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Friday, June 03, 2005

Ethical Question: Intention vs. Results

Yesterday I found myself too eager to help someone in a way that went beyond the call of duty. Why was I so eager to help her advertise her business? I had already offered to post fliers in a few places and had done so. I hardly know her and she hadn't asked for my help.

I realized, then, that I wanted to help for myself. I wanted to be the one who helped her find the right person to rent her space, since I have connections in the world she's advertising to. It was an ego trip.

Which brings to mind the question: Is it better to do something good with impure intentions, or not do something good because you would do it for the wrong reasons?

Discuss.

7 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

This is a timely question in light of who Deep Throat turned out to be. Whether Mark Felt's intentions were pure or not is less important a question that whether what he did was good. And it was. I think good acts usually have myriad causes, some ego-driven (we all like the satisfaction of doing a good deed), some magnanimous. Life's complicated that way.

(p.s. This is a much lesser answer than I would have hoped to provide. The combination of very little sleep and a Benadryl this morning has left me a little, ummm, brain-dead.)

2:11 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I wonder where the one paved with bad intentions goes...

They also say, "There's no such thing as a selfless good deed." Everything you do to help other people is at least an ego boost ("Look at what a nice person I'm being!").

I tend to believe that intentions matter, but the end result of action matters more. After all, the action is what you're giving to the world; you aren't harming anyone or anything, so your intentions can remain entirely private, or you can acknowledge them. Regardless, the good thing you did has been done, and someone else's life has been made a little easier or happier.

You can't really call it a good deed if there's an expectation of something in return, in which case it's either a morally-neutral (in a general sense) business transaction or a bribe, which can hardly be considered objectively "good."

2:16 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Ann's is the much better answer I would have liked to have written, if not for this pesky brain-dead thing.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

That deleted post said, "Thanks, Eric!" and I wanted to add, "I hope your brain gets better."

5:59 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

I think the Buddhists are useful in these matters. I think that the goal should be to seek the right path (right actions) and attempt to detach from the outcome. Not that we're going to be successful in that, mind you, at least not all the time. I think Felt's intentions were as pure as they could be: if he was really seeking fame/fortune, he would've come out much sooner. It's clear that he and his family want some money out of the story--but given how much Woodstein got out of it over the years, I hardly blame Felt for that. Still, I see that desire--to cash in on something that (a) involved risks to Felt at the time and (b) has benefitted others monetarily, but not Felt, since then--as perfectly understandable, and, really separate from the original desire, which I find much purer.

6:10 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

I agree with everything y'all have said. (Does that make this a dull blog? Maybe I should call someone names to make it interesting. Eric, you're a troll.)

Anyway, I would add--also with a nod toward Buddhism--that it's important to understand what your own intentions or motivations are. Not being clear with oneself creates subconscious desires that can lead to disappointment, anger...suffering. Moreover, if one is not clear with oneself one cannot be true in her actions and can create external suffering as well, as in Ann's example of gift not given freely.

Jamiroquai summed it up in their catchy dance song "Stillness in Time":
I have done wrong if I don't know where I'm comin' from/ If I don't see the things that are inside of me"

9:30 AM  

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