What’s your motive?


American flagAs election season ramps up, I’ve been reflecting on how foolish it is to attribute nefarious motives to people without good reason to do so. It seems like the major messages political campaigns try to communicate are statements such as “X candidate doesn’t care about federal spending and getting out of debt!”or “Y candidate wants to cut Medicare!”

Really? Politicians may have terrible motives sometimes, but do we really believe that they actively intend to harm society in the ways that their opponents say they do?

In most cases, it’s much wiser and more gracious to assume that people—not just politicians, but our coworkers, neighbors, and relatives—are on our side. They generally want to achieve the same good things for the nation, the community, the company, or the family, that we do. They may just have a different method for accomplishing these goals than we do. It’s usually a leap of logic to conclude that because someone’s problem-solving methodology is different from ours, they don’t care about problem-solving at all. And groundlessly accusing them of this is simply counterproductive and downright rude. Much better to assume the best about people’s  motives, focus on the things we have in common—shared concerns and shared goals—and negotiate a compromise between different methods to address these things.

What would the election season look like if candidates were to quit putting so much energy into mud-slinging and scathing accusations, and to interact in a more gracious, respectful way? And what would our communities, businesses, and families look like if we adopted the same approach?

10 thoughts on “What’s your motive?

  1. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in our political discourse. Instead of seeing each side of the political spectrum as fellow Americans who just happen to have different opinions, the tendency now is to conceive of the other side as the enemy that must be opposed at all cost. I occasionally get sucked into political discussions against my better judgement, and I have found it is nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion with someone on the other side of the fence politically. It seems like even if I go out of my way to be conciliar and to look for points of common agreement, if I make any kind of indication that I am sympathetic to the opposing party, I am met with intense rage and complete contempt.

    • Wow, that is disturbing, Matt. We really need to find points of connection with opposing ideas if we’re going to make any progress in achieving political and social goals. I’m glad you’re sensitive to the need for this.

  2. Great points. It would be a lot more productive to just talk policies and principles rather than to keep trying to see through a candidate’s platform to some hidden motive for that platform. In the end, even where motives are mixed, it’s not motives that determine outcomes but rather the policies enacted.

    I think your point has broader applicability to interpersonal communication. Everyone brings with them different experiences, expectations, perceptions, desires and so forth–and many times it’s not necessarily a matter of right versus wrong, but just difference. And we have to take the time to work out those differences without implied accusations about the person’s character. I think that charity behooves us to think the best of others unless it is shown clearly that they have ill will or malicious intent.

  3. I actually don’t agree. We are not robots but are a people with free will and therefore do have different goals. Some of my goals I am not willing to compromise. I think that this election will define who we are as a people. Do we as a people vote for a party that supports abortion or condemns it, uphold prayer and the saying of the constitution in the public school or ban it , uphold marriage as it is understood in the bible or allow same sex union and polygamy? I think that we have compromised too much!!! I think we will find out if we are one nation under God or a nation of compromise. The Mud Slaying only continues because it works and we continue to watch it. I didn’t know if you were open to opposing points of view as you were nice enough to open this discussion. Just delete this if this is not what you wanted.

    • Of course I’m open to opposing viewpoints, Brenda! You bring up an excellent point, so thanks for your comment. I think that maybe our views aren’t quite as opposed as it seems. I guess I was focusing on the issue of politicians who are trying to get people to believe that their opponents aren’t interested in doing what’s good for society. Promoting the good of society is (or it should be!) the primary goal of any political platform. The differences, I think, come in when different parties have different ideas about what is good for society and what isn’t. The Republican party, for example, generally thinks abortion is bad for society, and the Democratic party thinks it’s good (or at least less bad than banning abortion). I think it’s important that we have these different concepts of what’s good for our nation and that we defend them articulately, and I sincerely hope that more people realize how bad abortion can be for individuals and for our country.

      What I’m objecting to is when people accuse the other side of not caring about what’s good for society, just because the other side has a different concept of what societal good looks like. I think we need to carefully discern what goals to pursue that will promote social well-being, refuse to compromise on those things, as you said, argue persuasively in favor of them, and pray that both ourselves and others will come to a better understanding of what societal goods we should be aiming at, according to God’s will for our country.

      I think it’s pretty safe to assume that everybody, in some way, wants our society to be a good one, even when we differ on what that looks like. So accusing people of not wanting this isn’t really helpful. I think we need to focus our arguments on why our opponents’ concept of social good isn’t actually good, rather than attacking their motives. I’d like to see more public debate about WHY, for example, it’s good for society if people are allowed to practice their religion publicly, and WHY traditional marriage is good for families and communities. But I think a lot of debate centers more on attacking people instead of attacking the weaknesses in their opinions and arguments. (Just to be clear, I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing; I just hear a lot of other people doing this.) It’s often easier to try to frame our opponents as bad people (i.e., “You don’t care about doing what’s best for families and children!”) than it is to try to expose their ideas as bad ideas (“Here’s why I think your attempt to take care of families is actually harming them.”) So we often get caught up in a misguided approach to public debate.

      Does this make sense? Let me know what you think.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dan. Vilifying other people just doesn’t get us anywhere, either in building rapport with people or making decisions and getting things done. Being gracious, in contrast, leads us to more harmonious relationships and more productive work.

    • Thanks, Ariana! I like this quote from that post: “Most likely, whatever the offender did was done with no malice aforethought and for reasons they thought appropriate at the time. In short, they’re not as screwed up as the results they produced.” Very wise. And if we can keep this in mind when we address the problem they produced, we’ll maintain their respect, and probably have an easier time of fixing the problem.

Leave a Reply to brenda shantz Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s