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Monday, January 17, 2022
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HomeOpinionColumnDo the cynics among us know more than we do?

Do the cynics among us know more than we do?

By: Keith Kappes
Columnist
Carter County Times

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

That cynical expression has always intrigued me, and I admit to using it too often, especially as I’ve seen so much of life on my journey to senior citizenship.

I believe the most frequent use of the phrase happens when you incur someone else’s anger because you genuinely tried to do a good deed for them, but it somehow injured their pride or self-esteem.

How or why does a person get to the point in life that they have no faith in the sincerity of human motives?

All too often, what starts as an obvious lack of appreciation explodes into outright hostility, sometimes even violence. 

By the way, the initial authorship of that expression of no good deed going unpunished has been attributed to several individuals, including Walter Winchell, John P. Grier, Oscar Wilde and Clare Boothe Luce.

I learned it from my father who explained that it is a cynical twist on the common notion that good deeds by kind folks always bring praise and/or gratitude.

In life, we too often find a different reality that leaves some of us distrustful of selflessness in others.

That contempt can grow to the point that we suspect that most, if not all, acts of goodness are selfish, intended only to bring us the accolades of others.

One of my readers asked me a few years ago if all journalists really believe the worst of others, particularly those in public life, and that honesty and morality are obsolete. 

That question came back as I read a letter to the editor of another newspaper where the writer praised a prominent man for his many acts of kindness to him and others less fortunate. 

The man being complimented for his acts of humanity is facing several criminal indictments. Some suggested it was part of a letter-writing campaign to get him a lighter sentence.

My theory is that we are becoming more cynical because of the toxic political atmosphere in our world, nation, state and, currently, in our communities.

We may think that being cynical about today and pessimistic about tomorrow can protect us psychologically, but it likely won’t make us happier or help make or keep friendships. 

Despite the dire predictions about higher prices for everything in the coming months, I invite you to join me today in becoming more optimistic and grateful and to keep doing good things for others.

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com

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