Remorse before-the-act can be a powerful deterrent but not all of us are endowed with the same compunction.
For many, the mere thought of exposing others to Covid-19 is enough to fall into line with Ministry of Health guidelines.
There are now widespread calls for punitive action after a person known as case L, the sister of a Papatoetoe High School student, failed to isolate at home and went to work at KFC Botany for three days before testing positive for the virus.
Further frustration has been aimed at a young man, known as case M, who spent time studying at the Manukau Institute of Technology as well as going to a gym and visiting eateries while experiencing symptoms and after being tested for Covid.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said these people "are facing the full judgment of the entire nation" but said any charges would be a matter for the director general of health. This would appear unlikely with Ashley Bloomfield yesterday ruling out police action.
Bloomfield said he believed the 21-year-old student "wasn't having a great time" having realised the consequences of his actions. "I imagine he's extremely remorseful at the moment. It's a pretty heavy burden to bear," he said.
American journalist and author Mignon McLaughlin defined true remorse as "never just regret over consequence; it is regret over motive".
How remorseful cases L and M are, is hard to discern - particularly given the protestations from case L, who says she didn't receive advisory notices from the Ministry of Health. Likewise, we cannot definitively pinpoint their motives.
What we do know, is that there has been wilful disobedience of the alert level restrictions. By the end of June last year, 1000 charges had been lodged related to breaches of the Covid lockdowns. Convictions followed for 159 of these charges, resulting in either jail time or community service for about half of them.
To extend police action against those who fail to self-isolate in such cases as L and M - while understandable in the current circumstances - is a dubious course for at least two reasons.
Firstly, it would likely deter some people from full disclosure and further hamper contact tracing efforts. Why would people choose to incriminate themselves?
Secondly, how far do we go with prosecuting non-compliance? Should we lay charges against someone who goes to work with a cold? For illegibly scribbling their name on a contact tracing form? Or only when Covid transmission has occurred?
Many of us have skipped the occasional QR scan when the app wouldn't load quickly enough or when "just popping" into a shop for one item.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker, who has previously argued for more strenuous measures to clamp down on the virus, feels "it may be better to talk about the health of their families and the community" rather than hitting errant people with the full force of the law. And he's right, to a point.
Retribution is fathomable but a slippery slope to spite. That said, egregious examples of misbehavior can and should be prosecuted.
For all that, perhaps we should consider our own behaviours, too. It might be timely to remember Mignon McLaughlin is also credited with saying, "Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer."