Saying / Philosophy

“What goes around comes around.”

This simple saying references the philosophy that one’s events in life are partially influenced by one’s previous actions; more specifically, this conveys the belief that the actions done in one’s earlier life will come back later in life.

When I asked my friend Alex for a saying she had learned, she instantly mentioned this phrase.  She said she had heard it numerous times from her mother, father, relatives, and even friends.  She explained that this concept, that the prior actions of an individual have a direct effect on the future events of the individual, was a primary source of influence on her decision making process.  The idea was, if she did foolish things earlier in life, they would inevitably catch up with her.  In a similar way, if she mistreated somebody, she could count on the same harshness later on in life.  On the other hand, if she acted with benevolent good will towards everybody, in the long run she would be met with friendliness and kind deeds.  This principle, she felt, also applied to other individuals.  If she saw somebody “getting away” with evil deeds, she thought of this concept to console herself, reassuring herself that they would get what they deserved in the end.  In short, she applied this saying to all areas of her life.

I have also heard this saying in a multitude of places.  Friends and family alike have expressed this sentiment, or a very similar one. This concept has many other forms.  Friends, when giving words of advice about decisions, have often expressed this warning. My parents also explained to me this basic concept, but instead used a derivative of a Bible verse – “You reap what you sow.” By stating the concept this way they put more emphasis on the individual’s actions and the effects his actions would have on him later.  While “what goes around comes around” can be cited to assure oneself that others will get their due, “you reap what you sow” only makes predictions about the individual himself.  This perhaps goes along with the biblical concept that a person should choose the righteous path in life himself, without worrying or being influenced by the wicked actions of the others around him.

The idea expressed by this saying is also closely related to the concept of karma.  Described in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, this concept deals with an action and the cycle of cause and effects that it sets off.  An action generally creates either good or bad karma; each individual is responsible for his or her own karma.  Though the original transcripts involve processes such as incarnation, in Western interpretations it is generally taken that good karma entitles the individual to acts of kindness and good luck, while bad karma brings misfortune and peril upon him.  This is very similar to the saying “what goes around comes around,” as well as the Biblical concept “you reap what you sow.”  In all three idea, the prior actions of a person have a direct relationship with the events that befall him later in life.

As we found in my discussion with Alex and my own personal experiences, the concept expressed by “what goes around comes around” is very popular and widespread, exhibiting its influence in Eastern, Middle Eastern, and even Western culture.  Fittingly it is also widespread in pop culture today, published many times over.  One of the most interesting published instance of this is in the single “Karma” by Alicia Keys.  Released in 2004 on the album The Diary of Alicia Keys, this song contains the phrase “’cause what goes around, comes around.”  It is noteworthy that this artist also sees the similarity between this phrase and the concept of karma as expressed in this song.