Being Nice Shouldn’t Be Worth Your While

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Joker with money - Being Nice Shouldn't Be Worth Your While

Since when did everyone expect to get paid to be nice and do the right thing? Look around you, it’s happening as we speak. It’s not new, of course, it’s been going on a for a while. Right from the beginning of time, religion has been promising you good karma, a luxurious after-life with an attached bath, or at least a favourable promotion in the next life as compensation for being nice. That was all fine and good in a slightly abstract way, but the moment doing the right thing started to become worth your while in cold hard cash, we were doomed.

Just a few days ago I was at one of the large hypermarkets in town and saw some examples of this misguided strategy. The shop in question has started charging the customer a small token sum of money for every plastic bag they take at the checkout, to encourage the use of reusable bags. Also, to make it seem like they are doing it purely for the betterment of the environment, they offer you the money for the plastic bags back if you return them for recycling.

Sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface. But think about it. Most people are still going to pay the extra token money for the plastic bag, and consider it a small service charge. Then, very few people are actually going to take the trouble to collect up those specific plastic bags and return them to the shop for recycling. Even if the customer gives in the bags for recycling through other channels, the shop still gets to keep the money for that bag, which while small, is way too much for a single plastic bag produced in the hundreds of thousands. So the shop makes a good profit. Small amounts add up when multiplied by thousands of customers per day. All this rather than switching to more expensive biodegradable bags at their own initial expense, and then charging the customer. That would be really environmentally friendly.

In the same place they also have the system where you need to insert a coin to free a shopping trolley. The coin is returned to you when you deposit the trolley into the correct receptacle in the parking lot. This to prevent people from wandering away with the shopping trolley to carry heavy shopping to their nearby homes. And this is where the flaw in this ‘money saved or given for doing the right thing’ system becomes clear. If you’re living close by, maybe that one lost coin in the shopping trolley is a reasonable service charge to have the convenience of using a trolley to your doorstep, rather than lugging your shopping in many bags, which you also might have paid for.

As soon as you put a monetary value on doing the right thing or being nice, being bad now acquires a cost, which tells the average person that it’s ok to be bad as long as you are willing to bear the cost. It’s ok to use lots of plastic bags when you’re paying for the privilege. It’s ok to kidnap unsupecting shopping trolleys beyond supermarket parking lots when you’re paying for it with a coin. It’s ok to speed dangerously on the highway, as long as you’re willing to pay the fine.

And why not, really? After all, it’s ok to be a polluting industry as long as you are willing to pay for your institutional laziness and irresponsibility with carbon points. How can any of the above examples be considered any different when they are so much more harmless in scale?

Wake up zombie hordes! Being nice or doing the right thing was never meant to be worth your while. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. As soon as you incentivise good behaviour by charging bad behaviour, you are legitimising bad behaviour. When it’s ok to do the wrong thing as long as you pay the price, how can doing the right thing be priceless? And if being nice isn’t priceless to us anymore, then we’re doomed, because even the birds, the animals, and the trees understand that concept, and so much of nature works on that basis. The universe doesn’t do monetary penalties, green incentives, or karma points, it just sees the hand you were dealt and looks at how you dealt with it.


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  1. Hi Samir,
    Well happy to read another of your articles. You are right, even animals know that concept, and it’s truth, we do good things because we know we have to do them, that’s just the way we are, but this sounds like being forced to being good, not leaving us the option to decide, so this adds to our life something else in what to think of, as if we hadn’t enough.
    Good to see that you take your time in analyzing this problems that for some may be too little to worry about.


    1. Thank you, Magali. Glad you liked this article.

      You are right, there is always the question of whether you are in some way being forced or pushed into doing the right things or whether you are doing it because of your own decision.

      I guess it all comes down to the various things we absorb as we are growing up. If you are lucky, your parents, and other influences, teach you about the difference between the right and the wrong things, not just by labeling them, but rather by explaining what makes them right or wrong. If you are even luckier, they also bring you up encouraging you to think for yourself.

      If you receive both these gifts when you are young, you hopefully grow up with a strong sense of what is right and wrong for you, and an even stronger sense that nothing is ever written in stone. Once you have these things, I don’t think it adds much extra thinking to do in your life. After a certain point these desicions and the thinking process of right vs wrong become an instinct, but one that is thoughtful rather than blind.

      As far as taking the time to analyse the small issues of life, I enjoy it. I ask myself these same questions. Writing about them is just a step on the path to answering them for myself. 🙂


  2. Great post, Samir.
    Do you realize how dangerously unpopular your point of view is in the ongoing ‘environment‘ debate.:D
    That’s why I find the ‘green’ and non-existing global warming hype movement so abhorrent. It’s all about money and political power redistribution for the people who lead it.
    The followers are either naïve or selfish zombies.
    Why selfish? It’s not about saving environment, it’s all about them being warmly received by likeminded people in bohemian circles. This oh-so-open-minded crowd gets truly vicious with Global Warming non-believers. Why do you think I like boxing so much?

    In a meanwhile, governments of the world are slowly encroaching on individual’s rights with more taxes, and ridiculously invasive, anti-business ‘green’ laws – cap-n- trade comes to mind. Many people are jumping on the band wagon, and cashing in on Save the Earth madness with astonishing speed, while using catchy, make-you-feel-good slogans.
    Nice to see for a change that creative artist, poetically prone philosopher uses common sense, fair approach in this matter,and doesn’t shy away from his opinion.

    1. Thanks Lin. Popularity contests have never been my strong suit, and I’m probably shy at everything but expressing my opinion. 🙂

      Anyway, as far as the whole environmental “debate” goes, my very problem with it is that it has been reduced to a debate. I don’t think too highly of stunchly “green” types or of strict “non-believers”. The fact that important matters such as these are decided by “beliefs” is the ultimate joke. If human beings would stop being so attached to their beliefs & affiliations, and instead bothered to use that large mass of ganglions thet’ve been given for free to indulge in some actual independent thought once in a while, maybe we could finally start using the term “Human Civilisation” with some seriousness.

      Until that day, I’m just at this big game whithout being affiliated to either club of “supporters”, and I’m refusing to do the stupid Wave on cue just because someone told me to. 😉

      Don’t know if I agree with the title of philisopher, but I loved “poetically prone philosopher”. Thank you. 🙂



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