What good is it to do good?

I was listening to “The Philosophy Podcast,” which is a podcast that occasionally publishes readings of great philosophers, while doing the dishes tonight. The reading was from the Discourse and Enchiridion by Epictetus. I have never read Epictetus before (but I now know that these works are very similar to, but from a slightly later period, Paul of the New Testament) but I was taken with this particular excerpt which focused upon right action, the importance of doing the right thing regardless of consequences. The quote I offer below is quite powerful as it addresses the question of what good is it to do good when the cost can be quite high, including one’s own life. 

 Priscus Helvidius also saw this, and acted conformably. For when Vespasian [the Roman Emperor from 69-79 CE] sent and commanded him not to go into the senate, he replied, “It is in your power not to allow me to be a member of the senate, but so long as I am, I must go in.” “Well, go in then,” says the emperor, “but say nothing.” “Do not ask my opinion, and I will be silent.” “But I must ask your opinion.” “And I must say what I think right.” “But if you do, I shall put you to death.” “When then did I tell you that I am immortal? You will do your part, and I will do mine: it is your part to kill; it is mine to die, but not in fear: yours to banish me; mine to depart without sorrow.”
What good then did Priscus do, who was only a single person? And what good does the purple do for the toga? Why, what else than this, that it is conspicuous in the toga as purple, and is displayed also as a fine example to all other things? But in such circumstances another would have replied to Caesar who forbade him to enter the senate, “I thank you for sparing me.” But such a man Vespasian would not even have forbidden to enter the senate, for he knew that he would either sit there like an earthen vessel, or, if he spoke, he would say what Caesar wished, and add even more.   

The slightest acts of goodness are like the purple dye, or the leaven in the bread, that works its way through the whole. A single person and a single act can affect a whole nation and civilization. 

By the way, did I mention it is an election year? Learn, pay attention, and then vote.