Even while doing evil,
Fools are ignorant of it.
Like someone burned by fire,
Those lacking wisdom are scorched by their own deeds.
(translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Here is a second translation of this verse for comparison:
When a person ignorant (of the Dhamma)
commits evil deeds,
he does not realize their nature.
The stupid man burns (suffers) through those deeds
as if consumed by fire. (translated by Harischandra Kavirantna)
In some ways the second translation seems more straightforward, though it assumes that there is no other guide to skillful actions than the Dhamma. Even ordinary human nature usually comes with an inbuilt sense of right and wrong, and many religions and philosophical systems reinforce the golden rule (treat others as you wish to be treated) and other ethical guidelines.
When we do (or are tempted to do) something dishonest or unkind, do we know what we’re doing? Can we think past the immediate greed or hatred that is motivating us and imagine the likely consequences? We are sometimes witnesses to people who do foolish things like drink and drive, or treat those they’re with unkindly, and we recognize that something is happening that is not right. Usually we remain ignorant of the consequences, and we may even hope that the perpetrator or victim escapes the worst outcomes, but our sense of how things should be is upset.
Realistically, we cannot control others. In rare circumstances we may see an opportunity to deflect or mitigate consequences of irresponsible or malign behavior in others. However, our own behavior is always before us and available to study as closely as we are able. As with many of the Dhammapada verses, we are invited to investigate our own intentions and actions, and we are steered in the direction of virtuous or ethical words and deeds. We can develop and refine our understanding of how to behave in ways that are helpful rather than harmful, generous rather than selfish.
As Kurt Vonnegut famously instructed in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘[By the deity], you’ve got to be kind.'”