Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Motive Mess

Dwight Eisenhower used to warn his associates to judge people by their actions and to avoid ascribing motives.

I'm reminded of Eisenhower's wisdom whenever I see individuals operating with a combination of good and selfish motives or thrashing about in a state of confusion as to what their true motives may be. If they are unclear, it is probably hopeless for the rest of us to attempt to guess what is behind their actions.

Ascribing motives wastes a considerable amount of time. I suspect the practice stems from a desire to blame instead of understand. This does not mean that nonjudgmentalism needs to be embraced. Shabby and evil actions can be called precisely that. Focusing on the actions, however, does open the door wider for reform. The person who acts poorly today may act wisely tomorrow. Such turnarounds can be far more difficult for the person whose deeper intentions are challenged.

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