Story: I Love to See Virtue Rewarded

This week’s video story: I love to see virtue rewarded.

I have a weird trait — I can’t bear any book, movie, play, or anything with the plot of unjust accusation. Oliver Twist, Othello, Atonement, The Fugitive…I just can’t stand it. And I can sniff it out a mile away! I can feel this theme coming as I’m reading or watching.

On the other hand, I love any story in which virtue is rewarded. So thrilling. My daughter loves these stories too, and for a while, she kept asking me to tell this story:


Alas, virtue isn’t always rewarded — and one thing I love about this story is imagining the happiness of the customer, who got to be the instrument of virtue rewarded, for this excellent sales clerk.

If you want to read the text of the actual email in which she described this incident, look here.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

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  • Penelope Schmitt

    Isn’t it amazing how expressing appreciation to someone for doing a good job can be so rewarding and happiness-making for you, the customer? Great that the CEO happened by at the magic moment, but on a smaller scale, it’s neat to be able to provide those moments of satisfaction anytime someone does something right for you.

    Although I am not a complete believer that ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’ I’m not always such a big fan of ‘virtue rewarded’ scenarios. All too often in life I find that ‘virtue is its own reward’ and that is all there is to that. The sense of one’s own integrity at the end of the day is often the best you can expect, but that can be enough. Of course in folk tales and fairy tales, the person who ‘does right’ by a stranger is very often rewarded with some magical assistance. Great in literature, to instruct the young in the ways one should always act without expectation, but not the reason for doing right in life.

  • Please don’t get started on House of Cards!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    However cynical my remarks may have sounded, I have to say that it is extremely moving and encouraging to have an experience of having your own ‘virtue’ rewarded. I make quilts to send away for disaster relief and to support ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease patients) and other things. Mostly, I don’t ever hear of those quilts again–they go into the wild blue to meet their new owners and that is totally fine. I after all have been able to indulge in the pleasures of fabrics, design, and sewing, so it is not a sacrificial business!

    But at Christmas time, I received a beautiful letter from the caregiver for a quilt I had made and donated the previous May and ‘forgotten’ about. It is one of the treasures of my life, and will encourage every effort I make from now on.

  • caroltreegirl

    Gretchen, I share your trait of hating to read a book or see a movie where an innocent person is unjustly accused. Are you, by any chance, a Libra? I really take no stock in astrology but am always struck by how much it bothers me to see the scales of justice out of whack in this way.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      I guess for me there are two kinds of books I can’t read all the way through (bad writing keeps me from even getting started). First, I won’t finish a book in which I like NONE of the characters. If my sympathies can’t be engaged, I’m not in for the long haul.

      And then, unmerited and finally MEANINGLESS suffering troubles me more than injustice. Of course some of those who suffer are suffering injustice. I can take that as long as there is redress or a balancing of the scales or as long as the sufferer or those around him or her have some experience that redeems the suffering–or even if the reader or viewer deeply understands the suffering and feels impelled to outrage or action. To me, this is an essential part of life, and as Mrs. Loman says of Willy Loman at the end of Death of a Salesman “attention must be paid.’

      I agree that I don’t enjoy reading things like Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and ‘Metamorphosis’ because there is no relief, and the motivelessly evil powers win. One feels crushed and hopeless, not motivated or angry!

      I have been greatly enriched by reading many things that involve the unjust sufferings of the innocent, particularly children: Kipling’s ‘The Light that Failed’ (suffering children who get free of the oppression in time), Oliver Twist, in which the wicked are punished, Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and “The Devils’ in which there is a full moral awareness of the evil done, Harry Potter (Dolores Umbridge gets what she deserves) spring to mind. In The Diary of Anne Frank (not fiction!) –Anne’s life has become all based upon injustice, and yet her spirit triumphs. Lolita is hard because the girl really suffers — but the moral balance happens in the soul and conscience of Humbert Humbert in the end. Great art manages to present these subjects in such a way that we are able to confront them. I think it’s important to experience such things occasionally. Maybe they are not one’s favorite light entertainment, but they have great value to the soul.

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one with this idiosyncrasy –

      I’m Sagittarius.

      • Debora

        I am also a Sagittarius, an have always had a strong sense of justice. I agree with Jeanne that we all have a moral compass that points us toward justice. Of course, this trait has to be modeled for us, and we need to cultivate it.

        • BKF

          It bothers me a lot too to read stories like Atonement, no matter how well-written. Or watching movies like that. Not just injustice for the falsely accused person but for the other person who gets away with whatever they did…

          This story about the clerk is heart-warming.

  • Jeanne

    I think we all have an inner compass that points us toward justice. We can ignore it, but we have an innate tendency toward fairness (kids especially), and abhor injustice. Here’s a story: One day near the 4th of July, my husband and I were at the ocean, and were sitting on a bench overlooking the beach. We noticed a father with his young son on the beach setting off fireworks. Now, know that fires are not allowed on the beach, and fireworks of the kind he was setting off are illegal in the county. I was musing about how this man was setting such a poor example for his young son, when right then a cop car showed up and the officer went down and reamed that guy a new one right in front of his son – and kicked them off the beach. I looked over at my husband and smiled 😉