07/18/2011 03:43 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2011

No Good Deed Shall Go Unpunished, But Do Good Anyway

One thing that my 19 years as founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE has taught me is that helping folks is not so easy, and that often, "no good deed shall go unpunished." That said, we should all "do good anyway."

For confirmation of this, just look at many of my heroes, from Jesus Christ, to the more earthly saints such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Malcolm X (when he returned from Mecca and dared say that "all whites are not evil," he was dead within a month). But still, all of my heroes and sheroes, long since past in the human body and form we relate to, live on today, arguably larger, more brilliantly and more impactful than ever. In my work, I never doubt that it is all worth it, but boy this work can get so very frustrating at times! And this is why my favorite chapter of my now-bestselling business book, "Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World" (Jossey-Bass) is "Loss Creates Leaders."

Recently, just one of my many important projects out of the Office of the Chairman at Operation HOPE has gotten me at times totally flustered, while of course being at the same time completely undetered in my mission to get the work done (smile). Sometimes it just seems like no one is actually doing their job, and I am in turn doing too many. No good deed shall go unpunished.

From time to time I "get it" from, say, a local elected official who, for whatever reason, believes that I want to run for public office, and maybe their public office (and nothing could be further from my mind), so they are hesitant to help me help poor people. After 19 years as founder of HOPE, wouldn't I have done this already, if that was my ambition? No good deed shall go unpunished.

Have we become so cynical as a society that we no longer believe that there are actually people out there who simply wants to help, serve, represent and empower people who may not have a full "voice" of their own? Well, that actually does sound a little like I want to be a politician (smile). No good deed shall go unpunished.

The reality is (and for the record) that for all the respect I have for true public servants and elected officials across our great nation (and thankfully, there are too many good examples I know to mention here), I really have no interest in being elected to hold public office. I feel like the most noble and useful thing I can do is serve and empower people at the level of "impact" in their daily lives, and that for me translates simply into the amazing programs and services offered by Operation HOPE, in underserved communities across the nation, and increasingly around the world.

In my modest role and way, I would like to help advance the amazing vision that Dr. King had when his human life was cut short, namely the work that fueled his last movement, the Poor People's Campaign. I call it the silver rights movement, or making free enterprise and capitalism work for the poor and underserved.

"Be skeptical, but don't be cynical, because to be cynical is to be without hope."
--Ambassador Andrew Young

Sometimes I run into individuals in power who simply have forgotten why they desired to be in power in the first place, and now are basically refusing to do their job altogether. For me, the only useful purpose for power is to give it away. They, however, have decided that their job (and with it the source of their power) is to actually be oddly against things, rather than for them.

At a time when the world needs leaders and leadership more than ever, some have decided to become experts in what they are against rather than what they are for. No good deed shall go unpunished.

Or take the rare local community leader, or leader of a local or national non-profit organization that may have a noted financial literacy program (fantastic), or, say, another one serving the same small business or minority small business community (great). They may not want to "warm up" to me, because maybe they see Operation HOPE as some sort of perverted form of "competition." Isn't there enough poverty to go around? No good deed shall go unpunished.

Are we really having this conversation, given the level of pain and suffering in America today, not to mention all the low-wealth and underserved communities in desperate need today?

On occasion -- this one tickles me -- someone is turned off because I have a "strong view" of the world and our work, or alternatively I am what some might call "charismatic." Didn't the founder of Wal-Mart have a strong view of the world as it relates to his work? Didn't the founder of Microsoft, and Apple, and even the National Council of Negro Women, for that matter? And, well, the list goes on and on and on from there.

The point is, you want people who have a strong vision and a track record to back it up, open, of course, to other views, but a strong vision all the same.

On this charisma thing: don't we want to move and influence people to act in ways that maybe they otherwise would not (or, as I like to see it, "to help manipulate people's fundamental goodness")? How many young adults were moved to pursue a life of sacrifice and service, just because they listened to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, even to this day?

Well, while "no good deed shall go unpunished," let me say for the record that I will never stop "doing good" in and for our world.

Beyond the fact that at this point it is imbedded in my life DNA and was the inspiration behind me writing "Love Leadership," I also just selfishly want to be able to answer God's questions at the end of my days, when He asks, "John, did you help sustain this, my small planet, and did you help the least of these my children?"

I want to be able to answer at least one of those two questions in the affirmative. I am working on both.

I am reminded of something told to me by an otherwise unassuming businessman during a trip to Vienna, Austria for Global Dignity. Right when I thought I had nothing to learn from this man sitting next to me, he told me something that changed my life. He said, "John, the greatest sin in the world is not to do bad. All men will do bad, thus all men will sin. The greatest sin is to not do good when you could."

I just want it to be said, at the end of my days, that "there goes a man who tried to do good when he could."

Let's stop focusing on what we think we should "get" from this world, or how "just and fair" we think this world should be, and begin to focus on what we have to "give," just because we can. I guarantee you that you will feel fantastic when you do, even if the real rewards for such actions are nowhere in sight.

No good deed shall go unpunished, but do good anyway.

Operation HOPE, founded immediately following the Rodney King Riots of 1992 in South Central Los Angeles, born of a dream with one employee and a $61,000 operating budget, today has 5,000 partners from government, community and the private sector, more than 15,000 HOPE Corps volunteers. It is active in more than 70 urban communities in America, and internationally it is active in South Africa, Morocco and, through affiliates, Finland and Norway. Operation HOPE has served more than 1.5 million mostly low-wealth individuals and has directed more than $1 billion in private capital to America's most challenged, underserved and inner-city communities.

John Hope Bryant is a thought leader; founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies; CEO of Inc. Magazine; bestselling business author of "Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World" (Jossey-Bass); and Member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama.