I would like to take a moment to explain why I do not think it is worthwhile to discuss motives — whether my own, or those of someone else.
1. Nobody can see motives, therefore there is no way to prove what someone’s motives really are. It is just a guessing (or accusing) game. 🤔
2. Motives are inside of someone. They are their own personal space. It’s like guessing whether someone is wearing boxers or briefs. ✋ Mind your own business!
3. Motives do not affect the truth or value of what a person says. Whether motivated by anger, love, or another emotion: if they are speaking truth, they are speaking truth 🤷♂️
4. Discussing motives contributes nothing substantive to a discussion.
5. Motives are very hard to discern, even for ones self. One often has several competing motivations, and may not completely know why they are doing what they do. This is a normal part of being human.
6. Trying to do things only from good motives can be paralyzingly. This is what one friend called “paralysis through self analysis.”
7. There is a time and a place to question someone’s motives: in the middle of an important debate is not one of those times. It may come across as an attempt to “paralyze” your opponent.
8. It is rude to try to tell someone that you think that you know their motives better than they know themselves. It is also somewhat silly — how could you possibly win this argument? They are the worlds leading expert on themselves! 😆
9. If someone is questioning motives of someone while disagreeing, this may be an ad hominem attack: a way to destroy the person by attacking their character, rather than discussing their ideas.
10. Questioning the motives of others conveniently distracts from the fact that you, too, are human. You too have all sorts of motives — some good, some bad. Who are you to invalidate the ideas of someone else, based on their supposed motivations? Are your motives always only pure…? 😇
11. Questioning motives can be a way of controlling others, sowing seeds of self-doubt, and shutting down their ability to function without you. Not cool.
12. Questioning motives may be a way of convincing yourself that all or many of your opponents are “stupid,” or “evil,” or “political clones” with absolutely nothing to contribute. This may prevents one from engaging in substantive dialogue, and leave one in an echo chamber of their own beliefs, with the smug conviction that they alone on planet earth are right.
13. Assuming that others have bad motives is at the heart of almost every fight or disagreement. Why not assume that someone who disagrees with you actually has really good motivations? Or, if you can’t go that far, why not just remove motivations from the discussion and focus on their ideas and actions, which are things that everybody can see?
14. Discussions about ideas, facts, and actions have the potential of really moving people and societies forward, overcoming difficulties, and moving closer together. But I have seen no good come out of discussions of people’s supposed motivations. It can sound like a witch hunt has begun, and a good conversation has turned bad. Count me out!
These are some of the reasons that I do not ever find it helpful to discuss motives.
I usually simply do not respond when someone asks me about my motives. I think the question is rude at best, and an attempt to destroy or silence me at the worst. I have found that the best response is polite silence.
When people question the motives of others I usually point out that this is not relevant to the discussion.
I created this blog post so that I can direct people here when they start critiquing peoples motives.
Let’s remember to discuss ideas, not people, and to avoid all forms of ad hominem attacks.
Have a great day, everyone! 😊