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Opposite motives, same behaviour

Oftentimes, the same behaviour can stem from opposite motives.

Let’s say you ask someone for their opinion on a delicate, personal issue.

They may tell you a harsh truth because they care and want to be honest. Or they may be blunt just because they don’t care at all and have nothing to lose.

Let’s say someone makes a mistake, and you know how to correct it.

You can do nothing out of indifference (i.e. you can’t be bothered) or out of love (i.e. you need to step aside, so they can learn through experience).

Of course, even actions backed by good intentions can turn out to be harmful. A prime example is the overprotective parent who suffocates their child.

On the other hand, every cloud has a silver lining. Basically, things are not always what they seem to be.

But that’s a horse of a different colour, and Derek Sivers gave a few excellent examples about it on his blog article Meta-considerate.

Here I just wanted to make 3 points, really:

  1. We shouldn’t be so quick to draw conclusions about people’s motives.
  2. To do the right thing, first we should acknowledge which one it is.
  3. If we really want to help, we should question our own assumptions.

Because, as Derek put it, the opposite may also be true.

Sometimes it’s easier to infer results from intentions than the other way round. Directionality matters.

Life is ever-evolving and calls for balance. What’s right at first can become wrong a bit later, and then right again. We need judgement and flexibility.

There are many ways to do good, and many more to do harm. We must be strong to choose wisely.