We often assume that if we do something good, we will get something good in return. Or that if we stick to the rules, we will be rewarded – or at least not punished. That when we invest in something, there will be a ‘return on investment’, in reasonable proportion to what we have invested. That other people will treat us with dignity and respect, if we do the same. The underlying assumption is that the world is fair and just. This way of behaving is not entirely unimportant, because it also guides our social behavior.
But we would do well to take into account that things can also go differently. That we may not be rewarded at all for good behavior, that we are punished even though we followed the rules, that a significant investment (whether in money or time or personal attention) does not pay off at all, or that people do us harm even though we didn’t give them reason to.
The world is not always reasonable and certainly not always just. And there’s no reason why it should be, no matter how much you might want it. The only thing we can reasonably do is act justly ourselves. In the words of Marcus Aurelius: “The inner compass of a rational being is naturally satisfied with its own just actions and the peace of mind it brings them.”