Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Understanding Motivations

I believe it was Vice President (then Senator) Joe Biden who said in a debate that he interacts with people under the assumption that they are motivated by good intentions. I tend to agree with him, that most of the time, people are trying to do something good, even if their actions actually turn out to be harmful.

Even the 9/11 hijackers were trying, in their own sick way, to do something good.  They were convinced that the United States was the Great Satan, so taking us down a notch would be an improvement (from their point of view).  Unfortunately, they were so brainwashed and consumed by hate that they were unable to do something constructive that would strengthen the position of the oppressed people with whom they felt kinship.  And in fact, thanks to their act of terrorism, Muslims are now more reviled and abused by Americans than ever before.

Other behaviors with a much lower magnitude of destructiveness are similarly performed with the best of intentions.  A woman who remains in an abusive relationship is doing so because there is some way in which the relationship benefits her -- perhaps she doesn't believe she can survive on her own, and being with an abuser is better than being alone.  Or a person who gets caught up in religious fanaticism -- there might be a void in that person's life that is filled by ascribing to this oppressive and rigid world view.

Like I was saying in an earlier post, thinking about others with compassion can help keep you from getting angry when people treat you poorly, but there's more to it than that.  Understanding (which does not mean agreeing with) others' points of view can help you to figure out how best to relate to others.


PhizzleDizzle said...

Rebecca, I really liked this post and the related one prior. I tend to be one of those types who tries to empathize and reaches way back into root motivations for why people are or act a certain way, and it's good to know there are others like that.

I feel like in general, no action is in a vacuum, and we'd all be kinder if we understood that.

That being said, sometimes when I'm in a bad mood or having a bad day, I might act poorly myself, and I can only hope someone else would give me the benefit of the doubt.

Scott said...

This blog needs more math! Your readership demands it!