Find out the top reasons why good people do bad things. We all have experienced it: great people at times behaving badly.  How the mind tricks good people into losing their ethic/moral compass and going astray.

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You do not have to study human behavioural science for decades or read Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde to know why even great people sometimes behave really badly.

What motivates good people to do bad things can be influenced by thousands of feelings and emotions…

  • Jealousy/envy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer-pressure
  • Unmet needs
  • Deprivation
  • Revenge in return for harm
  • Desire for power
  • Feeling excluded or overlooked
  • Show that you do not respect someone

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Let’s dig a bit deeper on the key 14 reasons why good people do bad things:


cognitive dissonance right belief bad action

cognitive dissonance right belief bad action

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you may feel when:

  • You have two contradictory opinions
  • Your behaviour is inconsistent with your beliefs
  • What you believe is totally different from what actually happens (the reality)

Cognitive dissonance has been proven to be one of the most powerful psychological forces driving bad behaviour.

  • You know it is not good to hit your kid however you have done it. Unmercifully! 😱
  • You advocate for animals welfare however you eat meat
  • You know you should eat healthily and control your weight, however, you keep eating at Maccas
  • You know you have f* it up at work, however, you keep blaming others.

When you feel you are a good citizen doing bad things, cognitive dissonance makes you ignore bad behaviour because you can’t tolerate the inconsistency between your behaviour and your beliefs.

For example, people with “grandiose narcissism” are more likely to show high levels of cognitive dissonance as they can easily deny reality.

You probably have seen the systematic denial of harm by pesticide companies or mining companies just to name two industries. They present themselves to the world as clean and environmentally friendly businesses when we all know pesticide companies are poisoning our food and mining companies are polluting our rivers and oceans.

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In places or situations where chaos and disorder are the main ingredients, you know there is a lack of authority and care: no one has been assigned to care for the place or situation.

As a response, you are more likely to commit unethical behaviour that’s in line with this perceived chaos and disorder.

That’s why your local council keeps your neighbourhood parks sparkly clean and lighted so good people are less inclined to use them for bad things: drinking alcohol, drug consumption, gang fights, rape, murder, littering, illegal dumping, etc.

The broken window theory refers to many social experiments done in the past in which a house or car is left unattended with a broken window for a while, the more time it passes, the more chances someones gets tempted to break in and steal anything from it or burn the whole thing!

broken window theory fallacy psychology

broken window theory fallacy psychology


The compensation effect is the tendency for you to assume you have accumulated moral capital to have the right to behave badly. With this assumption in your mind, you use good deeds to balance out bad behaviour.

You can be more inclined to do bad things under the false thought that because you have done many good things it is ok – once in a while – to act badly.


  • I did not touch alcohol during the week, it is now ok to get drunk this Saturday
  • “Your company donate to non-profits that help people with disabilities, while you do not employ anyone with disabilities”

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The Pygmalion effect is the tendency you have to act the way that other people expect you to act. The pygmalion effect is ambiguous. It works both ways: it can influence you positively to do great things or it can influence you negatively to do poor/bad acts.


  • Your parents are rich and enjoy living in luxurious houses with all the most expensive toys. They value money and prestige and they have passed those values to you. You then try to reach wealth and prestige above any other values at any cost.
  • You allow your boss to bully you and tell you the work you complete is poor class. The more your boss diminishes your effort, the more likely you care less about the task and continue underperforming until you get fired.

If you are treated like you are an important member of a team, you will be more likely to act accordingly and offer great support to your team. Alternately, if you are treated with suspicion, you are more likely to act in a way that justifies that perception.


You are so possessed to achieve a particular goal, to the point that you could leave/omit other extremely important, ethical or legal considerations out of your thinking.


  • You finally got that “dream” job, however, you later realise your efforts will be used for a product or a service that harm, sick or devalue people. You were so focused on getting that job that no other thing counted.
  • You wanted so badly to reach your quarterly sales target you did not take the time to welcome and proper onboarding and training to new members of your team.

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When you become part of a group that engages in unethical behaviour, you are far more likely to become part of that bad behaviour or at least condone/accept their bad behaviour rather than risk standing out and report it to the correspondent authorities or leader in charge.

That’s why it is important you cherry-pick the people you work with and be attentive to any unethical signals and be brave to report them if necessary.


  • You finally landed that job as a procurement manager and quickly realised your other team members get monetary gifts or compensations from providers. You let this in and start enjoying the extra cash benefits of your new role.

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Obedience to people doing bad things

Obedience to people doing bad things

Similar to the pressure to conform, it can be quite difficult for you to ignore the wishes of those in authority positions. Even if those wishes are bad proceedings.

When you do not have a strong set of values/ethics, you could also feel like you are less responsible for wrongdoings just because you are acting under the direction of someone else. You then are more likely to act out the unethical wishes of your boss and feel far less guilt than if they had decided to do it themselves.

I cannot stop thinking of some of the good public servants who decided to follow their leaders’ bad acts under a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime i.e. Hitler, Donald Trump, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Maduro, Fidel Castro, etc.


You live in a highly competitive culture, a “winner” driven society.

Everyone around you gets a trophy, a medal or a promotion.

At work, someone else gets all the credit and recognition for your hard work.

When individual winners become the most important thing, you can be more likely to abandon any ethical standards to get your carrot.

When there is only one winner in a given situation, you are more likely to cheat rather than face the consequences and feelings of loss.

That’s why great leaders must offer rewards and recognition not only for reaching specific measurable goals but also for:

  • Recognition for demonstrating hard effort (Example: you worked extremely hard to reach the goal)
  • Recognition for the contribution to a team, some customer or community (Example: you were rated as the best sales representative by customers)

When you recognise only individual winners, you are creating a culture of individual competition and opening the door for bad behaviour.


The more you feel that you are replaceable and under-appreciated, the more likely you are to commit ethical violations. This could happen both at home, at work or within your community.

On the contrary, you are more likely to do good deeds at work if your employer makes you feel unique, valued and important. Because of this reason and other key reasons, one of the most important roles for Human Resource Managers (HR Managers) is to ensure social bonds are created between people in an organisation.

People who find it difficult to create social bonds are more likely to commit a crime, a terrorist attack, etc.

That’s why your local, state and national government spend millions of dollars every year to offer spaces and activities where people can grow their social fabric, especially for vulnerable communities: migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, etc.

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The blinding effect of power can make you feel inherently different from your employees or other citizens (feelings of superiority/ego). In addition to that, you may have been given the power to make the rules and/or police them. As a result, you may find yourself to be the most capable person to break them.


  • When a police officer or a prosecutor commit a crime.
  • When a CFO inflates balance sheets before an IPO knowing he will benefit from her/his stake in a company, etc.


Your flashy displays of wealth lead to increased selfishness. When you splash money around, you are sending a message for unethical behaviour.

As a result, your team, your partner and/or your children learn they have to aim for those flashy displays or may end up developing jealousy of you or of whoever is throwing cash away in front of them.

In this type of scenario, you are more likely to put your own needs ahead of doing the right thing.

Great leaders share their wealth wisely and ethically. You can make your spending power a tool to feel more accountable and responsible for your family, your local community, your employees, society and the planet in general.

There is absolutely no better way to share your wealth than by ethically investing in you and helping others: education, healthy food, a clean environment, etc.


You know you did a small bad thing. And because it is such a little thing your mind thinks: “it should be ok

But when you get used to too many small bad acts you know there is no authority and you can become far more likely to up the ante.


  • Who would buy post-it notes or A4 paper when you can get it from the office? Then you realise you are taking home the scissors, printer, toilet paper, staplers, chairs and even a desk (if you can).
  • When intimate partners have different sex drives and/or different expectations about sexual pleasure, one may start looking for little small sexual candies from other people. You suddenly realise your lovely partner is on Tinder! 😳

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Marketers can mask bad behaviour or unethical practices with cool branding or funny euphemisms taking consumers away from feeling guilty when making poor/bad purchase decisions.


  • Marketers created the “Taste the Feeling, Coca-cola” slogan that surely sounds nicer than saying: “a sugary drink driving a worldwide obesity epidemic
  • Financial engineering” a better term used for “Accounting fraud
  • Climate change” does not sound as urgent as “Global warming
  • Breast lift” or “tummy tuck” terms were created by marketers to have a more positive feeling for “breast operation” or “abdominoplasty”; especially when targeting young low-self-esteem women.

Your great set of values and ethics can not only influence consumers’ behaviour but also empower other peers to steer clear of bad marketing practices.


If you feel a new rule imposed on you is too strict or too restrictive, you are more likely to break those rules – and even go further against the rule than you otherwise would have. This theory is also called the “Boomerang effect“.


  • Your boss has prohibited everyone to use their mobile phone during work hours. You then take her phone, break it apart and throw it in a rubbish bin outside your building. 🔪 💣 🔥
  • During covid, you went to a secret “covid-themed” party when you were not even allowed to leave your house.

Not only teens but even adults do bad things when they feel a basic right has been taken away. If you are in a position of power to create rules and policies, make sure you take into account cultural norms, social idiosyncrasies and community acceptances.


Bad behaviour is the consequence of what you feel and what you think about a perceived situation.

I like to call “wild horses” to those crazy feelings and thoughts that lead to bad behaviour.

Never feel guilty of having those wild horses galloping around your mind like a hot massive bonfire or a hurricane capable of destroying anything around.

In fact, these wild horses run around the minds of most of us and it is totally ok. (Unless you have already found “nirvana” in a Buddhist monastery in Koyasan, Japan or in a Shaoshi mountain in China 😀 )

Good people ( like you) possess two simple hacks/tools to control your “wild horses” before you act badly:

  1. Time
  2. Someone you can trust

I will explain:

  • Time is one of the best tools you can use to avoid getting into bad behaviour. With time, the wild horses get tired of waiting for your bad action. Procrastinate your bad action as much as you can, give it an extra day, or an extra week. The more time you can get, the more chances these wild horses – galloping around your mind – will vanish.
  • Someone you can trust. Having a chat with someone you trust can lead you to new angles for contemplation, reflection and sometimes amazing alternative solutions. Get a quiet and private time and space with your bestie, your confidant, your trusted psychologist, life coach, shaman or mentor. You will be amazed by how they will love to help you and value your courage to open up and share your thoughts and feelings.

Note: The above hacks are NOT the only options.

They are just two tools that have helped me and I believe they could help you.

Contact me and share your ideas about this topic.

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japanese geisha mask horns fangs

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Mau is a Senior Digital Marketing Specialist with 15+ years helping clients solve their digital marketing challenges. Mau is a certified Facebook & Adwords Professional, Certified SEO Consultant and industry speaker. Mau trains marketers via Strategy Workshops & Training Sessions inc his popular Digital Marketing Plan & Social Media Plan templates. Subscribe to Mau’s e-newsletter connect on LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

Best stress relief quotes for work

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