Evil Cannot Comprehend Good

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The Devil tries his hand at theology.

Merryweather: What won't Maleficent expect? She knows everything.
Fauna: Oh, but she doesn't, dear. Maleficent doesn't know anything about love, or kindness, or the joy of helping others... you know, sometimes I don't think she's really very happy.

This is when The Chessmaster villain has developed a devious plot that is prepared for anything the hero might do—except for one glaring flaw. For some reason, the villain has not considered the possibility of a Heroic Sacrifice. After all, you'd never catch him throwing his life away to save a bunch of lazy ungrateful civilians who don't care about anybody except themselves. Heck, even saving your True Companions comes after saving your own life. Only an idiot would throw his life away like that—and only because he didn't realize how much more profitable saving it would be. Well, sometimes that PR would be bad, but you only have to get him to where he can act secretly to get it out of him.

Too bad for the villain that Machiavelli Was Wrong.

Our Hero goes and makes the Heroic Sacrifice anyway, thereby ruining the villain's plan with a Didn't See That Coming that a Dangerously Genre Savvy villain really should have seen coming. This is one of the ways those with Honor Before Reason can continue to defeat the Big Bad. A major problem for villains who really believe they are Not So Different and think heroes could have used their powers for Evil, as opposed to villains who are just screwing with the Hero's head.

Occasionally greater justification is provided by having a hero who the villain knows is a Jerkass. Too bad the Anti-Hero decides to redeem himself at the critical moment. Or the villain will meet a hero who decides to Turn the Other Cheek instead of fighting back. Another justification is simply the villain suffers from sociopathy or another such disorder that makes them truly incapable of actually understanding things like compassion. This is actually Truth in Television in many cases.

An alternative version involves the Hero giving into the villain's manipulative demands and becoming a villain (usually to the horror of his sidekicks, Love Interest, and True Companions). But wait! It was all a ruse to defeat the villain. The villain falls for it because it's what he'd have done if the situations were reversed.

Greedy villains may content themselves with bribing the hero. After all, Justice Will Prevail and even Revenge aren't shiny, and don't get a very good exchange rate. Yet The Hero goes and turns down the Briefcase Full of Money, or a share in the proceeds of a robbery. Similarly, those affected by the Green-Eyed Monster often assume that The Hero is equally preoccupied with whatever inspired their envy, and the Knight Templar does not realize that other people differ about the relative values of what he supports versus what he is willing to sacrifice for its sake. And when the Hero interrupts an Attempted Rape, the would-be rapist may propose an easy solution: he can join in! Which doesn't work very well.

Innocent Bystanders and Mooks leave the villain even more certain. A Doomed Moral Victor's inspiration or a Heroic Bystander will flabbergast these villains, as will a Mook's Heel Face Turn that is inspired by the hero's example, or a Mook who proves that Even Evil Has Standards (for him, anyway). Indeed, he may help the Mook along by threatening their loved ones.

Never underestimate The Power of Love... wait, What Is This Thing You Call Love?? I simply must understand it! May end in An Aesop that Rousseau Was Right. Can be played for laughs if the villain in question does a Heel Face Turn and becomes a Hero with an F In Good.

A favored ethical position of Socratic and Platonic philosophers, who hold that goodness is wisdom and understanding and that no-one does evil willingly and for its own sake. In other words, evil does not so much fail to understand good as it can only be evil at all because it fails to understand good.

The God of Evil, Satan, or other beings that are Made of Evil are normally shown as being incapable of understanding things like compassion or goodness. In this case, Pure Evil cannot understand something that their nature renders them unable to experience themselves. This is Older Than Feudalism: The Bible often depicts the Devil in this fashion, where he's unable to appeal to anything other than selfish desires when manipulating humans. This is often the reason a Deal with the Devil fails; the deal maker's inability to understand good leaves a loophole that someone who can is able to take advantage of or simply offer something that doesn't truly matter to the target.

Contrast It's All About Me; when the villain expects the hero to behave, not selfishly, but generously toward him. When the trope is Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, the villain can't understand why the hero saved him from falling; in It's All About Me, the villain can't understand why the hero insists on arresting him after. It can get a little fuzzy when the character decides to be generous: did he murder his son's romantic rival because he didn't realize his son would hate it—this trope—or because he was so caught up in the notion of his own generosity that he didn't care what his son thought—It's All About Me?

Supertrope of Beware the Honest Ones. Contrast Good Is Old-Fashioned, Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids, and Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Compare Blue and Orange Morality.

Examples of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good include:

Anime and Manga

  • Trigun: Vash, in regards to the plans of Knives.
  • If Shin in Fist of the North Star really knew and loved Yuria, he really shouldn't be surprised that she was Driven to Suicide by the cruelty and genocide committed in the name of earning her love.
    • It's revealed in a later episode (though in chronological order in Yuria Den) that he realized she was lost to him, after she survived her fall only to unconsciously call for Ken.
    • In the case of Raoh, he's so emotionally stunted by his drive to conquer the world that while he still gets brotherly love (hence one of the anime's most touching scenes), romantic love flies right over his head. As a result he mistook his relationships with Reina and Yuria for ambition (Reina as a comrade in his ambition, Yuria as the source/prize of his ambition) instead of could-have-been-love. The sheer ignorance of Raoh's response, when he's subsequently frightened both by Kenshiro and by Fudou's children, wondering as the source of Kenshiro's power...
  • This along with The Power of Love is usually what causes the defeats of the boss villains in the Sailor Moon series.
  • In Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star, Lord Akudaikahn is so utterly unable to understand anything but his own thirst for destruction that he has a Villainous Breakdown and goes completely insane when the Heel Face Turn-ed Michiru and Kaoru reveal to him that, in fact, he did commit a good deed by giving them life.
  • In Cyborg 009, 004 was faced with a fully robot duplicate of himself which was not only stronger and faster, but could perfectly predict his actions. Until their battle knocked a bird's nest loose from a tree; the mere act of 004 diving to catch it was so unexpected to the robot that it was effectively a Logic Bomb and caused the robot to malfunction and shut down.
  • The Darkstalkers OVA had Bishamon suffer this when Donovan put himself at risk to save human bystanders during their fight.
  • Naraku, from Inuyasha, privately expresses some confusion when Sango simply will not kill her little brother Kohaku, no matter what he makes him do.
    • While he was played for this trope for most of the series, another particarly despicable instance being when he claims the way the protagonists would just show mercy on a loyal underling whom he just sent on a suicide mission to take them out makes him sick, he is ultimately revealed to be an interesting subversion when Kagome points out that he is part human and couldn't possibly carried out his Manipulative Bastard antics if he didn't understand the meaning of human bonds, which, on the one hand, manages to make him a great deal more terrifying as a villain than he would be if he simply didn't get goodness since it means that he always knew exactly what his actions would do to the protagonists, but on the other hand revealed that his motivations had to go beyond mere lust for power. It is intretesting that he was never really aware that the vestiges of humanity he tried so hard to get rid of were, in fact, as much of an asset to him as they were to the protagonist.
  • Played for tragedy in Black Lagoon, when Creepy Child Gretel is so confused by Rock showing her genuine kindness and crying for her, that she sexually proposes to Rock as thanks.
  • In Death Note, Mello had kidnapped and traumatized Sayu. Soichiro, Sayu and Light's father, had managed to get the Shinigami Eyes and got back the notebook. Light was expecting his father to write out Mello's name as soon as he saw his face but Soichiro simply threatened Mello, preferring to arrest him. Light couldn't understand why Soichiro would do that.
    • Used again with Mello and Light later on, after Mello kidnaps Takada. Mello is killed in ensuing events. Light, whose first loyalty is to his own survival, cannot conceive that someone like Mello would sacrifice himself for any reason and walks right into the trap convinced that Mello was just an idiot. Although not exactly hero and villain, this is clearly a case of selfishness cannot comprehend loyalty. It's worth noting that with other characters that are more clearly good guys, Light tends to have better success predicting their behavior- Near is an example- but, perhaps because Mello demonstrates a kindred disregard for human life early on, Light simply assumes that the other is driven by greed rather than revenge.
      • Arguably, Mello's character-defining inferiority complex is consistent with him preferring to go out in a Blaze of Glory and have at least partial credit for playing a vital role in taking down Kira, then let Near eventually beat him to it.
  • There is a hentai doujinshi (Porn with Plot? Yes!) where a Manipulative Bitch in Sheep's Clothing takes advantage of the protagonist's indiscretion and blackmails him into copulating with her. When the Manipulative Bitch's sister, who the protagonist has feelings for, smells a rat, the MB "confesses" everything under the impression that this will drive a permanent wedge between the protagonist and the sister. She is bewildered when the sister decides to forgive the protagonist instead.
  • The Antispiral's speech to Nia in the final episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann would indicate that it doesn't understand why humanity continues to fight against the impossible odds it faces: "Your actions are baffling, Irregular. Why do you resist us so?"
  • Magnificent Bastard Yokoya from Liar Game merely scoffs and mocks Nao's ideals of saving everyone in the game, including himself.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Kanryu Takeda does not understand why the heroes are trying to rescue Megumi even though there is no reward waiting for them. He is even more bewildered that they refuse to take his bribes.
  • Black Cat: Creed is the living embodiment of this, although it at times verges on "Insanity Cannot Comprehend Sanity." Literally every problem in series was triggered by Creed's inability to process, or even understand ordinary human feeling. Creed honestly can't understand why his murder of Saya would prevent Train from wanting to join him. Similarly, it leaves him unable to understand why his Bad Boss tendencies will lead to poor morale among his subordinates. Creed seems to see people as existing apart from one another, and as such social cause and effect has almost no meaning for him, which only fuels his issues.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Jose doesn't understand why Crow would lose on purpose just to give Yusei a fighting chance in their tag-team duel.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Edo Phoenix is the Designated Villain and self-proclaimed Anti-Hero, so he confuses even himself when he makes a Heroic Sacrifice trying to save Ekou, someone he just met who should mean nothing to him.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, cybernetic assassin Sergey Volkov suffers from this twice during his duel with Jack Atlas. First, when he uses a card that forces Jack to either destroy his Red Dragon Archfiend or keep it (the latter option giving Sergey more Life Points) he's shocked when Jack chooses to spare his Dragon, not able to understand loyalty to a creature Jack considers a partner. ("Does not compute..." he mutters.) But he really blows his fuses when Jack goes out of the way to save him from crashing (an act that causes Gong - who along with Yuya is watching - to wipe away a tear and say, "Times like this make me proud to be a duelist"), the concept of an enemy trying to save him from dying an even harder concept for him to comprehend.
  • As a part of his Villain Decay down to Smug Snake, Bleach's Sosuke Aizen gets hit with this pretty hard by the end of his character arc. When Ichigo first confronts him, Aizen attempts to mess with his head by claiming Ichigo has no reason to hate him and is only fighting out of duty even though he and Ichigo both know Aizen will murder everyone Ichigo knows and loves if he's not stopped. Later on, when Ichigo reappears, clearly looking like he'd Took a Level in Badass, Aizen assumes the new form is no threat at all because Ichigo changed in a way he hadn't predicted. It hits Aizen much harder in relation to Urahara, however; Aizen appears to be genuinely bewildered and outraged that Urahara, the only man he considers his intellectual equal, is not only content to sit idle rather than try to control the afterlife but also opposed to Aizen's attempts to do so.
  • Gaara from Naruto, back when he was an Ax Crazy Serial Killer who honestly though his purpose in life was to kill people, didn't understand how Naruto could keep pushing himself so hard in their final fight, hard enough that even when both of them were utterly exhausted, Gaara was flat on his back but Naruto was crawling on his chest to fight him, because that was the only way to save Sakura and his friends. He only quit when Sasuke showed up and told him Sakura was safe. Naruto got Gaara just fine, though; he knew exactly what Gaara had been through, and explained to him that it was finding friends like them that saved him from the dark, angry place Gaara was in himself.
  • In Slayers this is the reason that Dark Star merges with his mortal enemy Vorfeed to become an entity to destroy all universes and then rebuild them into a world where the two of them would not need to fight each other anymore.
    • In the manga, Knight of the Aqua Lord, the Big Bad of that season took the power of a god and went insane.
  • Tao En / Yuan in Shaman King, who refuses to believe that you can trust anyone due to the way his ancestors were persecuted for their shaman powers. This is crucial to his defeat - he's more powerful than any of the main characters at that point, but watching The Power of Friendship trump self-preservation destroys his focus.
  • Katejina Loos from Mobile Suit Victory Gundam literally got sick since she couldn't comprehend Shakti's thoughts of ending the battle and preserving life.
  • This happens to the homonculus Envy in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga and Brotherhood anime. Envy gets baffled and frustrated by how so many former enemies are setting aside their differences and teaming up to defeat Father's forces. He unsuccessfully tries to remind them of how much they should hate each other. When Envy realizes that he envied humans' kindness and decency all along, he takes his own life out of humiliation.
  • In the Diamond and Pearl arc of Pokémon, this is the reason why Paul could not raise Chimchar to his full potential; as he thought making friends with his Pokémon was a waste of time. This came back to bite him in the ass when Ash raised said Chimchar into an Infernape and beat him in the Pokémon league.
  • Serves as a pivotal point in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Kyubey can't understand why there's such an emotional impact of losing one person when there are seven billion people. Although Kyubey isn't evil per se, he just has a goal that disagrees with humans when the main cast learn the truth

Comic Books

  • In one of the earliest stories told with the Corrupt Corporate Executive version of Lex Luthor (in Superman v2 #2, 1987), Luthor notices that Clark Kent has some kind of connection with Superman, and sets up a research project to find out the nature of the connection. When the researcher concludes that Clark Kent is Superman, Luthor fires her and scraps the project... because he knows it's impossible that someone with that much power would want to waste time occupying such a humble persona.
    • It comes around full circle in Action Comics v1 #900. After achieving godhood, Luthor starts torturing Superman, thinking that he only simulates emotions. When Superman provokes Luthor to delve deeper and watches Jonathan Kent's death, Luthor puts two and two together and promptly has a Villainous Breakdown because he can't understand how someone like Superman could have a loving family like the Kents and Luthor didn't.
    • In All-Star Superman, when Luthor gains Superman's powers, when looking through Superman's eyes and how the Universe is interconnected, he realizes why Superman was so benevolent. So much so he completely atones and accepts his death penalty.
    • The villains that fight Superman are often baffled that someone as powerful as him would use that power to help people instead of ruling them.
  • Used when The Avengers enemy Ultron-6 had rebuilt himself with indestructible Adamantium, making him invulnerable to anything the Avengers could throw at him, including Thor. Ultimately, Hank Pym stops Ultron via Logic Bomb by impersonating Ultron's Mind Probe target after undergoing hypnosis to fill his mind with a simple phrase which Ultron's robotic Kill All Humans mindset couldn't understand: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • In Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog, Dr. Finitevus turned Knuckles into an insane and ultrapowerful villain, and as a security feature made sure that the change couldn't be reversed without someone dying for it. That should do it, right? When he explained this, there was silence... for about a second, at which point everyone present started volunteering. Ooops.
    • And the next time Finitevus ran into Knuckles, he honestly seemed surprised when Knuckles refused his offer of alliance; it didn't seem to occur to the "good" doctor that Knuckles would hold a grudge over the brainwashing and the death of his father (who performed the above mentioned Heroic Sacrifice).
  • The Wizard, long-time foe of the Justice Society of America, had this as his motive in his first appearance. He'd missed the early years of the team as he was in isolation learning black magic, and when he returned to civilization, the Wizard could not believe that smart people with superpowers would use them for altruistic purposes. Therefore, the JSA had to be pulling the biggest scam ever, and the Wizard demanded to be cut in.
  • At one point when the Crime Syndicate of Amerika infiltrate the universe of the Justice League of America, Johnny Quick and Power Ring change costumes and pose as their heroic versions (The Flash and Green Lantern respectively). Almost losing a fight to supervillains, they are absolutely bewildered when civilians rush in with clubs to help them. When asked why they did this, the civilians said that they owed them for all the times the League's helped them. This prompts Power Ring to complain:
  • Some demons trap Traci 13 in a Lotus Eater Machine where she is the uncontested ruler of the world, and her father is dead. They are baffled when she rejects the illusion and wants her father back, as she thought her father was annoying with his uptight refusal to believe in magic.
  • In one DC Comics crossover event, this ends up costing Neron badly when he reveals that his stream of deals with various DC villains and heroes was done solely to get Captain Marvel to cut a deal with him. Unfortunately, Neron thought that the Big Red Cheese would ask for something selfish. Instead, Cap asked for something completely selfless ("Let everyone else go and I'm yours.") which meant that when Neron tried to take Cap's soul, it burned him so badly that he fled.
    • Neron gets similarly burned when he buys the love between The Flash and Linda Park. It causes him to start developing feelings for the souls in his possession, and he doesn't understand why. He ends up giving it up in disgust.
  • During the John Rogers run of Blue Beetle, Eclipso hits Jaime with a spell that will bring out his "deepest desires," which it believes will be some sort of dark, violent power fantasy. What Eclipso gets instead is... a dentist, as what Jaime really wants a career that will make enough money to provide for his family.
  • In Incorruptible, this is at least part of the reason that former Complete Monster Max Damage is having trouble performing a Heel Face Turn, though he honestly wants to be The Atoner.
  • Batman foe Hugo Strange thinks Batman is The Ubermensch and wants to be him. Unfortunately, Strange refuses to believe that Batman is truly heroic and Strange projects his own lust for power onto the hero.
  • In volume 2 of Empowered, Emp saves a thug's life by warning him about his impending brain aneurysm and getting him to the hospital in time for an operation. However, on her way out, a pair of nurses drag her into a closet and drug her, complaining that she's ruined the evil scheme they're running from the hospital. The two of them are convinced that Emp's presence means the Superhomies are onto them, since there's no way a superhero would care about the life of a common thug.

Fan Works

  • Discord in the Pony POV Series has this problem, and it's even outright mentioned at one point by Twilight as being his Fatal Flaw. Celestia also mentions in the Origins Arc that Discord was completely incapable of truly comprehending love and is the only one of his family who had this problem, including his two Eldritch Abomination parents, Havoc and Entropy. Notably, Word of God confirmed that Entropy, despite being an Omnicidal Maniac by job description, comprehended it, Discord can't. Discord knows this himself, but has simply chosen to ignore it and continue his sick games.
  • Getting Back on Your Hooves' Big Bad, Checker Monarch (Trixie's sister) has this problem—specifically, she's so far miscalculated how much Trixie's friends care about her, and how willing they are to forgive her. Justified as, according to Word of God, she's based on real life sociopaths, who by definition are unable to understand concepts such as compassion and empathy.


  • In Disney Animated Canon's Sleeping Beauty, the Good Fairies disguise themselves as human peasants, give up their magic, move into a cottage in the forest, and raise Aurora/Briar Rose as though she were a foundling, because they know it will never cross Maleficent's mind that anyone could perform such a selfless act. As Fauna notes: "Maleficent doesn't know anything about love, or kindness, or the joy of helping others. You know, sometimes I don't think she's really very happy."
  • Gaston, in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. He's unable to imagine why Belle would choose the Beast over him. To him, love is just a convenient bargaining chip—or a distraction, or a function of physical beauty.
    • Also, when the Beast is still selfish at the beginning of the film, he seems genuinely shocked that Belle would give up her freedom to take her father's place as a prisoner.
  • In Toy Story 3, Lotso obviously never expected Woody to return to The Alcatraz to help his friends after he safely escaped, or for Ken to choose Barbie over him, a la Voldemort's assumption about Snape and Lily.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2. Instead of questioning how Po was able to grab the cannonballs and throw them back at his ships, Shen is baffled how Po was able to attain inner peace despite facing the one who murdered his birth parents and wiped out his people. For years, Shen has allowed the day his parents banished him to be the thing that drives him to getting what he wants and ignores the Soothsayer's requests that he not let his past control him. The fact that Po attained what Shen had wanted for years, inner peace, by listening to the same advice Shen ignored, completely baffles him.
  • While they're more 'weird' than 'evil', this is the basic premise of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack understands the basic feeling behind Christmas but not how traditional Christmas icons translate into Christmas feeling. The other townsfolk don't have a clue, and merrily set to twisting Christmas toys to their own scary design because they feel this improves them.
  • The Tagline to Pan's Labyrinth is "Innocence has a power evil cannot comprehend", which explains a lot of Cpt. Vidal's actions, as well as his inability to see the Faun at the end.
  • In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine's arrogance and relentless self-centeredness blind him to the idea that Luke would show mercy and redeem his father instead of co-ruling the Galaxy—with someone he is destined to overthrow in due time, no less—causing his carefully-laid plans to fail. The idea that Darth Vader would turn on him, rather than watch his son be murdered, presumably never entered his mind either.
    • This is foreshadowed earlier, when Vader senses Luke aboard a captured Imperial shuttle headed for Endor. Palpatine comments that he cannot sense anything - presumably because he's turned so completely to the Dark Side that he simply doesn't recognize the rest of the Force. It also explains why he wasn't more careful about provoking Vader's Heel Face Turn: he could only sense the evil side of him.
    • The Star Wars prequels and many stories in the Star Wars Expanded Universe have not only demonstrated this trope, but they demonstrated that the Jedi have the opposite problem, namely Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. It would explain how the Jedi keep getting crushed or making mistakes worthy of What an Idiot! reactions.
    • For Luke specifically his main error was in not realizing that Luke didn't really seek power, to the point that some in the expanded universe speculated on whether he even really understood the idea of wanting it. While rage against Vader and the Emperor was a temptation to the Dark Side, he really had no reason to side with them.
  • The Dark Knight Saga: The Joker's "social experiment" uses The Sadistic Choice in an attempt to prove that people are cruel at heart, but both groups do the right thing. In a gloriously believable way, no less. It's not a stretch to think that not a single typical civilian will be cruel and cold enough to actually blow up a ship, even one full of criminals. Flip side, it's also entirely believable that there might be just one guy on the ship of criminals who's not a Complete Monster. Hell, Batman even spells this trope out to the Joker, who can only look at the ships dumbfounded and disappointed.

Batman: What were you hoping to prove? That, deep down, everyone's as ugly as you? You're alone!

Megatron: Is the future of our race not worth a single human life?
Optimus Prime: You'll never stop at one! I'LL TAKE YOU ALL ON!"

    • Occurs again in the third film. Sentinel Prime has decided to cooperate with the Decepticons to enslave humanity as a work force to rebuild Cybertron. He makes it clear that he wants to ensure that the Cybertronian race doesn't die out, and believes his authority as a Prime puts him above coexisting peacefully with humans. So it becomes a huge case of frustration for him when Optimus Prime, his former student, chooses to defend the freedom of mankind over the possibility of having his home restored. Optimus simply responds by saying that it was Sentinel who taught him that "freedom was everyone's right."
  • In Patton, one German points out that Patton, who they believe will lead the invasion of Europe, is facing a public backlash after slapping a soldier and may be court-martialed. He gets the reply "Don't believe their newspapers! They would never keep their best general out of the war just for slapping a soldier." Of course, that's exactly what they do (albeit as part of a Batman Gambit). This is an interesting case, as in the harsh reality of war, overlooking personal failings—even major personal crimes—of a great general might really be the "good" thing to do, not just the expedient thing. Keeping your best leaders in the field saves soldier's lives.[1]
    • Patton's commander, Eisenhower, thought the man was Ax Crazy and liable to screw up the Alliance with his rivalry with Montgomery and his open hostility towards the Soviet Union. Putting him in charge of the decoy invasion served two purposes for Ike: it convinced the Germans that the decoy was actually real, and it kept Patton out of the front lines (and the headlines.)
  • In The Magnificent Seven, Callvera's last words to Chris where "You came back. Why?" The reason he let them go in the first place was because he thought they were all on the same terms, and thus, would never come back to save a bunch of farmers.
  • Played 100% straight in The Matrix Revolutions - Neo's refusal to give up, no matter how badly he's beaten, allows him to push Smith into a Villainous Breakdown without saying a word. Then Neo allows Smith to assimilate him. Smith is completely surprised that Neo would do such a thing, and is even more surprised when, his purpose fulfilled, he is wiped out of existence.
  • Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life goes through the enitre movie without picking up so much as a clue as to what makes Peter, George, or indeed any of the Bedford Falls townspeople tick. Potter's expectations that George will hand the Building and Loan over to him in exchange for a job, or that the townspeople will quickly turn against George at the first oportunity are disappointed throughout the movie. It never dawns on thim there's something about his fellowmen that he just doesn't get.
  • Used and subverted early in Serenity. Someone from the Academy says that Simon Tam "must be crazy" to have run such risks and gone to such lengths to save River. The Operative, true to his Well-Intentioned Extremist nature, recognizes love for what it is: something much more dangerous.
  • In Superman II, General Zod and Ursa assume Supes is protecting the humans because they are his pets.
  • The Big Bad of |Ghost Ship in the end tries to tempt the Final Girl into his trap by turning into the crew mate that he just killed. He attempts to use the crewman's love to trick her, but fails horribly because he believes the material items he offers will win her over. Shows up after his ruse is uncovered when he tries to trade her life for keeping the ship afloat and can't seem to understand that she doesn't care that she may die if she can destroy the ship and free all the trapped souls.
  • In Prince of Persia the Sands of Time, while beating him up, Nizam remarks to Dastan his dislike of the King adopting the homeless boy and making him Prince.

Nizam: I never understood why my brother brought trash into our house! Enjoy the gutter, Dastan! It's where you will stay under my rule!

  • In Sherlock Holmes, both Holmes and Moriarty employ a Sherlock Scan to predict the outcome of their final confrontation, and both come to the same conclusion: that due to Holmes' injured shoulder, he can't win. However, Moriarty - self-interested to the point of outright sociopathy - couldn't comprehend that Holmes was willing to sacrifice his own life to defeat him.
  • In Daredevil, after the titular superhero has soundly defeated the Kingpin and has a chance to Finish Him!, Kingpin is dumbfounded by Daredevil's refusal to do so.

Kingpin: I ... I don't understand. Why?
Daredevil: Because I'm not the bad guy.


  • The plan to throw the Ring into Mount Doom in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is largely this trope played straight, but with a subversion at the end. Gandalf's plan hinges on the trope: "Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy... the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it." This assessment proves correct, and Gandalf and Aragorn are thus able to bluff Sauron into concentrating his attention on Gondor, allowing Frodo and Sam to slip into Mordor undetected. And, indeed, the moment Frodo puts on the ring inside Mount Doom, making its location known, Sauron immediately realizes the depth of his own folly and how close his destruction is. However, it turns out that Sauron is also correct—when the moment of truth comes, it is revealed that no-one can actually muster the will to destroy the Ring. Only Frodo's (and Sam's) earlier display of mercy to Gollum prevents Sauron's triumph.
    • The Silmarillion features the inverse, where Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: the evil Melkor is defeated by the other Valar and imprisoned for "an age". Manwë (leader of the Valar) is pure good and does not understand Melkor's evil motivations, so he believes that Melkor is now redeemed and cured of his evil and can be safely released. That doesn't turn out so well.
      • Possibly also extends to how Eonwë (the herald of Manwë) believed Sauron could have repented, and how the Valar apparently couldn't predict how the Istari (Wizards) would react to taking mortal forms, namely the acquisition of mortal flaws (particularly Pride for Saruman).
        • In a bit of irony, Tolkien's narration confirms that Sauron actually *would* have repented on the spot - even if only out of fear, given that his master was overthrown and his armies defeated - if he had simply been given a blanket amnesty. However, Eonwë insisted that he couldn't pass judgment on a member of his own race, and would thus have to take Sauron back to Valinor to be formally judged before the assembled Valar. Sauron was afraid both of being humiliated, and that he might end up with an even worse sentence, so he fled. Possibly another case of Good Doesn't Understand Evil, in that Eonwë thought Sauron would actually submit to judgement...
    • Also in the Silmarillion, Morgoth never expects the Valar to come to the aid of the Noldor because "for him that is pitiless, the deeds of pity are ever strange and beyond reckoning."
  • In David Edding's Tamuli trilogy, it is revealed that the Evil Plan of the guy who was behind the scenes in the The Elenium trilogy went belly up when one person did something he couldn't imagine happening: she gave the MacGuffin with ultimate power to someone else instead of keeping it herself.
  • Harry Potter: It is repeatedly and explicitly stated that his inability to feel anything for anyone other than himself is Voldemort's Fatal Flaw.
    • In the first book, Quirrell sums up Voldemort's philosophy with the line "There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it." The line is said by Voldemort himself in the movie.
    • In the last book, it's his inability to understand the meaning of "master of death" that stumps him. Voldemort considers it immortality because he cannot see the world beyond himself. Harry demonstrates that it is actually walking into death without fear. Ironically enough, this course of action ends with Harry's resurrection and Voldemort's Karmic Death.
      • Voldemort also subverts this by challenging Harry to turn himself in, claiming that he will spare the other students of Hogwarts (or the pure-bloods, at least) if he does so. As Harry eavesdrops on Voldemort, Voldemort comments that he was honestly expecting it to work. However at the same time, Harry points out that with this move, Voldemort made the exact same mistake again as he did the night he killed his parents: forgetting the power inherent in a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Also in the final book, two of Voldemort's followers betray him out of love for another -- Snape secretly switched sides because Voldemort killed Lily, and Narcissa Malfoy withheld key information from Voldie to protect her son.
    • Inverted in the fourth book when Barty Crouch Jr. explains that he showed Cedric how to work the egg, figuring that he would then show Harry in order to pay him back for tipping him off about the dragons. He scoffs "decent people are so easy to manipulate."
    • Bellatrix Lestrange did not understand that love can steer someone's determination until her fight with Molly Weasley.
      • She also is unable to understand why Narcissa is so upset that her son is being sent on what is essentially a suicide mission in Voldemort's name. Instead, she declares that if she had children, she'd be perfectly fine with letting them die in the service of Voldy.
  • Inverted in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The fact that O'Brien understands Winston's thoughts but not the opposite is the reason he can brainwash him into loving Big Brother.
  • C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew: Jadis' mistake when she tries to tempt Diggory in the garden (yes, this is supposed to remind you of something) is saying he could just leave Polly behind when he returns to Earth so no-one will find out he stole the apple. The "very meanness of the suggestion" makes Diggory realize Jadis isn't trying to help him or his mother, and renders all her arguments moot to him.
    • This is also essentially the theme of Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, where, as the Villain Protagonist himself notes, an inherent problem demons have in their battle against God is that they fundamentally don't understand His motivation; the denizens of Hell believe that the whole concept of "love" is a cover story for something more selfish and nefarious. Hell even has a division of their research department dedicated to comprehending good. It's one of the worse jobs to get in Hell.
      • Further on in the book, Lewis seems to suggest that this problem is rooted in the nature of what evil is, in that evil is fundamentally incapable of creatively existing without good.

"He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least -- sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side."

    • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jadis mocks Aslan for letting her kill him in Edmund's place. Just before she stabs him, she laughs about how it's a pointless sacrifice, as she'll just kill Edmund in the battle the next day. Aslan even tells this to Susan and Lucy, that the only reason the Witch didn't realize what would happen was because she didn't understand the true meaning of "sacrifice".
    • Lewis asserts this straightforwardly, in his own voice, in Mere Christianity: "Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either."
  • While not evil necessarily (more like inhuman), Vlad notes this about the Jeonine in the Dragaera book Issola. They hire him to kill the goddess Vera (who he's rather pissed off at), and he comments to his friends how they obviously have no understanding at all of humanity, to think he would actually do this.
  • Inverted in Good Omens, with good not being able to comprehend evil. Crowley tells Aziraphale that the forces of Hell aren't going to be very kind to him when they find out that he lost the Antichrist. Aziraphale sympathizes with "I can imagine." Crowley says no, he can't, because he's an angel. Aziraphale is largely naive about things like this, hoping that the forces of Heaven won't smite the forces of hell "too badly" because Crowley, a demon, is his friend.
    • It's subverted thoroughly, in that the good is not that good. Have you been to Gomorrah? I mean, after?
  • Good also has trouble comprehending evil in the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters. Granny Weatherwax, who will later (Maskerade) explain that if you know the difference between good and evil, you can't choose evil, collapses all the barriers in the Duchess's mind, making her see herself as she really is. After a moment of uncertainty, the Duchess announces "I did it because I enjoyed it, and I'd do it again only hotter and longer! You really believe everyone is good deep down, don't you?" before Nanny Ogg wallops her with a cauldron.
    • Terry Brooks' Wizard at Large has one of the protagonists inflicting exactly the same punishment on the villain—except that in the Brooks story, it works as intended, leaving the villain a guilt-stricken wreck.
    • In another Discworld example, the New Death from Reaper Man is absolutely baffled that Miss Flitworth was willing to share her lifetimer's sand with Bill Door, the previous (and good guy) Grim Reaper.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Island in The Sea of Time series, the otherwise smart and highly competent villain, William Walker, is caught out whenever somebody sacrifices their life to oppose him. He can't comprehend the act, or that being utterly callous and self-serving really offends people who can see through his charm.
    • The scary subversion comes later when after surviving his defeat he never fails to try to understand the motivations and capacities of others.
  • Madeleine L'Engle uses the quote above in A Wrinkle in Time, and it helps Meg Murry save Charles Wallace. She realizes that the only thing she has which IT does not have is love. She focuses on loving her little brother so much that IT is driven out in a Care Bear Stare of -- hold on, got something in my eye...
  • In Les Misérables, Knight Templar Javert cannot understand why Jean Valjean, someone he views as a criminal and therefore evil, would save his life with nothing to gain. Javert jumps off a bridge so as not to have to perform an evil act himself: either turning in the man who saved him or allowing criminal to go free.
  • In A Spell for Chameleon, Trent hands over his sword to Bink so he will be armed while he keeps watch and goes to sleep. Bink and Chameleon reason that Trent, despite the title "Evil Magician Trent", must be trustworthy because he is willing to trust them; an untrustworthy man would not have believed someone else to be trustworthy.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Duty Calls, a renegade Inquisitor is quite certain that Cain will appreciate why he acted as he did. Given that this included staging a massacre, abandoning innocents (including children) to an alien attack, summoning an alien attack to hide his tracks, and no less than three attempts to assassinate Cain, this does not work as expected; even a self-professed Dirty Coward like Cain is horrified.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge the Heretic, while Kyrlock and Elyra are infiltrating a smuggling operation, a man goes to rape a girl also waiting to be smuggled. Elyra objects, and not comprehending why, he offers to share. Kyrlock realizes this, says that Elyra wouldn't take him up on it, but he would—which the man cannot believe would be false, so lets Kyrlock get close enough to brain him.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novel Only in Death, Soric's keepers from the Black Ships think that he might kill Hark. (Hark, although he would not blame him if he did, knows that he is safe.)
  • This is actually how the Big Bad in the first Grey Knights book is defeated. His end appearance features him giving a long "The Reason You Suck" Speech, stating that humanity has given up all the morals it previously held dear. He is ironically defeated by one which no daemon has ever understood: willing self sacrifice. With a brilliant Interrogator giving up her life, sanity and soul in order to learn the daemon's true name so it can be banished.
  • This is how the Storm King is finally defeated in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. He plans for every act of resistance the heroes could offer, up to and including a last minute betrayal by Pryrates, but is fatally weakened when Simon, instead of trying to fight him, apologizes for all his suffering.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's novel The Fairy Godmother, Prince Alexander is hunting when he comes across a knight preparing to rape a peasant girl, and the knight offers to share her with Alexander. Alexander is less than pleased. It's an Elven illusion and the final test of Alexander's redemption.
  • In the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith novelisation, Count Dooku is revealed to be incapable of comprehending things like joy and friendship, translating them into things like jealousy, pride, spite, and so forth. Kind of a subversion, because Anakin eventually kills him by calling on something he does understand -- RAGE.
  • The Tarkin Doctrine in the Star Wars Expanded Universe is basically the idea that "Fear of force > force itself", but in practice tends to run towards "Fear is the ultimate weapon", as embodied by deliberately oversized ships, especially the Death Stars. Both sides of this equation fail miserably—the moon-sized Death Stars get blown up by ships less than 35 meters long (an X-wing and the Millennium Falcon), and the main thing about heroism is that it tends to involve courage, the refusal to give in to fear. Essentially, the Tarkin Doctrine is a refusal to understand your opponents turned into a tactical philosophy, with all the success you'd expect.
    • To rub further salt into the Doctrine's wounds, Tarkin's main attempt to employ it -- the tactically unnecessary destruction of Alderaan—ended up neatly shooting itself (and by extension, The Empire) in the foot by causing Palpatine's approval rating to slip ever closer to zero and providing massive sympathy for the Rebellion.
    • Almost all of the weapons created following the Tarkin Doctrine meet the same fate, to the point where its lampshaded by Han Solo during the Yuuzan Vong war.
  • In Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, the Big Bad thinks he understands, and at least is aware of them, but he vastly underestimates their power. Throughout the book he goes on at length about how his particular flavor of The Dark Side is greater than any other aspect of The Force. When he puts Leia through a particularly horrible And I Must Scream until her defense breaks, the love she has for Han, even then, hurts him, and he's unable to get through it. In the final confrontation, a Mind Screw-y sequence involving him being the ultimate black hole, he swallows Luke and angrily thinks that if any of the Jedi had ever even glimpsed the truth of the Dark, it would have snuffed their tiny minds like candles in a hurricane-

Was my tiny mind snuffed? I must have missed that part.

    • And then Luke was a white hole.
  • Works against the heroes in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Dead Beat. Harry says that Butters doesn't know anything, but then risks his life to save him. Thomas points out that the villain won't believe he would do that out of friendship.
    • In Grave Peril, however, Harry deduces from the attack on Charity and the baby that the Nightmare is being manipulated. As a demon, it couldn't figure out that Revenge by Proxy would be the worst kind of revenge on Michael.
    • Another Dead Beat example. Lasciel simply cannot understand why Harry wouldn't want to be like Nicodemus.
  • Inverted in The Stainless Steel Rat, where the hero is hunting a homicidal madwoman, and cannot predict her next move - so he injects himself with something to cause the same kind of insanity. Luckily, it worked with no collateral damage except for one broken arm.
    • Not quite an inversion, because it isn't that Jim can't comprehend evil, it's that Angelina is barking nuts. Her actions are evil, yes, but it's her clinical insanity he can't track.
  • Explicitly pointed out in Academ's Fury when the Vord Queen is caught by surprise because she couldn't comprehend that the surviving humans (and Marat) would be willing to sacrifice their lives just to have the chance of getting at her, knowing the threat she represented if she survived.
    • In the next book, Cursor's Fury, the principled Amara and the ruthlessly pragmatic Invidia Aquitane are interrogating a captured spy named Rook who is working for the traitorous High Lord Kalarus. Amara manages to figure out the source of Rook's apparent loyalty to him: Kalarus is holding her daughter hostage to ensure compliance. Once Amara realizes this, she does the last thing either Rook or Invidia expects: she offers to rescue Rook's daughter, because it is the right thing to do. Rook immediately breaks down in tears of relief, while Invidia stares at the whole thing, seemingly unable to comprehend what happened because it doesn't fit into her ruthless and calculated mindset.
    • Used twice in the fourth book, Captain's Fury. High Lord Kalarus is explicitly said to be ignorant of anything that isn't himself, while Senator Arnos firmly believes that Tavi is an opportunistic politico like himself who only pretends to be The Good Captain for PR reasons, when he's actually the genuine article.
    • This is something of a theme in the series. In the final book, the Vord Queen devotes much of her effort to comprehending good (or at least, humanity) but largely fails, possibly because the aforementioned Invidia is her "teacher". She learns just enough to get a legitimately moving Alas, Poor Villain moment at the end, though.
  • Inverted in Eugene Field's Daniel and the Devil: ordinary decent businessman Daniel simply cannot comprehend the Devil's sly temptations, and doesn't see the appeal of a life of fun and debauchery, being a respectable businessman and father of nine. This leads to this also being played straight, as the Devil is so flabbergasted by this he eventually breaks his bond with Daniel, effectively releasing him from his contract AND letting 1001 souls go free from Hell.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero In Hell, the reason offered for why the devils tried to frame Cornelius instead of one of her other brothers, which Miranda might have believed.
  • In Salute the Dark, the Dragonflies are honor bound not to try to reclaim their lands. Stenwold points out that if they gather their armies as if they intended to reclaim them, the Wasps will assume they are not thus bound.
  • In Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Night Lords novel Soul Hunter, at the end, when Ruven is pondering how to seize power, Talos seizes the chance for Revenge for his murder—of a mere mortal, Talos's servant. To humiliate him, he explicitly says he looks, dying, as that servant's death had looked.
  • In Death: This trope is used many times. Then again, a number of the villains can be placed in the category of The Sociopath or Complete Monster. This causes them to make mistakes that lead to getting arrested or killed off.
  • A protagonist example, Weed from The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor is completely incapable of understanding charity or good will
  • The Sword of Truth holds that the truth is objective and self-evident, and anyone who doesn't understand is selfish, weak, or deluded. Most of the eleven books are spent foiling, saving, or converting those people, respectively.
    • According to Jagang, Richard is evil because he's evil.
    • An entire book is spent with Nicci holding Richard captive, trying to understand him.
    • Dealing with the people of Anderith is somewhere between this and Refuge in Audacity. You just have to act bigger than them, because they just don't understand compassion.
    • The Hakens are taught that this is true and that they're evil because their ancestors did evil, and that the Anders are good because they were victimized. It mixes with the most horrifying case of mass stockholm syndrome ever on the Hakens' part.
    • In the finale, Richard decides that this is true of the Imperial Order because they don't want to understand.
    • Notably averted with Darken Rahl and the Sisters of the Dark. They understand how good people think and plan on it. Mixes with shades of Dangerously Genre Savvy
    • Also notably averted with the D'Harans, especially the Mord-Sith; it's assumed that this is true, but as Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd get to know some D'Harans and the D'Harans get to know their new Lord Rahl, it turns out that most of the evil of the D'Harans was a reflection of their leader, and that most of them are just people. Not all, though.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, the villains first try to bribe Freckles to be slack in his watch.
  • In Warrior Cats, Hawkfrost's plan to take over the Clans fails because he literally cannot understand why his brother would earn the position of Clan Leader rather than killing the current leader and taking it.
  • Downplayed in the last few books of the Honor Harrington series. The Solarians actually do comprehend some things about the Manties and Havenites because there are rough similarities (while the Manties are too nice and too practical to engage in the wasteful strip-'em-dry-and-leave-'em practices of the Solarians, they have no objection to profiting by relations with smaller states in itself). For that reason Solarians expect a mirror image. They expect them for instance when they record a battle for the press to doctor it in their favor. As it happens the battles were so lopsided in favor of the Manticorans that they did not need to bother to doctor them.

Live-Action TV

Spock: It was far easier for you, as civilized men, to behave like barbarians than it was for them to behave like civilized men.

River Song: I'm Doctor River Song. Check your records.
Dalek: Mercy?
River Song: Say it again.
Dalek: Mercy?
River Song: One more time.
Dalek: Mercy!?

      • Played straight in the Daleks' previous appearance that season. They have given a robot the memories of a real human, to use as an infiltrator, and reveal that said robot is actually a bomb capable of destroying the world. They activate him, knowing the Doctor will let them flee to go save the earth. The Doctor tries to disarm the robot by reminding him of his human emotions - feelings of loss, pain and misery. Unfortunately the Daleks are perfectly familiar with this kind of emotion and it doesn't work. Amy however reminds him of love, something Daleks could never comprehend. The robot's essential humanity asserts itself and the bomb is disarmed.
  • John Crichton was this in several episodes of Farscape involving alien mind control and/or drugs.
    • Harvey, being a mental clone of Scorpius, is particularly confused when Crichton chooses love over revenge—he wasn't programmed to consider any opinion but those of Scorpius worthwhile.
    • Averted in the case of the real Scorpius, who correctly guessed that Crichton would trade his wormhole knowledge for Aeryn's safety, and quietly engineered a situation in which his help would be required to rescue Aeryn. Even Crichton was impressed- and more than a little bit embarrassed, since he'd claimed that Scorpius didn't understand him two episodes ago:

Angel: People who don't care about anything will never understand the people who do.
Hamilton: Yeah, but we won't care.

    • This is also the reason that the Circle of the Black Thorn make Angel sign away his role in the Shanshu Prophecy after he joins them, in an effort to prevent him betraying them for his divine reward. It never occurs to them that he would do good without the prospect of a divine reward.
  • In one episode of Columbo, he explains that because the killer has no conscience, she was incapable of thinking her stepdaughter would demand money as a way to expose her as the murderer rather than for the selfish reasons her stepdaughter presented.
  • Happens sometimes with the villains in Power Rangers. Itassis in Mystic Force, for example, cannot comprehend how the courage of the Rangers are able to help them defeat her fellow Terrors, despite the latter being physically stronger than the former. But in a subversion, she actually betrays her people in order to learn how, being a Terror focusing more on knowledge than power.
    • In a particularly egregious example in MMPR, Lord Zedd devises a plan to break up the team by capturing Kimberly and a civilian in Aisha's presence so quickly that Aisha can't do anything about it. His hope: That when the other rangers find out she did nothing will rebuke her for it and the infighting will commence. Instead they just work together to try to save them. This actually shocks Zedd.
  • In Torchwood: Children of Earth, this is the attitude of the 456. Since humanity was willing to trade 12 orphans to prevent a viral pandemic in 1965, the aliens believe that Earth will give up millions of children the second time around, even after the authorities learn it would doom them to a Fate Worse Than Death. When Jack Harkness claims that most of humanity would risk genocide rather than accede to the 456's demands, the aliens flat out refuse to believe him.
    • And just to prove how much Darker and Edgier Torchwood is, the 456 are largely right. Most humans really are pragmatic enough that they're willing to sacrifice millions of children for their own safety (at least as long as it's not their children on the line). Even Jack ends up explicitly breaking his own "an injury to one is an injury to all" ideal when he manages to defeat the 456 - by the sacrifice of a single child.
    • In a parallel plotline, the PM seems to think that Frobisher will be able to sacrifice his own daughters. Frobisher isn't and does indeed commit his own private genocide.
  • One of Cavil's major miscalculations in Battlestar Galactica was the naive assumption that just living as humans would convince the Final Five Cylons that human life was crap. He didn't even bother to give them abusive parents in their fabricated backstories. Compounded by his inability to comprehend that killing off people would cause the Final Five to mourn them, not stop loving them.
  • In one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney details the aftermath of his hooking up with Wendy, the waitress at McLaren's (the main cast's favorite bar). It ends badly when notorious-womanizer Barney can't pick up women in McLaren's without Wendy's disapproval. Wendy eventually recognizes that their hookup and quasi-attachment was a bad idea and lets Barney have his bimbos back, but Barney continues to throw out every drink she serves him because he can't comprehend that she isn't plotting some kind of revenge.
  • Lost, "Everybody Loves Hugo":

The Smoke Monster: Why aren't you afraid?
Desmond: What is the point of being afraid?
(The Smoke Monster hesitates, then throws Desmond down the well)

  • Inverted in Jekyll. Throughout the first episode, Tom Jackman is very careful to keep Hyde from discovering that he has a wife and children; when Hyde actually finds out and pays a visit to the Jackman household, Tom fears the worst... only to find that Hyde has spent a happy evening playing with the kids and chatting with his wife, Claire.
    • And again, in the third episode: when Tom wakes up one morning, soaked in blood, with a few hazy memories of meeting Claire the previous evening, he assumes that Hyde has murdered her: in fact, Hyde got soaked with blood while cutting Benjamin Lennox's throat- after he threatened Claire and her children.
    • Jekyll's a subversion of this in general, since in the end it turns out that the source of Jackman's transformations isn't malice, it's a profound sense of true love and the need to be loved in return. Hyde's sadism is destructive because it's undirected until he knows that he has a wife and children to protect.
  • Arguably (because God knows, precious little about the show is certain) the motivation of the Village administration towards Number Six in The Prisoner. Six's resignation was an emotional action; the Powers That Be, their worldview cast so wide that they cannot see individuals except as links in a chain, refuse to accept this.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Zoe's Reprise," the UnSub says that he is a big fan of Rossi's books, but doesn't understand what he means when Rossi says that he fundamentally doesn't understand why people choose to kill. The UnSub states that the urge to kill is normal for him; he doesn't understand why everyone else doesn't have that urge.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 4 episode "Who are you?", Faith has taken over Buffy's body and experiments by trying to live Buffy's life. She gets very confused and rather upset when people are nice to her.
    • Especially Riley. It seems that "emotionally intimate and loving" is the only way Faith hasn't had sex yet.
    • In Season 4's "The Yoko Factor", Spike shows that he knows what The Power of Friendship is ..., but also shows that he doesn't understand it yet. He identifies Buffy's friends as strong assets ... but is absurdly confident that he of all people can cause a permanent falling out between Buffy and the Scoobies on the eve before their big fight with Adam. Spike's sowing of discord causes a semi-dramatic quarrel that angers the Scoobies for all of a half episode. Then they rally about, and unleash epic ass-kicking. Friends fight, but friends apologize and make up too.
      • Adam, being evil, is also waayyyy too eager to imagine that a squabble will be enough to cause a serious rift between the Slayer and her friends.
    • In Season 6 "Dead Things" Buffy thinks she's accidentally killed an innocent bystander. Spike wants to dispose of the evidence and sweep the matter under the rug, and can't understand why Buffy wants to turn herself into the police.

Spike: Why are you doing this to yourself?
Buffy: (tearful) A girl is dead because of me.
Spike: And how many people are alive because of you? How many have you saved? One dead girl doesn't tip the scale.
Buffy: That's all it is to you, isn't it? Just another body! You can't understand why this is killing me, can you?

    • This becomes inverted when Spike says that he won't let Buffy turn herself in because he loves her. Buffy responds by savagely beating Spike, implying that she's the evil thing who can't comprehend Spike's selfless actions.
    • Much earlier, The Master waffles from Genre Savvy to Genre Blind with this trope. In the Pilot, The Master understands a heroic slayer well enough to know she'll risk life and limb to save Jessie, and baits his first trap for her accordingly. Twelve episodes later, the Master never pauses to consider that the Slayer herself has her own friends who will risk life and limb for her... and is blindsided accordingly.
  • Firefly: When Captain Mal catches up to Saffron, she claims that the reason she plays mind games and acts like a manipulative, murderous Femme Fatale is because, she believes, that's just how people are. Mal begs to differ.

Saffron: Everybody plays each other. That's all anybody ever does. We play parts.
Mal: You got all kinds a learnin’ and you made me look the fool without even trying, and yet here I am with a gun to your head. That’s 'cause I've got people with me, people who trust each other, who do for each other, and ain't always looking for the advantage.

Pro Wrestling

  • Eddie Kingston's 2007 and 2008 was spent beating up and destroying most of the young technicos on the CHIKARA roster, breaking Shane Storm's nose twice, bruising everyone from Tim Donst to Soldier Ant. Along comes Lince Dorado, who was beginning to become The Scrappy and is getting roundly booed by every crowd. Eddie continues the beatings on Lince, who continues to get up and keep asking for more. Kingston announces that he will never again wrestle Lince, because his tenuous grip on sanity gets confused every time Lince gets up for the people that boo him.
  • Ever since Ted Dibiase Jr.'s 2011 Heel Face Turn (which is basically him being more friendly and no longer acting like a Rich Bitch), heels like Michael Cole and Jinder Mahal have expressed confusion over why he would do this.

Tabletop Games

  • The D&D Sourcebook The Book of Vile Darkness introduced the Vashar, a subrace of coldly evil humans. The Vashar are said to literally be unable to comprehend "positive" emotions, to the point that most of them wouldn't think to use a hostage as leverage, because they don't consider that the victim's friends would care about them.
    • Likewise, one D&D book provided DMs with the advice that a mind flayer sorcerer might be able to predict any action the heroes would take, but couldn't see that they'd be willing to perform almost certain suicide to prevent him because he doesn't care enough about anything to risk his life. Mind flayers, like the Vashar, are said to be unable experience any emotion more positive than a sort of satisfaction during feeding. This trait is even self-perpetuating; mind flayers don't learn emotion from each other, but from resonance stones, psionic deelies that emanate a specific emotion. Because the mind flayers building these can't feel love or joy, they can't build stones that project love or joy, and as such the next generation of hideous tentacle-faced monsters won't understand love and joy either.
  • In Changeling: The Lost, the True Fae are utterly unable to understand human motives and rationale. This isn't just a weakness, it's a defining trait—if one does start to understand a human's viewpoint, they lose most of their powers in the process, and in some cases lose their memories of their true nature outright.
    • This trait is potent enough that Changelings base their own government around it. The governing of their territories is routinely passed between Courts because the Fae simply cannot comprehend the idea of mutual cooperation and the willing sharing of power, which aids in concealing Changelings from the Fae.
  • The Deathlords of Exalted have this as one of the only weaknesses in their strategic genius. As the Abyssals splatbook puts it:

Deathlords are notoriously selfish beings, almost incapable of truly understanding others. They might, for instance, do nothing more than ascribe their own thought processes to their enemies. ("Of course you returned to rescue your sister. Doing otherwise would suggest weakness in the face of your enemies!")

    • And then there's the Ebon Dragon. The Ebon Dragon is bastardry incarnate. Everything it does is centered around the idea of dicking someone else over. How bad is he? He had to create the Unconquered Sun just so he'd have a concept of what he was supposed to oppose. What's more, he's explicitly incapable of comprehending the motivations behind any kind of heroism save by dismissing it as abject insanity on the part of the hero. This doesn't prevent him from preying on the 'crazy heroes', because he doesn't need to understand their motivations in order to identify and manipulate their desires.
      • The Yozis are pretty nasty individuals and have trouble understanding that anything can operate by different rules. Their leader Malfeas has to suffer a genuine psychic fracture to understand that another being's viewpoint matters at all, and all the others are similarly limited. The Ebon Dragon knows that beings can feel positive emotions, but he doesn't understand them. He can't understand them. He will assume in any given situation that people are trying to dick everyone else over, because, well, that's what he'd do. This is simply how they work.
  • Most of humanity in the Warhammer 40,000 universe just want to live their lives free of war. The Orks, on the other hand, find war to be not only a bloody good time, but the only endeavor worthy of their time. To an Ork, peace is as horrible a concept as war can be to a human being.


Video Games

  • Played straight in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The plan by elf-god Vivec is essentially one huge Batman Gambit against the Big Bad Dagoth Ur. The plot involves using the MacGuffins that are used to extract divinity from the Heart of Lorkhan (which is sitting in the middle of Dagoth Ur's main base), and instead shattering the Heart, denying powers to anyone that used it. And it works perfectly: Dagoth Ur, after pretty much taunting the player about his own power, has an utter Oh Crap moment when he realizes what the player is up to. Up until that point, he believes the player is there to steal some divine power for himself (which is actually outlined on the plans in Vivec's palace as exactly what Dagoth Ur would think).
  • Completely subverted in Fate/stay night in Heaven's Feel. Despite trying to destroy the world in large part For the Evulz, the reason Kotomine decided the reason he would do that is he understood good perfectly well. He's just unable to actually do it and feel satisfied no matter how hard he tries. Apart from his background material, he gambles away his entire magic crest to save Sakura knowing that Shirou's righteous spirit will make him protect her from anything. In fact, his Xanatos Speed Chess was entirely reliant on exploiting the 'good' nature of Shirou.
  • Fenthick in Neverwinter Nights is an inverted example; he is so good that he simply cannot conceive of the possibility that anyone else could be evil. It comes back to bite him.
  • Shepard wins Mass Effect 2 for two reasons: first, the Reapers underestimate just how Badass s/he and his/her team are, but second and more importantly because they can't comprehend the fact that Shepard is willing to throw him/herself into almost certain death for the sake of others.
    • If playing Paragon!Shep, the Illusive Man makes a similar mistake by not having any backup plan to seize the Collector base when Shepard decides to blow it other than relying on Miranda (and possibly the rest of the Cerberus personnel on the Normandy) to get it for him. He apparently completely underestimates the loyalty they have in Shepard for making sure No One Gets Left Behind.
  • Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins is quite confused by her feelings of attachment to the Warden, though she eventually does grow to accept them. She also tends to be confused by any action that doesn't involve being an utter asshole due to being raised with a Stupid Evil mentality by a Humanoid Abomination.
  • In Final Fantasy V, when Galuf's Berserk Button gets pressed and he charges Exdeath in one-on-one battle, the villain comments that "not even all the hatred in the world can destroy me!" Sure enough, Exdeath gets his ass beaten because it wasn't hate, but something else entirely that made Galuf fight on while at zero hit points.
  • EarthBound: Giygas cannot grasp the true form of human emotion.
  • Mega Man Zero: Dr. Weil's many Hannibal Lectures failed because Zero is a Punch Clock Hero.
  • Warcraft: Completely averted with Sargeras, the creator and leader of the Burning Legion. Originally belonging to a race of god-like beings called the Titans, he and his kind traveled throughout the cosmos to bring order to worlds; they were so powerful they defeated the Old Gods, the Eldritch Abominations of Azeroth, and created the dragons to become the world's stewards. While defeating and imprisoning the demons of the Twisting Nether, their evil caused Sargeras to question the Titans' quest for order. He was driven into depression after witnessing the chaos wrought by the demons, especially after defeating the vampiric Nathrezim, whose manipulative bastardry on various worlds affected him deeply. Eventually, he went completely off the rails with the belief that the Titans' quest for order was essentially wrong, given that he saw the Universe as intrinsically chaotic and evil. The last the Titans saw him, Sargeras had freed the demons he had personally previously imprisoned, made them a part of his army, and sent his Burning Legion to bring war upon the Universe, putting into action the corruption of the Draenei and Orcs, the birth of the Lich King, and the multiple near-destruction of Azeroth itself. An example of good unable to comprehend evil taken to epic proportions.
    • Then again, the Legion itself seems time and time again to be unable to comprehend mortal beings. They never seem to consider the possibility of mortals putting aside their hatreds for each other to fight the Legion, nor did they predict that the Lich King would turn against them instead of submitting to his new position as a tool of the Legion (essentially, a lesser being defying them).
  • Should the player character decide to take the good ending in BioShock (series), this comes into play considering that the entire culture of Rapture was so incredibly opposed to Altruism.
    • A specific example is Fontaine ranting about how he created Jack, made up his memories and stuffed them into his brain, showed him the world, brought him back to Rapture - "If that's not family, I don't what is!" - shortly before the Little Sisters appear and demonstrate what family really means. With needles.
  • While subtitled, Spyro the Dragon's Malefor is clearly caught off guard when Cynder is freed from his mind control by the Power of Love. In the entire battle, this is about the only thing that actually seems to truly surprise him.
  • Similar to the Joker's "social experiment" in The Dark Knight Saga, Hot Coldman had programmed Peace Walker's Mammal Pod to transmit the same false ballistic trajectory data that was going to trick Peace Walker into going into nuclear retaliatory launch mode to NORAD, at a time when the President and most of the Executive branch was out at Vladivostok at the time, to essentially force the military to decide whether to retaliate or not based on the data. His intention for this Sadistic Choice was to prove that humans were too weak-willed to actually retaliate, even when the enemy is going to launch, and thus make a machine to make all those decisions. However, Coldman did not anticipate that they would actually go through with doing a retaliatory strike, though going by Coldman's last words, its very likely that he probably didn't care either way, and he certainly did not count on Peace Walker actually choosing to sacrifice itself by drowning/shorting out its electronics than keep it going.
  • Mao in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice has this problem. Despite his obsessive research on super hero tropes, cliches, and plot devices, he just doesn't get stuff like love and courage. He knows they exist, but can't make heads or tails of them.
    • The previous games followed a similar theme as well. Laharl hates love and thinks it's worthless, while Rozalin cannot understand why Adel would want to escort her home instead of using her as a pawn in his own plans. She is willing to fight to protect Hanako and Taro, but believes she's only doing that because they are her "vassals", and caring for your vassals is what nobles are required to do.
    • Valvatorez, a nice guy for a demon, has the balls to accuse God of this in Disgaea 4. He claims that even God could not have forseen the demons' use of The Power of Friendship to defeat his creation Fear the Great.
  • This was ultimately Ghetsis' downfall in Pokémon Black and White. His own dialog shows he personally believed everyone saw Pokemon as tools, just as he did. Because of this, he allows his son N to encounter Pokemon that had a truly caring relationship with their trainers, planting seeds of doubt in his mind about Team Plasma's ideals. He also underestimates that the Player's friendship with N would have any effect, underestimating the Power of Friendship and the effect it'd have on N. Because of this, N decides to have a final battle with the Player to decide whose beliefs are correct, which he loses, causing Ghetsis' "perfect plan" to crumble. His own evil also blinds him to the fact that the player is pure of heart enough to summon the other legendary dragon to challenge N's legendary dragon, something the pure of heart N saw early on. After N is defeated, Ghetsis is left completely unable to understand how it happened, ranting about how his "perfect plan" can't have failed and going completely insane trying to comprehend how it happened.
  • Implied in Dungeon Keeper, especially the first game. Before each mission, The Evil Mentor gives you a brief introduction to the land you're about to conquer. He seems both revolted and amazed by the happy, peaceful, non-violent lives the peasants are able to lead. One town, for example, is described as 'a truly bizarre realm' because the inhabitants prefer talking, laughing and singing over arguing, drawing daggers and murdering each other in a gurgling rush of blood.
  • Sagacious Zu manages to trick Death's Hand into burying himself in Jade Empire because Death's Hand wasn't prepared for the possibility that his foe would sacrifice himself to complete his goal.
  • This is the key to success in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Each of the initial five scenarios are prepared with AM assuming his captives would fall victim to their baser desires, but to complete them each character has to overcome their flaws and make sacrifices, which utterly baffles the mad AI, who can not see humans as anything but utter bastards. In the endgame, you have to defeat three computers representing AM's Ego, Superego and Id. Using the Forgiveness totem on the Ego causes him to shut down, since he can't comprehend how anyone would forgive him for all he's done.
  • Dimentio simply thought that, after the heroes used up the Pure Hearts to defeat Bleck, they would be gone for good, thus meaning the only threat to him after backstabbing a weakened Count Bleck and gaining the Chaos Heart would be forever gone. As such, he ended up legitimately surprised when the Pure Hearts not only returned (thanks to the love between Bleck, Tippi/Timpiani, and his followers), as well as their removing his invulnerability.
  • Fear Effect: Yim Lau Wong (The King of Hell) turns out to have no concept of human decency. If you make the choice to not have Hana and Glas shoot each other, The King of Hell will fly into a rage and say "Mei Yun, you have come too far to disappoint me!"
  • In a recorded interview you can find in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Riddler insists that Batman has to be a supercriminal who robs other criminals and bribes the police to not stop him, categorically refusing to believe that anyone could put their life on the line against Gotham's criminal underworld every night for no reward.
  • Played for laughs in Knights of the Old Republic 2 with HK-47. The player has the option of installing something that turns out to be a pacifistic program, which they will uninstall after the ensuing hilarity of a the Ax Crazy droid saying he couldn't harm another living thing. After expressing disgust at the thought that he nearly surrendered to peace and pacifism, HK-47 comments "It was close, but for a moment I thought I understood why some meatbags would prefer friendship over a high-powered blaster carbine." Apparently he can't grasp why anybody would not want to kill someone.
  • The Big Bad of Persona 4, Izanami, expresses her disbelief that "the will of so few could surpass the will of so many" in regards to the protagonist's Social Links. She also can't understand why humans wouldn't want to live in ignorance.
  • Evil in general doesn't seem to have any real problems with understanding good in Star Control. The Neo-Dnyarri gets bitten in the ass by self-serving pointlessly cruel evil not being able to get honourable evil, though: it sends you against the most powerful race in the region to get killed. That would be fine... except that race happens to have been enslaved by the Dnyarri and with the sort of sense of honor that would let you just leave the area unmolested (once) for warning them about the Dnyarri returning.
  • Despite his alchemical and tactical genius, Hazama/Terumi Yuuki from BlazBlue either considers the spirit of goodness (and what motivates people into doing good) a means to use people to serve his whims (like Litchi and Tsubaki) or considers it shitty and boring, if he understands it at all. In the Slight Hope story from Extend, however, this bites him square in the ass. He was merrily carrying out his plans in the Wheel of Fortune timeline when Makoto Nanaya fell in from the Continuum Shift timeline, and when she got beat up after parrying a hit on Jin, he dismissed her as merely a "damned squirrel" best left to Relius. Between that incident, honesty to Tager and Kokonoe regarding her intentions, trusting Bang with rescuing Jin, and counseling Tsubaki (and asking her about the unknown-to-Makoto nonexistent Noel Vermillion), she altered the timeline in a way that caused Hazama's plans to implode - even he was forced to admit asking Tsubaki about Noel caused it to self-destruct. Given his assassination attempt on her in Continuum Shift proper, which takes place days later, he has never forgiven her for this insult.
  • Downplayed in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword; When Link finally confronts Demise in the Final Battle, the Demon King is puzzled because Link has chosen to face him rather than flee in terror - clearly concepts like bravery and loyalty are new to a being who only feels Hate. However, he does also say he finds such an attitude "fascinating" and admirable, acknowledging Link as a true warrior. This is something no other villain in the franchise has done.

Web Comics

  • In this strip of Order of the Stick, Redcloak assumed that the humans would think highly of the goblins who spared them and despise the paladin who did not save them. In fact, the humans were heartened by the paladin's resistance to Redcloak.
    • That strip shows the real problem the humans and goblins have with each other - neither sees the good in the other.
    • Earlier, in #69 the following exchange occurs after Elan saves his brother from falling:

Nale: I'll never tell you anything about Xykon.
Elan: Yeah, I know. But I didn't save you so we could interrogate you. I saved you 'cause I'm the Good twin, not the Neutral twin.
Nale: ... I don't get it.
Elan: Yup.

  • Tales of the Questor: A group of politicians dig up an old, unfulfilled contract involving ancient relics to seize Quentyn's old hometown. Quentyn pulls the thread on the whole thing by going out to try and fulfill the contract, even if it takes him the rest of his life. Because of laws concerning such contracts, even if he dies trying, the contract is canceled.
    • In fact, a few comics later, other characters outright state this trope. The politicians have no answer to the heroic sacrifice, because when they started their bid to take over the town they completely overlooked the possibility that this could happen.

"[The Hero] made a move that they completely failed to prepare for. Unsurprising, I've found that schemers and plotters are rarely able to cope with simple things like honor and courage."

Web Original

Western Animation

    • This moment of her inability to comprehend that love can trump self-preservation and loyalty born of intimidation has limits, flying in the face of her philosophy that "fear is the only reliable way" to control people, is actually the first step down the road towards her epic Villainous Breakdown. However, because she's Dangerously Genre Savvy, she's at least able to learn from this mistake and apply it to her strategy in the Grand Finale (while she was in the middle of said breakdown no less).
    • Firelord Ozai cannot fathom why Aang spares him at the end of their fight.
    • In the Ember Island episode, Mai, Ty Lee, Zuko, and Azula all take turns confessing their problems, and helping each other talk through their issues. When it's over, Zuko and Mai have reconciled over an argument they had and Ty Lee feels cleansed. Azula compliments them on their great "acting", treating the entire thing like it was a show.
  • Code Lyoko: A recurring theme is XANA's flawed understanding of human behavior, including things like courage and friendship. In one episode, he traps the team in a virtual Matrix-style copy of the school, forcing Jérémie to virtualize himself to warn them. This leads to a Spot the Imposter scene where XANA (disguised as Jérémie) tries to convince the others how Jérémie's story can't be true:

XANA: Everyone knows that the real Jérémie wouldn't step foot in the scanner. He'd be much too frightened!
Odd: (after a pause) And I'm sure he would go into the scanner... if his friends were in danger.
Ulrich: No doubt about it.
Yumi: Absolutely none.
XANA: But it's not logical! Don't you see? He's much too scared to even try... I--I'm much too scared! If not, then why haven't I already done it?
Jeremy: I told you why. Because he's not infallible. XANA's knowledge of people is only approximative.
XANA: No, it's not logical! NOOO! NOT! LOGICAL! NOT! LOGICAL!

  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "For the Man Who Has Everything" (based on a story from the comics), Mongul imagines that Superman's greatest desire being shown to him by the Black Mercy is of him ruling the galaxy. Instead, he's living peacefully on a farm on Krypton, married to a woman who resembles both Lana and Lois, and has a son.
    • This is actually a departure from the original comic version, in which Mongul does imagine Superman is living a happy "normal" life in his dream world, and is spot on. Then again, the comic version's world got worse very quickly.
  • Batman: The Animated Series has this trope, too, when the Mad Hatter imprisons Batman in a fake world where his parents were never killed and he's engaged to Selina Kyle, who isn't a criminal. It's practically a paradise. When The Mad Hatter asks him why he chose to escape, he responds with "Because it's not REAL."

Joker: It's all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for... it's all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can't you see the funny side? Why aren't you laughing?
Batman: Because I've heard it before... and it wasn't funny the first time.

  • Gargoyles both subverts and plays this straight with the relationship between David Xanatos and Fox. Though there are signs of their affection as early as Season 2's "Leader of the Pack", Xanatos doesn't initially believe their attraction and compatibility could actually be called love because "two people such as ourselves are [not fully] capable of that emotion."... until "Eye of the Beholder" has him going through plan after plan to get the woman he loves back after she has a bad experience with the Eye of Odin.

Xanatos: So now you know my weakness.
Goliath: Only you would regard love as a weakness.

    • Duncan, Demona, and Tony Dracon also play the trope straight; Duncan's and Demona's treacherous natures led them to suspect that the loyal, honest Macbeth was equally treacherous in "City of Stone" Part 3 (in Duncan's case) and Part 4 (in Demona's case), while Dracon suspected the same of Elisa in "Protection."
    • Oberon doesn't seem to realize how everyone would fight him to keep him from taking away Xanatos and Fox's child. Given the implication that Titania (who put the idea in Oberon's head to kidnap the baby) did the entire thing to get Fox to tap her fey powers in anger, it's suggested that Titania did.
  • South Park:
    • Played perfectly straight in the "Toilet Paper" episode. Cartman is simply incapable of comprehending why the other boys feel guilt about Butters getting busted for what they did. He later confesses, but only in hopes of either getting lighter punishment, avoiding punishment, and looking good to the adults. Depressingly, because the adults are ignorant of Carman's mental state the ruse works.
    • On the other hand, it shows to the viewer that yes, coming clean sooner is good for you; it's just that this time the wrong person came clean for the wrong reasons.
    • The Coon and Friends trilogy showed that Cartman is so incapable of comprehending goodness, that he actually thinks being a selfish egomaniac is good (and the debate with the Ayn Rand Foundation begins...).

The Coon: What's the problem? I'm just making the world a better place!
Mysterion: For you! You're making it a better place for you!
The Coon: Yeah, so? What's the difference?

    • Possibly subverted in "How to Eat With Your Butt". Cartman loses his ability to laugh after seeing the Thompsons, people with a condition that makes their faces resemble buttocks. The other boys claim this is because he feels genuinely sorry for them because they lost their son, but Cartman insists the sight was so funny he merely "blew a funny fuse". When their son (Ben Affleck) is reunited with them, the sight of them "kissing" him causes him to laugh again. He says it is so hilarious that it fixed him, but again the others tell him it's because he is happy they are back together. The subversion depends on whether or not he really felt sympathy for them (and was merely unable to comprehend why), or he didn't (and couldn't understand why he should).
  • Also played straight in an episode of She Ra Princess of Power. Forced to work together, She-Ra and Hordak get directions from a local in exchange for some fruit that's trivial for them to get, but impossible for the local to reach. Hordak starts to go the other way from the directions, saying the local had what he wanted, and thus no reason to genuinely help them.

She-Ra: Your problem, Hordak, is that you lie all the time, so you assume everyone else does the same, even though you depend on most people keeping their word.

  • This is frequently where Him's plans go wrong on The Powerpuff Girls. Every time he creates a situation to exploit something like their anger or fear, he's shocked at how sisterly love helps them overcome it. The girls never act the way they're "supposed" to:
  • As noted by Rob Hoegee in a feature on the Third Season DVD, this trope is Slade's achilles heel in Teen Titans. His inability to understand Robin's willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends at the end of the first season or Terra's residual loyalty to the team in the second proved to be his undoing. It's worth noting that when his opponent is Trigon, the literal embodiment of evil, Slade's plan really goes off without a hitch, largely because Trigon acts in exactly the ways he predicts.
    • Which is because Trigon has the exact same weakness as him. Trigon couldn't understand why, against all odds, with the world literally having ended, the Titans continue to fight him and why Raven, despite him being her creator stands up against him. This is ultimately his downfall as well.
  • Sometimes done on The Simpsons.

Mr. Burns: Re-cy-cling?

    • A better example would be when, in a parody of How the Grinch Stole Christmas he cuts the power to the town during a strike, and is shocked that the union doesn't break. The re-cy-ling example is about how behind the times he is, because it even shows him going through his mental dictionary trying to find the word.
    • The aforementioned "recycling" episode has an example too; after learning about recycling from Lisa, Mr. Burns takes it to its extreme by recycling living sea creatures into a multipurpose slurry. He doesn't understand why Lisa is horrified by this, since, as he sees it, he is giving people what they need without wasting a single sea creature.
  • On The Fairly OddParents, part of Vicky's Flanderization, as shown in "Frenimy Mine", is she cannot understand love, to the point where she cannot comprehend her feelings after Timmy saves her.
    • An even better example are the Yugopotamians, a race of aliens who find any form of love or compassion absolutely terrifying and to whom hugs, chocolate, and fuzzy toys are a health hazard.
  • In an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe where He-Man and Skeletor are forced into an Enemy Mine situation in order to save Eternia, Skeletor tries in vain to comprehend doing something good for a change. He asks He-Man "Don't you ever feel like doing something evil?" He-Man answers "Don't you ever feel like doing something good?"
  • This shows up occasionally in Rocky and Bullwinkle. For example:

Natasha: Boris, how could you let them sail away with the mooseberry bush?
Boris: Bush was disguised as old man. Did I know they would help old man into lifeboat? I wouldn't!

  • Kevin Spencer, being an emotionless, violent sociopath, is completely caught off-guard when anyone shows him a form of kindness (such as a man giving him money when he finds out Kevin was a runaway.) Kevin's eventual response to these situations is to violently attack the person, or just steal their money. Allan himself is surprised by this, and mused that the kindness of others could put his faith back in humanity.
  • General Zhal from Batman the Brave And The Bold is left completely stunned after he kills the Doom Patrol and the entire world chants "We are the Doom Patrol", showing that instead of making everyone see them as frauds, they see them as bigger heroes than before. Zhal is unable to even react to being arrested out of shock because he can't understand how a Heroic Sacrifice increases people's faith in the sacrificer.
  • The biggest weakness of Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is his inability to truly understand how strong the bond between the mane cast truly is. He's taken completely off-guard when he discovers that they've reforged their friendship after he seemingly broke it apart leading to his defeat. He also gets very frustrated when Fluttershy proves too kind and accepting of her own faults to fall for his attempt to convince her her friends think she's weak and helpless and thus she should be mad at them. This makes sense when one considers he's the polar opposite of the Elements of Harmony, which run on the Power of Friendship. It may also be another of the apparent Shout Outs to Him, who shared this weakness as well.
    • Queen Chrysalis, the Big Bad of the second Season Finale, also has this problem. She's a sadistic, Shapeshifting, succubus-like Hive Queen who stole Princess Cadence's identity to feed off the love her husband to be had for her. In the end, she doesn't once think that this same power could be turned against her. To her, it was just food and she didn't truly understand it's true power.
  • In the Christian-based cartoon God Rocks a robot kept on trying to ruin the God Rocks concert to raise money for a good cause, and he didn't understand that even after he stole their instruments they still desired to play.
  • From The Boondocks, "What's good nigga? What's really good?!
  • In one episode of the Battletech animated series, Mechwarrior Ciro forces a jumpship captain at gunpoint to record a message to Adam Steiner, saying that he knows where Adam's missing-in-action brother is, in an effort to lure Adam into a trap. Nicolai Malthus asks why Adam would respond to such a message, and Ciro replies that Adam would do anything to help his brother. It's a reaction Malthus finds impossible to understand.

Real Life

  • Not to pass judgement on the character of the tropers that contribute here, but people have very different views on "good" and "evil", so while a lot of the alleged "good" powers here may or may not fit into "good", when it comes to morality, politics, ethics and religion, people still don't understand each other's conduct.
  • When President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate Scandal, the Soviet Union literally could not believe it. A Soviet ambassador at the time, Anatoly Dobrynin, said, "How could the most powerful person in the United States, the most important person in the world, be legally forced to step down for stealing some silly documents! It was so contrary to the mentality of the Soviet leaders that a person in such a senior position could be removed by legal means. They simply couldn't understand it." They figured Nixon must have been deposed in some way, because of his Reapproachment policies.
    • The Soviets tended to be nonplussed by Jimmy Carter's emphasis on human rights, to the point of some of their leaders not being able to comprehend what they actually were—which sounds like a ridiculous fantasy-world exaggeration, but is apparently true.
  • Often, people with the real-life Lack of Empathy have immense trouble understanding the people around them. They can be very good at manipulating them regardless, but they can never truly comprehend it which sometimes comes back to bite them. It's sometimes described as knowledge without understanding.
  • Civic Duty. Some citizens will assist the police in capturing criminals by telling what they saw, identifying suspects, and making themselves available as witnesses. This behavior baffles the "don't snitch" types.
    • This is especially obvious when people with the "don't snitch" mentality then complain that the police haven't solved the murders of people who popularized that mentality, such as Tupac.
  • Imperial Germany was very surprised their invasion of Belgium (to reach France) caused the United Kingdom to enter World War I. As early as 1839 the treaty regarding Belgium neutrality had been referred to by the German Chancellor as being: 'a scrap of paper.' While it is FAR too generous to the British to portray them as standing up entirely for the right of small nations (as opposed to keeping the channel ports out of the hands of a hostile power), and many have correctly placed emphasis on the less-than-pure motives. However, while certainly dodgy to modern sensitivities (and to those of many at the time), it was a major shock to a generation of German leadership that had grown up under the tutelage of Otto von Bismarck that the British considered them at all.
  • Shines through in Adolf Hitler's assessments of some other countries' motivations in World War II. He kept insisting that the Americans would annex Canada if Britain were to become weak, that the British would annex French Africa if France became weak, that the British and Americans would try to destroy each other to attain world hegemony, etc. He basically believed that every other country besides his was also operating as a backstabbing, expansionist empire, not seeing that Britain absorbing French colonies for instance would have been inconceivable to them on moral grounds alone.
    • Except he almost got that part right, as a stopped clock is right twice a day. The British and the Americans didn't try to destroy each other. The USA was too busy fighting its own client states and the USSR alike to fight the UK. The UK is their "ally", but fortunately for USA-UK relations, they have common enemies. The USA doesn't treat their "allies" very well when the enemies they fought together are destroyed. The USSR and the Islamists were both their allies once. That didn't end up going over very well. Anyway, the only reason why he tried to comprehend world leaders is that he can't comprehend anything else well enough to make it as that instead. He didn't make it as a world leader, either.
    • The three main axis powers tended to enshrine their Testosterone Poisoning and assumed that restraint in their rivals was cowardice rather then policy or even genuine humanitarianism. They were nonplused when others were as eager of fighters as them once war was declared.
  • When Diane Sawyer called him out on his human rights abuses, Saddam Hussein replied, "Well what happens to people in your country when they criticize the President?" To which Diane Sawyer replied incredulously, "They get TV shows!"
  • Tertullian defending Christianity to average Joe in the Roman Empire.

But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. (Apologia 39)

  • Sociopaths. While not necessarily evil (they can even be "good"), they aren't capable of truly understanding empathy.
  • One of the core beliefs of Gnostic Christianity is that sin comes from ignorance. When people do evil things, it's because they simply don't understand what good is.
  1. And you can always punish him after he's done doing his job, after all.