As children, we were taught something about the universality of goodness and the fact that wrong actions will be found out. Most of us recall a parent or family member explaining sternly, “Your choices have consequences.” This is usually when we’re moaning about how we failed a test, after we chose to watch the all night Action Movie Marathon instead of studying.
Invariably, regardless of our religious background, a sort of worldview emerges where we believe that bad behaviors have negative consequences, whereas good behaviors have positive benefits. What this ends up creating, even amongst Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is a sort of Karma-based expectation of life. Most people watch a show like “My Name Is Earl” and identify that it seems very much like what they would expect in life. For those of you who haven’t seen this show, it’s a sitcom about a man who nearly destroys his life by being “bad.” After being put in the hospital in a body cast, the main character, Earl, comes to realize that bad things happen to him because he does bad things. If he chooses to do good things, then good things will happen to him, because Karma will reward him. And, as is often the case, the amount of good he does for someone else is the amount of good that comes back. (Or, even more often, he receives more good back than he’s putting out, implying that doing good has an excellent interest return!)
So ingrained in us that good results are the sign of a good life that people have been publicly condemned for having awful things happen in their life. Hardly a new concept, the Biblical person of Job was castigated and socially crucified by his closest friends when his life fell apart, because they firmly believed that the only reason he was falling on hard times was because he’d secretly been doing evil. (As it turns out, Job was receiving a massive amount of attack from Satan due to his goodness, not his evil. A situation which is eventually reversed at the end of the book.)
With this sort of mindset in the modern world, what happens when evil results occur to those who do good? We’ve all been pissed off when we’ve heard about a good Samaritan that rescue a woman from a burning building and saves her life by performing CPR, only to be slapped with a lawsuit for fracturing one of her ribs. (This actually has happened so often in the United States that the judicial system has been forced to provide certain so-called “Good Samaritan” laws that protect life-saving members of the community from being sued when they save someone’s life.) This is because it is so antithetical to what we all dearly cling to: that good should be returned to the doer whenever they do good. That’s just the way the world should work!
However, in our own lives, we’ve all had examples crop up again and again that show us that the world doesn’t really function in the Karma style. Sometimes it is in a direct way, such as hiring a person on your crew because they so desperately want to help make a movie and because no one else will give a shot to them, only to have them betray you and try to hijack your movie right before production begins. Other times the results are indirect in a way that we don’t at first notice, but gnaws at the edge of our thoughts as being somehow “wrong.” These disconnected situations often occur in monetary penalties. This can be a straight one-to-one ratio, such as when we give $100 to a charity, only to have a $100 car repair pop up in the very next week. Or it can occur in a much less direct manner, such as after you’ve sacrificed months helping out at a children’s hospital or giving your time to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, only to have your production company gain no paying clients for the same amount of time you’ve been sacrificing your time.
This has caused some people to make the snide comment, “No good deed goes unpunished.” This sort of commentary always seems cynical and mean, but is it really? Is it possible that there is a cost for doing good?
Almost all world religions believe in a higher power (a force for Good) and a lower power (a force for Evil). The majority of these religions believe that the lower power has a large amount of control on Earth, while the higher (and greater) power has overall power of the heavens and the universe. Even agnostics would give credence to a higher power which they are willing to think of as an “Intelligent Designer” or, possibly, a “God” (although, in fairness, most would be very reluctant to engage in conjecture about a “lower power.”) While atheists would disavow this completely, stating that good and evil are simply manifestations of cultural influence and what a society agrees to accept as normal, they are in the significant minority, making up only 4% worldwide. As such, 96% of the world believes that there is at least the possibility of a Spiritual Good, with the majority believing that the possibility of Spiritual Evil is also real.
If this is true, then why wouldn’t the forces of Spiritual Evil seek to punish those who engage in Good? As I mentioned before, most major world religions would state that the forces of Evil have a particularly strong hold in the physical realm of the Earth. As such, if you aid people who need it, give to charities, help out in your community, and make films that benefit people, there is a very real possibility that you will pay dearly for this behavior. From my personal observation and research, I believe it is fair to state that there really is a cost for doing good—and often it comes in the form of a pound of flesh.
So, do I say all these things to discourage those who do good from doing it? Far from it. I would rather face the united forces of Evil because I’ve chosen to do Good until the day I die rather then surrender to self-focus and self-absorption. After all, if I die after a lifetime of giving to others, then I have changed the world for the better. However, if I die after a lifetime of self-absorption, then like Scrooge realizes at the end of A Christmas Carol, I die with no one to mourn my passing and a pile of stuff that people squabble over. There is a freedom in realizing that there is a cost for doing good, because then it doesn’t surprise you when you suddenly find that you’ve earned a nemesis for your kindness to another or when your car engine blows up after you open your home to someone who desperately needs one.
In my opinion, the concern for others and the desire to share what we know with people who need it is a hallmark of the microfilmmaking community. I would say it is one of the dearest differences between us and the Hollywood Studio system. (Of course, because we incur penalties for this behavior, we have to overcome much more to reach the level of monetary success of Hollywood.)
So, as we enter 2009, I want to encourage all the rebels and problem causers in the microfilmmaking movement out there. If you want to shake up the status quo and piss off the earthly forces of darkness, pour yourselves into others. Give your time to those who need it, share extra money with people who have a real shortage, and open your homes to those who desperately need to get back on their feet. Just remember that there will be a cost for your good deeds, but it will never be more than the intrinsic benefit that’s created by the performance of the deed you must pay for!