Why good intentions lead to bad outcomes

Having good intentions is not enough. Lots of bad things happen because people with good intentions - end up causing harm. How can we ensure that our good intentions will lead to good outcomes? 

Most people are good - or think of themselves as good. We are all the heroes of our own stories.  If we did something, it must be good.

The reality is: even well people with good intentions sometimes do harm.   Wanting to be good - is only half of being good. The second part is actually doing good things.

What is good? Helping people and reducing suffering. 

To actually do good - you must do good things. To do good things you must know what things you do are good and which are bad or not good.

This requires thinking and personal responsibility.   If someone tells you - you hurt them - it doesn't matter what your intention was, it matters that - despite your good intentions - someone was harmed.

Good people learn from their mistakes and work to fix them. 

Bad Information Leads to Bad Outcomes

My father was a computer programmer. He used to tell me - garbage in, garbage out. If you don't know what is true, or if what you think is true - is actually a lie - you can be manipulated into doing bad things for good reasons.  You may think you are helping, but you are hurting, because - you believe a lie.

And again - it doesn't matter what your intention is - it matters whether you helped people or harmed them. 

Propagandists use our good intentions to cause people to do bad things. We must all be vigilant against such manipulations, which is why Humanists are so intent on teaching people critical thinking skills.  Critical thinking helps people avoid common thinking mistakes and helps us learn what is true and what is false so that - we don't accidentally cause harm through our ignorance. 

Compassion Matters:

We humans take mental short cuts all the time. And part of those short cuts is that - if people disagree with us - instead of listening to them tell us why we are wrong - we assume we are right and they are wrong and they not only have nothing to teach us but that they are now our enemies for disagreeing with us.

When written out like this - it's easy to see why this is a mistake. It's much harder to recognize when you are in the moment.

How do I get past this?  With compassion. Anytime anyone disagrees with me - I have compassion for myself so that I don't allow my instinctual emotions to get away from me. I extend my compassion to the other person so that I can see that maybe they are giving me constructive criticism to help me. This helps me accept the information I don't like.  And finally - I have compassion for the people who are impacted by my behavior. This helps me focus on my ultimate goal - doing good - not just wanting to do good. 

To recap - the way to make sure your good intentions lead to good outcomes is:
  1. Desire to do good
  2. Understanding the truth so you can choose good outcomes
  3. Exercising compassion with yourself and others - so you can correct your behavior if it turns out you made a mistake. 
Learn more:

Pretty much every course I teach on Humanist Learning Systems - teaches this methodology. Whether this is for your personal development or professional development. It's worth learning and practicing these skills. Because - wanting to do good is not enough. You have to actually do good things to be good. 

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