December 9, 2015 by Liberty
One of the most dangerous parts of society throughout history has been good intentions. Good intentions have led to virtually every major horror developed in society. Very few people set out to do something terrible with the intention of doing bad for humanity. The builders of the first nuclear bombs told themselves that they were trying to end the war faster to save more lives. Hitler told himself he was freeing a people from oppression. Short of a few bungling murderers, there is virtually no one that’s ever harmed for the sake of selfish means beyond self-defense.
Good intentions mean absolutely nothing to the objective world. You cannot see, hear, or smell good intentions. You can’t measure them in any objective way. If a person harms you but originally had good intentions, it doesn’t make that harm go away. If a person helps you but originally had bad intentions then it doesn’t nullify where you ended up as a result. All that it would ultimately change is your perception of how to interpret that person’s behavior in the future.
A Hopeless Case Of Charity
A family I know has three children. They lived off the state until they were caught failing to disclose an income source. (A minor one, to my understanding.) They lived in the worst neighborhood they could possibly find in their area. The children ate the cheapest crap the parents could afford. The family has a lot of problems not worth discussing now but intentions aren’t one of them.
The family has been known to take in virtually any pet without a home (and many personal friends without homes.) The family has been known for giving the occasional money they get to their family and friends. They’re quite friendly. That being said, they perform all this charity while having to beg for money from the rest of their family. They perform all this “charity” while 3 children live in a single bedroom with the parents. They do all these “good deeds” on someone else’s dime.
It’s one of the saddest things in the world to watch. The children are forced to live in a virtual dump where they’re surrounded by risk factors for virtually every problem you could imagine while the parent’s attempt to live generously while never once considering a job to support that generosity.
This family has been helped repeatedly by everyone around them but the parents are seemingly incapable of providing a stable home for the children. (The state had been notified by someone in the past but obscure risk factors and minor infractions didn’t lead to anything. I don’t know how I feel about that.) They end up bouncing around from apartment to apartment as they get caught in lies, fail to pay, and then get kicked out (after long court battles.)
Despite that, they get these little boosts of ego every time they feed a dog without a home while they have to beg their family to keep their children from going hungry.
The Selfish Ass That Changes The World
There is an old study that suggested CEO’s are significantly more likely to be psychopathic. I tend not to belief sociological studies. (Because A being correlated with B and B being correlated to C doesn’t mean A is correlated with C. Virtually no one doing those studies can accept that.) Despite my disbelief, it actually makes a whole lot of sense.
Some of the most innovative and intelligent men throughout history have been known as complete assholes in their personal life. These same men often changed the world with their self-centric attitudes. I would list some examples but I guarantee you if I mentioned one name then I’d have a slew of people complaining about how they were really good people but just “misunderstood.” I wouldn’t argue with that point but to the rest of the world, they look like assholes. That’s kinda the point.
Helping people doesn’t always look like helping people. It often looks like hurting them. When a company owner lays off a hundred employees to increase profits, the most visible change is the 100 people looking for a new job. What can’t be seen in the overall improvement to the economy (if the owner is making a smart move.)
If the business can make more profits with fewer employees then the investors, owners, and employees will end up better off. The investors and owners will make money while the remaining employees would be able to negotiate their own wages higher than they could have before. Those investors have more money to invest in new businesses to hire those one hundred former employees (or more realistically, a different set of unemployed individuals.) Not only that but there are one hundred new people to get hired by a company that actually needs the new support. Overall the economy would be less efficient without those layoffs.
The average person cannot make those difficult decisions easily. If I were to try and layoff a hundred people, I would likely feel so guilty that I’d pick lower profits. Sure, I can rationalize it but that’s a complex procedure when comparing the visceral pain of watching an employee pack their things 100 times to the simple pain of slightly irked investors. My good intentions may be not hurting but they’re sure as hell not helping. Six months later when the company is in even more need of layoffs, it’s just going to be 6 months of lowered economic productivity. The costs add up.
I’m not saying that it helps to be selfish in business in general but there are certain times when that would be a useful trait to have. The world doesn’t care about individual intentions when deciding the results of actions. The right action done for the wrong reason is just as helpful as the right action done for the right reason.
(I don’t care if the doctor traveled to Africa to help fight aids because of their ego driven selfishness or their genuine caring for other people. Either way, if they’ve done a good thing then I appreciate them for it.)
Trust The Result Not The Intention
This is a relatively easy concept to understand intellectually but, for me at least, it’s a constant struggle to implement on a personal basis. When a person tells you that they intended to help you but ended up hurting you, it’s hard to look at them with any judgement at all. It can feel like the only appropriate thing you can do is thank them for their good intentions. In reality though, they should be the one apologizing to you if they really had a good intention.
The problem with just thanking a person and moving on is that they’ll often just do it again. The truth is, it probably has nothing to do with you in the first place. People like to prance around with their “good intentions” without even considering the consequences of their actions. If ever caught in a bad situation they just apologize and say they didn’t mean to. The truth is, they usually don’t mean to. The truth is, they usually don’t even think of you at all.
They couldn’t even give you the courtesy of a thought.
If a person goes out of their way to do you harm but ends up helping you. It’s very easy to attack back unnecessarily. When bad intentions lead to a good result you might be tempted to seek revenge. If you were really looking to get back at them, the best thing you could do is just keep letting them try to do harm to you until it stops benefiting you. (A wonderful example of this can often be seen with extreme political attacks. Feminists are known for invigorating businesses by attacking them so fervently that it becomes free advertising.)
Be conscious of how you respond to certain “slights” and “helping hands.” If you’re not careful, you might invite more of the least helpful things and scare of some of the most helpful.
Do Your Intentions Matter?
More importantly than the people around you, are your own intentions in line with the results you’re achieving?
For example, if you’re preaching your political (or apolitical) opinion to “help improve the world,” do you have any proof that you’re moving in the correct direction? How many people’s lives have you changed for the better? I suspect that number isn’t quite as high as you might hope. Even if you do convince people to support your side, have you had any measurable effect politically?
It can be painful to think about this question honestly.
I’ve delivered libertarian messages to hundreds of thousands of readers now and I still struggle to see measurable impacts even on the smallest scale. While I’ve received many kind words from supporters, even if I changed their opinion, it’s hard to assume they’re better off for it. Instead I have to tell myself, “if I made one person think just enough to prove me wrong then I’ve done good.” My intentions of writing any article have very little to do with finding the right answer. They’re mostly written to drag the reader somewhere they might not have gone without the article. (The worst comments I receive come from people that obviously hadn’t read the article. Even the direct criticism is better than that.)
Are your actions bringing your intentions into reality? If not, then why are you still doing them?
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