Thursday, February 11, 2010

Assuming Other's Motives

The following is a tale told by Joe Wagner in Reader's Digest:

I was attending a junior stock show when a grand-champion lamb, owned by a little girl, was being auctioned. As the bids reached five dollars per pound, the little girl, standing beside the lamb in the arena, began to cry. At ten dollars, the tears were streaming down her face and she clasped her arms tightly around the lamb's neck. The higher the bids rose, the more she cried. Finally, a local businessman bought the lamb for more than $1000, but then announced that he was donating it to the little girl. The crowd applauded and cheered.

Months later, I was judging some statewide essays when I came across one from a girl who told about the time her grand-champion lamb had been auctioned. "The prices began to get so high during the bidding," she wrote, "that I started to cry from happiness." She continued with: "The man who bought the lamb for so much more than I ever dreamed I would get returned the lamb to me, and when I got home, Daddy barbecued the lamb--and it was really delicious."

I love that story. To me it illustrates how futile and prone to error it is to assume anyone's motives, to think we know why they acted a certain way. Assuming others motives is wrong for several reasons:

-Assuming other's motives and trying to call them on it is like telling lies. Why? Because unless you can read minds you actually only have guesses at what someone is/was thinking. Because of this you will always be wrong; either totally, mostly, or at least a little wrong every time you think you know someone's motives. But you will never be completely right.
-Most people will react badly to anyone assuming they know why they did what they did. At best they will become defensive or indignant and at worst they will become openly hostile. Want to make a conflict worse? Assume someone's motives! The sparks will fly.

You can never offer feedback on someone's motives (always unknown), only on their actions (visible and verifiable). I have helplessly watched many individuals, ministry teams, couples, and family members ignore this principle and suffer for their folly. Do you do this, do you try to assume other's motives and then call them on it? If you do, there is no gentle way to say it: you aren't acting in a helpful way. The first rule of sharing feedback with others is never to assume motives, only address people's specific behaviors. Once you, your marriage, or your ministry team makes this a rule you will be amazed at how much more quickly you can work through conflict. Try it, it works!


Anonymous said...

That was preety amazing. Not sure if you are a believer, but the bible says to believe the best about people, so when we assign bad motives to them, we are walking after the flesh. We are to love and assume the best. do to others what you want done to you!! Thanks for this, I am getting great breakthru from negative thinking!

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