would make a Mafia loan shark sick, but that he lost his temper.
  • The title character of Luann once made a big deal about the Christmas gifts she was giving her friends Bernice and Delta. Bernice's gift was a giant empty cardboard box, which Luann called a "Big Box of 'Sorry'", as in Luann was apologizing for how self-centered she had acted in the past. Delta's gift turned out to be... Delta's sweater, which Luann had borrowed and never returned. Bernice and Delta were less than impressed, and Luann was dumbfounded as to why her friends weren't more grateful for these thoughtful Christmas presents.
  • Rat from Pearls Before Swine thinks he's going to Heaven because he once opened the door for a fat guy — though he did let the door close on him for walking too slow.

    Fan Works 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

  • In The Stalking Zuko Series, after Katara vigorously argues in favor of women's rights at a dinner for the Southern Water Tribe, her father Hakoda comes up to her and has a talk with her about it. He says that he's confused as to where Katara's desire to be equal to the men came from, and says that he's a good parent because, among other things, he doesn't beat his wife or children and tried to treat her as an equal. Katara is not pleased when she hears that.
    Katara: Oh, so you never smacked me and Sokka about, you listened to me sometimes, and you gave me an even break – That is how it should be, dad!

Ben 10


  • In Stronger Together, Buffy is again faced with Spike's attempts to argue that he is changing because he lured her into a trap set by Darla and is now trying to save Buffy without asking her to admit how she feels about him. As Buffy points out, he still created this situation in the first place, and he doesn't get points for acting as though he isn't asking for points.

Death Note

  • In Lab Specimen, L thinks Light should be grateful to him despite L's invasive and dehumanizing treatment of him and sexually assaulting him because at least L wasn't torturing him.
  • In the Death Note fic To Feel Alive Ryuk is quite put out when Light doesn't seem too thrilled when Ryuk makes the promise that his death would be quick and painless:
    Shouldn't he be grateful that he wasn't planning on giving him a painful, lingering death?

Harry Potter

  • In Wish Carefully, Lucius Malfoy thinks the eight foreign witches he and a Cabal of other high-ranking Death Eaters kidnapped from their homes to be Breeding Slaves should be grateful because they were "rescued" from their previous impoverished backgrounds, get to live in luxurious mansions with their every whim catered, and they aren't being regularly abused (sexually or otherwise).


  • In Your Servant, Mistress this trope is averted and discussed: Maleficent repeatedly congratulates Diaval on being a decent human being, and he's surprised that she thinks whatever he's done, or not done, noteworthy, assuming that everyone would act like this. He complains that she has really low standards at one point.

Miraculous Ladybug

  • The Karma of Lies: After Miracle Queen, Chloe never bullied anyone or made Sabrina do her homework, hoping it'd be enough for Ladybug to make her Queen Bee again. Ladybug points out "Not being a bully is just basic decency".

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

  • Oversaturated World: Well Met, Fellow Traveler:
    "Hmm." Winter glanced away. "This is not relevant. I explained the actions of the pink one. I did not need to."
    "No. And I do not need to award you for common decency." Ditzy clicked her hands together. "You have much to learn."

Rosario + Vampire

  • The original Falla in Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act IV. In chapter 11, after bisecting Luna, Falla tells Kurumu that she should be grateful to her for doing so since she's ensured that Luna won't ever hound Rason again, and outright accuses her of being an Ungrateful Bitch when she doesn't do so. Even before that, in chapter 6, Falla points out to everyone in Ms. Nekonome's class that had she not intervened in the timeline, everyone would have died; aside from the fact that no one but Tsukune's group has any idea what she's talking about, the only reason Falla helped to avert Luna's Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum at the end of Act III was to serve her own interests, as Luna was the only one who could free her from her prison.

Tolkien's Legendarium

  • In A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script, Beren demands expressions of gratitude from the Valar for fighting Morgoth relentlessly and never joining him despite losing everything. Namo counters that refraining from betraying your freely sworn duty by joining the God of Evil isn't exactly praiseworthy, and Beren grudgingly concedes the point (he still complains, though, that his tribe got nothing for all their pains except a "that was what you should have been doing, fighting the Enemy, there isn't any other legitimate option"):
    Namo: Correct me if I have misunderstood the information that's been given me, but was not your family tasked to guard the southern border of Melkor's territory and prevent his followers from committing crimes in that area? Was that not the price of those lands which your people were given?
    [after a moment Beren nods, conceding the point]
    Namo: And was not the particular mandate of the House of Beor to guard your tribe against predation? You were their lords, were you not?
    [resigned, Beren nods again]
    Beren: But I didn't have to. I could have gone off someplace safer. Or I could have made peace with the Lord of Fetters, and ruled as his vassal instead.
    Namo: If it is one's duty to protect the innocent — a specific duty, beyond that common to all Good folk — and it both given and accepted, then what is due to such a one who neglects that duty? Blame, or indifference?
    Beren: [quietly] Blame.
    Namo: Do you really think that refraining from blameworthy actions is enough to warrant praise?
    Beren: No, Sir.

The Tudors

  • Handmaid: One of the reasons why Jane thinks she would be a better handmaid than Anne is that she would love Mary as her own and would try to be kind to Cecily (Anne's daughter). As Katherine coldly points out, there's nothing noble about trying to be kind to a toddler that has done nothing wrong to you.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In La Cintura Di Castita, a hermit enlightens Boccadoro that though Delioso has been trying to abduct and even rape her, he didn't kill her though he could. And why? Because he loves you, my child!
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Yondu constantly reminds Peter Quill that were it not for him, his crew would have eaten him when he was a child. It's implied he's been bringing it up for the past twenty-six years. He mentions in an offhand comment in the sequel that he'd thought Quill knew he was kidding.
    Quill: Twenty years, you've been throwing that in my face, like it's some great thing, not eating me! Normal people don't even think about eating someone else! Much less that person having to be grateful for it!
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: John's father believes that working hard to raise him gives him the right to butt in on his marriage. John furiously tells him off for this.
    John: Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you're supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another.
  • A downplayed example appears during In the Loop. Toby, an aide of British cabinet minister Simon, is in Washington, D.C. for a meeting with a senior American government official. The night before, he goes out clubbing with an old university friend, hooks up with her and oversleeps, resulting in him missing the first half of the meeting. After Simon "reads him some extracts from the Riot Act" in response, Toby protests on the grounds that "it's not like I threw up in there, is it?" Unfortunately for him, Simon's not impressed with this line of defence:
    Simon: No. You're right. I'm being unfair. I should be thanking you for not throwing up. Well done. You're a star. And you didn't wet yourself, did you? You're in the right city. You didn't say anything overtly racist. You didn't pull your dick out and start plucking it shouting "Willy Banjo!" No, I'm being really unfair! You got so much right... without actually being there for the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career. Thanks. You're a legend.
  • In Machete, Machete takes an unconscious Sartana home and lays her in bed. The next morning, she realises all her clothes are still on and he earns her respect. What a gentleman.
  • In Maleficent it is implied that Stefan expects gratitude for not killing the title character, but merely cutting off her wings.
  • In Quiz Show, after Charles Van Doren is applauded by Congress for breaking his silence and testifying, Rep. Derounian invokes this trope:
    Rep. Derounian: I'm happy you made that statement. But I cannot agree with most of my colleagues. You see, I don't think a man of your intelligence should be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.
  • Zig-zagged in Scent of a Woman, during the climactic hearing. The dean intends to punish Charlie for not naming names, yet also intends to reward George for testimony that is only slightly less vague than Charlie's. After Frank's Rousing Speech, the school disciplinary committee, in addition to excusing Charlie from any further involvement in the casenote  declare that George's should not receive recognition or reward for his testimony.
  • In Se7en, John Doe at one point tells Mills that the latter should be grateful that the former, a Serial Killer who arranges "poetic" deaths for other people, has only knocked him out during his chase instead of killing him outright. How generous of him.

  • Beast Tamer. The hero party needs Rein's help to get the Shield of Truth from Lost Forest, but they had earlier fired him cruelly, leaving him with few viable options. How do they try to recruit him to undertake the quest? They walk up to him, give him a Back Handed Apology and then cry out "but we apologized didn't we?" when he refuses. Their apology consisted of "firing Rein because he was weak and useless".
  • One Dave Barry column has this insight into the male mindset: being little more than toilet-trained cavemen, they will occasionally perform an act of great heroism like doing the laundry without being asked or making spaghetti without setting the house on fire, only to be confused when other people (read: women) don't consider this an accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize.
  • The Dark Profit Saga: Inverted. When Poldo meets the family of a servant who used to work for his company, he is embarrassed at the praise they heap on him for doing things like saying hello and occasionally giving a polite nod. He is horrified when he realizes that this is because everyone else at the company was absolutely horrible, to the point that it was common practice for people to kick the servant whenever they were having a bad day.
    It was disturbing that he was remembered for only the slightest of courtesies, and all the more so that those slight courtesies still exceeded the average.
  • Vern the dragon from Karina Fabian's Dragon Eye PI series thinks he's learned more patience and long-suffering than a dragon was ever meant to know now that he resists incinerating or eating anyone who happens to annoy him.
  • In Fire and Hemlock, the protagonist's mother acts like she's a saintly martyr for watching the school's nativity play (in which her daughter plays a part) because it's boring — of course, in comparison to the father she is the better parent.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Played for Laughs in The Order of the Phoenix when Fred and George joke that they should automatically get E for Exceeds Expectations (the second-highest O.W.L. grade) because they exceed expectations every time they actually show up for an exam.
    • At the beginning of The Deathly Hallows, Dudley shows outward concern for Harry for the first time in seven years, two years after Harry saved his soul from a Dementor attack, because of Harry having to stop Voldemort. Dudley thanks Harry for saving him and the cousins manage to patch things up. While he and Harry are perfectly content with getting on with things, Petunia goes nuts, raving about what a grateful boy her Dudley is. Goes a bit deeper: turns out that when Dudley was exposed to the Dementor, he saw his entire life from an objective standpoint and saw the type of really cruddy person he really was. He definitely is nicer to Harry starting from Book 6, but presumably, trying to make up for the past 16 years of mistreatment is difficult and he doesn't know how. Book 7 finally allows circumstances for Dudley to voice it, which is why Harry is able to grasp the depth of the apology.
    • Vernon Dursley thinks that Harry should be more grateful to him and his wife for taking him in, feeding and clothing him, and giving him a place to live. Never mind that they abused him relentlessly, fed him the bare minimum when not punishing him by taking away his meals, only gave him their son's raggedy and ill-fitting hand me downs to wear, treated him like a servant, made him live in a cupboard under the stairs, and let his cousin and Vernon's sister bully him.
  • The Heartstrikers: Inverted. Julius is the first nice dragon anyone has ever heard of and has lived his entire life being told that Virtue Is Weakness and being threatened by his much more powerful family members. He is therefore pathetically grateful for even the simplest of kindnesses. In the first book, he is on Cloud 9 after getting a simple thank you — it's apparently the first time someone has ever thanked him, at least in person. In the third book, as Julius is trying to reformat his clan into a democracy, all his siblings are trying to kill him and blaming him for making the clan confused and weak at a critical moment. When Julius mentions to a general from the UN that the clan is too much of a mess right now to help her, she is very impressed to hear his plans to turn his clan into a democracy and tells him to take all the time he needs. Julius nearly hugs her on the spot.
  • In Hush, Hush, Patch wants Nora to love and trust him... because he didn't kill her. And not that he was planning on killing her because he was lied to or brainwashed or anything. He wanted to kill her because it would make him human and thus let him feel things.
  • Incarnations of Immortality: In And Eternity by Piers Anthony, two female characters are temporarily transformed into males, and learn that All Men Are Perverts, gaining a newfound appreciation for the amount of restraint the average man shows in not raping them. Yeesh...
  • Invoked in The Picture of Dorian Gray, when Dorian realizes that his painting is reflecting all the hedonism he's committed and thinks that not picking up this country girl he comes across will improve it. The painting promptly develops a smug grin of hypocrisy.
  • In Relativity, Ravenswood wants some respect for climbing his way out of alcoholism. His father accuses him of this trope, pointing out that most people manage to go through their whole lives without ever becoming alcoholics in the first place.
  • The Supervillainy Saga: Inverted.
    Cindy: Gary is the best boss I've ever worked for.
    Gary: Surely, you exaggerate.
    Cindy: Gary, do you want sexual favors?
    Garry: [offended] No.
    Cindy: See? BEST BOSS EVER.
    Gary: I am actually kind of horrified. And worried.
  • In The Twilight Saga, the main characters are a family of vampires, the Cullens, who don't kill humans for blood (instead surviving off wild animals). The Cullens and narrator Bella think of themselves as saintly people with a caring regard for humans, but in spite of this, none of them seem to care what happens to humans as long as the bad things aren't their fault. In addition to the abusive relationship stuff the books are notorious for, the Cullens are friends with plenty of other vampires who still see humans as livestock, most are smug about their superiority over humankind, and when they know violent vampires are on a killing spree nearby, they ignore it until it's confirmed they and/or someone they have a personal interest in are at risk. At one point, Rosalie and Emmett do nothing to stop another vampire from killing and drinking from a man right in front of them, and in the movie smile. Granted, The Masquerade exists and attempting to violate it results in the Volturi (the ruling family of vampirekind) brutally killing you to uphold it, but the Cullens never seem the least bit uncomfortable about the various crimes they commit in pursuit of their goals, or the atrocious loss of life caused by other vampires (including quite a few the Cullens consider their best friends) despite them being, in the narrator's own words (from the beginning of the third book), "committed to protecting human life." In the last book, all the other characters point out what a great guy Jacob is because his infatuation with Bella's newborn daughter isn't sexual in nature yet.
  • Amy Dallon from Ward would like making known that she's not bad and/or crazy. So what if she raped and temporarily brainwashed her own adoptive sister? She could have permanently mind-raped her whole family, but she didn't. Ergo, she's a good person.
    Amy: "The point is, I could, very easily, but I haven't. You know how bad I was at my lowest point. You should have a sense of how I've been doing since. But I didn't. I fantasize about it, because of course I do, when I'd rather have Victoria back in her inhuman shape than not have her in my life at all. I love her. More than Carol. More than Mark. More than Crystal. And I know she doesn't have anyone else. But I don't do anything. That's what's important."

  • Kollektivet's song "Compliments", which is just two minutes of Mit Heinrich wondering why he doesn't get compliments for being a decent human being.
    "Taking out the trash. No compliments.
    Respecting trafficking rules. No compliments.
    Got to work on time. No compliments.
    And I dressed myself today. No freaking compliments!"
  • The holiday song "Santa Baby" has the singer asking Santa for a ludicrous amount of incredibly expensive gifts (a car, a yacht, a platinum mine...) because she hadn't taken every available opportunity to be naughty that year.

  • Referenced in The Bible. Luke 17:7-10 asks if a master would, after seeing a servant finish his work in a field, invite him to eat with him. The answer is no- the servant would be expected to prepare and serve the master's meal before he could eat himself, and would not receive thanks for doing his duty. It then concludes with the attitude a good Christian should have toward their work.
    "We are unworthy servants, for all we did was our duty."
    • Likewise, the verse "And all our virtues [are] like a filthy rag": Compared with the perfect standard of God, the best behavior we could offer falls woefully short. Hence why the whole standard for Biblical morality could be summed up by Jesus as (paraphrased) "Love God with everything that is in you, and love your neighbor no less than you love yourself" — if humans could manage to care about the welfare and freedoms of others that much, we wouldn't mistreat others or act selfishly, and there would be no need for salvation.
  • The Talmud in the Pirkei Avot section of tractate Nezikin has many of the noted rabbis advising that one shouldn't seek honor simply for doing good deeds.

  • This trope appears in Fences between Troy and his son Cory. In a well-known monologue, Troy outright declares that he doesn't like Cory, and furthermore that he doesn't have to like him; he takes care of Cory because that is his job as a father, and in Troy's world, emotion is not part of the deal. However, it's also clear that Troy fully expects Cory to treat him with the utmost respect (even demanding to be called "Sir") and be unquestionably grateful to him for doing the bare minimum of providing food and shelter. In other words, Troy doesn't have to like to Cory, but Cory has to like him.
  • Discussed in the Wicked song "No Good Deed", where Elphaba wonders aloud if she was genuinely trying to do good or if she just wanted attention for it.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Bug Fables: Any time Team Snakemouth does anything good, no matter how remotely mundane (like cutting down a bush or delivering a book into the library), Vi almost always asks for a reward more often than not. Kabbu frequently calls her out on it, and at several points he even shuts her up before she can finish her demand for a reward.
  • In Cinderella Phenomenon, Lucette starts off with such a severe case of Lack of Empathy that other people have to explain to her that doing her chores doesn't count as one of the three good deeds she needs to do to break her curse because it's just her doing what she's supposed to do.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Chantry's attitude toward elves. A few centuries ago frictions between elves and humans eventually broke out into open war, which ended with the humans conquering and destroying the elven homeland. Again. As the Chantry often boasts, they could have slaughtered every elf down to the last man, woman, and child, but instead showed "mercy" by allowing the elves to live in fantastic ghettos as second-class citizens, as long as the elves capitulated to human religion and law. Most modern Chantry priests and scholars can't understand why those uppity elves would be so ungrateful after all the mercy humans showed them.
    • The Templar Order often borders on this, given that their primary function is to kidnap mage children and take them to live in mage towers as heavily guarded prisoners for the rest of their lives, where horrific abuses are frequently inflicted. But hey, at least they don't slaughter mage children in the crib (usually), or cut out their tongues and use magic rods to render them People Puppets like those Qunari. In the aftermath of the the Annulment of the Gallows, the Templars' complete inability to consider the idea that the mages might actually have a legitimate reason to be upset is what caused the situation to degenerate into open war.
    • Dragon Age II has the head of the qunari in Kirkwall, the arishok, declare that the city should be 'grateful' he does not 'fix their chaotic mess' of a city by killing lots of people and converting them to the Qun. The Qun suffers from Blue-and-Orange Morality, but most people don't expect a prize for refraining from mass slaughter. He eventually gets fed up with the Activist-Fundamentalist Antics of Sister Patrice and goes through with it. Dragon Age: Inquisition reveals that the Qunari disavowed the Arishok's actions, saying that it was unsanctioned, and thus avoid open war.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Blades will eventually demand that the Dragonborn kill Paarthurnax, former lieutenant of Alduin and cause of many atrocities, or else they will refuse to help you any further. Paarthurnax asks for his life and cites his long history of peace and meditation. He asks the player, "Which is better, to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?" As a dragon, he struggles constantly with his inherent tyranny, and as a result one might very well be forced to concede that yes, he does indeed deserve not to be executed simply for not hurting anyone.
    • Note that Paarthurnax does not whinge about this trope himself; he freely acknowledges that the Blades' fear of him is perfectly logical, is quite understanding should you choose to kill him, and never really claims to be "good" simply because he refrains from evil, just that he doesn't deserve to die because he has the potential to become evil. Consequently, many players turn against the Blades for their insistence that he be killed for the crime of "being a dragon," especially since the arguments they use to support their case are essentially "killing dragons is what we do." For the record, if you do decide to kill Paarthurnax, he won't retaliate against you, implying he's genuinely repentant about his past.
    • Paarthurnax is also notable for being one of the most polite and helpful people the Dragonborn encounters. Even when the Greybeards disagree with the Dragonborn's methods, Paarthurnax continues to offer all the information he has. Paarthurnax was also one of the closest to his older brother Alduin, but still chose to turn against him, and even aids in the Dragonborn's first battle with Alduin.
  • King Dedede in Kirby's Adventure. Sure, he did have good intentions at heart breaking the Star Rod to keep Nightmare (who had holed himself up in the Fountain of Dreams) at bay, but did he really have to treat the fountain as his own private swimming pool?
  • In Mass Effect, after rescuing Shepard and team from a volcanic eruption, Joker makes a comment about expecting a medal for the timely save. Renegade Shepard, who leans toward this trope on more than one occasion, responds thusly:
    Shepard: Saving my boots from burning lava is part of your job, Joker. We don't give medals to soldiers for doing their jobs.
  • In Mass Effect: Andromeda, Annea, an angara hoarding water on Elaaden, will retort when confronted with this fact that she allowed the krogan, who left the Initiative in anger at their shabby treatment, to establish a colony. Ryder retorts that it shouldn't be her choice as to who gets to live there.
  • In Persona 4, during the Temperance Social Link, Eri Minami, the young woman in question, once complains that her stepson is being cold to her even though she got up from watching daytime TV to pick him up from daycare. This event proves that their distant relationship is at least partially Eri's fault since she doesn't make much of an effort to connect with him.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner character Strong Bad argues that he does plenty to help the environment and that he deserves credit for his "most significant contributions": not dropping pianos on Marzipan's head, and refraining from watering her garden with bleach as he apparently once did (preferring now to dump used cigarette butts on them instead.)

  • Girl Genius:
    • Inverted. Agatha, heir to the Heterodyne family, does NOT expect adoration simply for not slaughtering people on a whim... but her followers are very impressed by the fact that she goes two minutes without killing someone. The reason is that the Heterodyne family was the bloodline of mad scientists even other mad scientist lines feared. They were literally built from a legacy of conquest and woe. The only people besides Agatha who averted this were her father and uncle, Bill and Barry Heterodyne, who were adventuring heroes looking to make the world a better place. Note that Agatha's followers were specifically impressed because by not killing anyone within two minutes of taking the throne of Mechanicsburg, she had broken the family record. That included her father and her uncle.
    • On a related note, Agatha's paternal grandmother Theodora did receive a prize for basic decency: she was canonized a Saint for raising her two sons to be decent human beings. Normally this would be expected of a mother, but the fact that she managed to do this to the sons of a Heterodyne was seen as a miraculous feat.
    • In England, Agatha is made to wait for a while before seeing Albia as a show of power. Agatha grumbles a little, but nothing worse. The attendants assure her that the lack of a murderous rampage has been noted.
  • Homestuck: Cronus believes that the other characters should be totally impressed that he doesn't nearly lord his highblood status above them all as much as he could.
  • Political comic I Drew This made a reference to this phenomenon; "There's a reason you never hear people say 'Boy, Bob is a wonderful human being! Today he was really mad about something, but he didn't beat anyone to death with a hammer!'"
  • Katamari has Ace, whose desire for personal recognition makes him a completely self-absorbed Jerkass. Upon learning that his Snowlem cousin Sherman has mostly melted and needs help building up a body, Ace refuses to help until the other brings up a potential reward.
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things: Inverted. When the Commander's sister confirms to Jonesy (the Commander's not-quite-girlfriend) that they're all genetically engineered clones, Jonesy asks "So you're... not real people?" While Jonesy gets called out, she at least has the benefit of the doubt from the Commander claiming to be "made of steak and American soil." Later, the Commander tells her that everyone was very impressed that she only said it once.
  • In the The Order of the Stick prequel On the Origin of PCs, we have a Belkar example. when he gets thrown in prison for going on a murder spree during a tavern brawl, he argues that not killing all the barmaids was a considerable act of restraint on his part that should be praised. He then suggests that if humans don't want him to murder people, they should put up a sign saying "Thank you for not killing more than five of us."
    Prison Guard: We don't want you to kill ANY of us!
    Belkar: Now you're just being unreasonable!
  • Used to comedic effect in Slack Wyrm where the titular dragon has more than once said people should praise him for not killing them. When confronted that he's actually not that nice (he's causally killed several people) just extremely lazy, he counters that being a dragon and thus capable of killing effortlessly on a mass scale he should be lauded for not having the motivation for doing so.
    Sir Corpse So what, you're like chill Hitler?
  • There's a Surviving The World strip with an... interesting take on this:
    If you are not the cat person, and you are left alone for a weekend with the cats, and you do not eat the cats, you should get some credit for your achievement. Strangely, most people don't see it that way.
  • There was a Zogonia strip that went something like:
    Kev: I can't believe you don't trust me! All those times when I was on guard duty, I could have slit your throat while you slept and taken all the treasure, but I didn't! And this is the thanks I get?
    Domato: I was never really asleep.
    Kev: Yeah, I know.

  • 4chan's Tendies Stories has "Good Boy Points," awarded for such things as making boom-boom in the potty instead of on the floor, or cleaning one's room, which can be exchanged for a reward (usually chicken tenders, affectionately refered to as "tendies") once enough are collected. Of course, this is largely to illustrate that mommy is a failure of a parent since she missed the critical second step of punishing bad behaviour (beyond taking away a handful of GBP).

    Web Original 
  • In Caddicarus' video on Zoo Race, Caddy notes that most of the awards on the awards page of the developer's website are for producing virus-free software:
    Caddy: Guys, newsflash, just because your game has no viruses in it, doesn't mean it deserves merit. That's like getting a medal every time you wash your hands after taking a shit.
  • Cracked: In "6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person" David Wong says it's not enough to simply be nice to others. If you want a job, you'll have to prove you have the skills prospective employers need. If you want to get into a relationship, you'll have to appeal to your significant other rather than simply being "nice" to them.
  • Love advice blogger Harris O'Malley, a.k.a. Dr. Nerdlove, has The Grimes Test, speaking about a fictional kaiju who has never creeped on, harassed or stalked a woman, ending with an Armor-Piercing Question of "So what do you have going for you that Grimes doesn't?" The titular doctor has several articles on the subject, generally chastising so-called "Nice Guys" who act friendly towards a woman in order to sleep with them, calling the tactic inherently dishonest and underhanded. O'Malley argues that being "nice" isn't enough to win someone's affection; one must have charisma, charm, and an interesting lifestyle to truly be desirable.
  • In his Oppression Obsession video, Jonathan Pie criticised the ideology "anti-fascism" as being this, noting it was not especially impressive to be against an ideology so obviously disgusting and immoral.
    Pie: I see people who define themselves as "anti-fascist" on their Twitter profile. Who isn't? I'm sorry, but that's the default setting. It's not impressive to be anti-fascist. Can you imagine showing off "I am not a fascist!" Good! What do you want a fucking medal? Not endorsing fascism is about as common as not endorsing fingering children. Can we just work on the assumption that most people, even people we don't like, aren't fascist?
  • This music video by Kollektivet features a bitter German man who complains that he doesn't get enough compliments for the things he does. However, the things he wants compliments for are things that anybody would expect an adult to do, such as taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, dressing himself, and arriving to work on time.
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • In the review of The Shining, the Critic wants a medal for not making pedophile jokes. This is an episode heavily based on how fucked up he is, though, so at least it is intentionally douchey.
    • He also points out in his review for I'll Be Home for Christmas that Jake Wilkinson basically has to be bribed to visit his family for Christmas, and only does two good things, and one standard thing he should have been doing.
  • The Onion has "Chauvin Defense Team Praises Officer’s Restraint In Not Killing Bystanders"
  • One of Fred Clark/the Slacktivist's most widely circulated blog posts criticizes this attitude. He refers to it derisively as the Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition — people who want to consider themselves morally above-average just for opposing Obviously Evil things like setting kittens on fire. Clark talks about how the article's comments had unambiguously anti-kitten-burning sentiments, but noted that they seemed to take an almost aggressively defensive stance. He also calls it the Thornton Melon morality, named for Rodney Dangerfield's character in the film Back to School, who had a line of fat clothing stores with the motto "If you want to look thin, hang out with fat people". In essence, Clark boils down these stories of kitten-burning being so popular because they let people assure themselves that they're better than some arbitrary moral floor of depravity, all without having to do anything or change their behavior.
    Fred Clark: The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.
  • What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?: Nash and Tara begin to think that they need to start giving out prizes for basic decency after hearing a story about a man drugging his girlfriend to play video games.
  • Youtuber the1janitor, talks about how a lot of guys claiming to be in the "Friend Zone" are really entitled Extreme Doormats that really aren't as nice as they claim to be.
    "Look, dude, the world doesn't owe you shit for being nice, and girls don't either. You're supposed to be nice to people. You don't get a cookie for doing what people are supposed to be doing anyway."

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko's Heel–Face Turn is discussed in this manner twice:
    • When Uncle Iroh goes to The Gaang to ask for their help to rescue Zuko, said group is naturally not very enthused. Iroh insists that there is good in Zuko, and...
      Sokka: Good inside of him isn't enough. Why don't you come back when it's outside him too, okay?
    • When the group is talking about Zuko's sudden (from their perspective) jump to the good guy's side and Toph cites setting Appa free instead of leaving him to rot as one good thing he's done:
      Sokka: [sarcastically] Oh, hurray! After a lifetime of evil, at least he didn't add animal cruelty to the list!
      Toph: I'm just saying that considering his messed-up family and how he was raised, he could have turned out a lot worse.
      Katara: You're right, Toph. Let's go find him and give him a medal. The "Not-as-Much-of-a-Jerk-as-You-Could-Have-Been Award"!
  • In The Dragon Prince, Callum has this reaction when Rayla, a former assassin, claims that they should trust her because in the whole time she's travelled with them, she hasn't tried to assassinate them.
  • The Futurama episode "Time Keeps on Slipping", Fry initially attempts to woo Leela with the least amount of effort possible (to be fair to Fry, this is more because he's an idiot who doesn't always get how to react to things rather than him being a bad person).
    Fry: I bought her champagne, I opened it... What does a guy have to do?
  • Kaeloo: Stumpy asks Quack Quack, who has infinite lives and can therefore come back to life if he is killed, if he can have one of his lives. What will Stumpy give him in return? Not calling him rude names for no reason.
  • The Lion Guard: The third season premiere reveals Scar's Start of Darkness; a rogue lion ambushed him with a cobra, which bit him and gave him his namesake scar. Scar expected to receive praise "near and far" for killing them, only to be furious when Mufasa just playfully ruffled his mane and nicknamed him "Scar". This is despite the fact that as leader of the Lion Guard, protecting the Pride Lands from such threats was part of Scar's job in the first place.
  • In Milo Murphy's Law, Bradley accuses Milo of this, though largely because he insists that Milo has more control over Murphy's Law than he actually does.
    Bradley: So he causes problems just to fix them, and be praised for his "heroism." It's like getting an award for cleaning up your room. After you messed it up!
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Even after notionally "reforming", Discord has distinct shades of this, claiming to be just as good a friend of the Mane Six as they are to each other in spite of all the trouble he's caused (and keeps causing) and then complaining when they don't immediately return the sentiment. Being the Trickster, how much of this is him actually meaning it and how much is him just messing with them for amusement isn't clear.
    • Another factor is that it may be that since he is the Spirit of Disharmony, what counts as decent behavior may come as foreign or even antithetical to him (especially since his Physical God status means he's spent most of his life seeing ponykind and others as merely playthings). One examination where this is Played With is in the Season 4 finale; the Big Bad Tirek convinces Discord to perform a Face–Heel Turn by acting friendly and amicable to him while giving him the chance for Discord to do what he wants. Discord falls for it because Fluttershy is the only one who is really friends with him and tries to understand his needs while the others barely tolerate him and even then, Fluttershy reins him in. He is unsurprisingly backstabbed and this betrayal did teach him some more humility to have a better understanding of friendship. He has been getting better though and for the most part, seems more like a somewhat spoiled child than anyone truly amoral.
    • Explored further in the episode "Discordant Harmony", where Discord hosts a tea party for Fluttershy and tries to make her feel at home by completely removing anything bizarre from his home and changing his behavior to being impeccably nice. This started because Discord became irritated at how the ponies he was doing business with questioned his friendship with Fluttershy (though it appeared it did get to him). However, by doing so, he begins to fade from existence with the implications that Discord would've died. Furthermore, it's implied he is connected to "Chaosville", a pocket dimension that seems to serve as a Fisher King purpose and where his power is connected to. As such, while Discord can be amicable and nice, being chaotic and causing trouble is a literal part of who he is.
  • Shadow Weaver in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power seems to think she deserves gratitude whenever she isn't actively abusing her adoptive children and genuinely believes when she joins the Rebellion that she's one of the good guys despite all that she's done.
    • Horde Prime also falls into this, believing the Etherians should worship him for not destroying the planet they call home. When he finally decides to decimate Etheria, he blames his actions on the inhabitants for not being grateful.
    • Subverted with Hordak. When he plans to send Catra to Beast Island, Entrapta intervenes and convinces him to send her to the Crimson Waste instead. Hordak then acts as though Catra should be grateful, however they both know the Crimson Waste is just as much of a death sentence so Hordak appears to only be doing it to rub the punishment in her face.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Blood Feud", Homer helps save Mr. Burns's life by persuading Bart to donate much-needed blood, solely in the expectation that "when you save a rich guy's life, he showers you with riches!" He also says to Bart, "I'm not asking you to give blood for free. That would be crazy!" When all the family receives is a thank-you note addressed to Bart, Homer sends Mr. Burns an abusive letter in return, with near-disastrous consequences.
    • In "Team Homer", Moe grouses, "You go through life, you try be nice to people, you resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?"
    • In "In Marge We Trust", Reverend Lovejoy envisions the saints in the Springfield Church's stained glass windows asking him what he's done to help Springfield's parishioners.
      St. Lucian: Tell us, good Reverend, what great deeds have you done to inspire the hearts of men?
      Lovejoy: Well, I had the vestibule re-carpeted.
      St. Donickus: I've appeared in over eight thousand visions, and that's the lamest reply I've ever heard.
      Lovejoy: Oh, now please, I-I thought saints were supposed to be friendly.
      St. Donickus: You ... you're just lucky God isn't here.
  • South Park:
    • Cartman is freaking out around Christmastime about whether or not he's been "nice" enough to merit Santa's favor. He suggests that brushing his teeth counts as a "nice" action, only for his "naughty and nice accountant" to note that that doesn't really count.
    • Also Cartman's attempts to be nice in order to get invited to Kyle's party at Casa Bonita.
      Kyle: That's not being nice. That's just putting on a nice sweater!
      Cartman: ...I don't understand the difference.
      Kyle: I know you don't. (shuts the door in his face)
    • Explored with Randy, who has a Heel Realization over his actions in Season 23. He admits he was always able to downplay them because he figured he could never be as bad as President Garrison.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: Though they've been trying their hardest to learn empathy from Steven, and he appreciates the effort, the Diamonds' attempts to be kinder people are still this by normal standards — Yellow hasn't declared war or enslaved anyone, Blue doesn't order that her subjects be shattered or make anyone cry anymore, and White is attempting to be cordially polite, "even to lower lifeforms" — and they think doing all this is enough to warrant Steven living in the palace with them instead of returning to Earth.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: In the "Best O' Plucky Duck Day" segment "Sticky Fingers Duck", Plucky and Hamton steal a candy bar from the local store. They make a clean getaway, but are overcome with guilt and rush back to the store to return it. As the clerk praises them for their honesty, Plucky assumes he'll reward them with the candy bar they had just stolen. Instead, he tells them that he'll call the police if they ever return.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Virtue Is Its Own Reward


"You gotta make it one first."

Barney calls out his parents for not only thinking that he should be thankful for them accepting him for who he is, but also hypocritically enabling his grandmother's transphobia. Because of this, he ends up viewing his friends as his true family rather than his own flesh and blood.

How well does it match the trope?

4.19 (26 votes)

Example of:

Main / CallingTheOldManOut

Media sources: