Let’s Stop Judging Motives

Last summer, I wrote two posts about the importance of using sound method when trying to find the truth. Especially when we “just know,” we must assume our minds are infected with unknown cognitive biases, and do everything we can to identify them and root them out.

I’ve been thinking that the same applies to our relationships with people. We so often jump to conclusions about people’s motives without adequate evidence.

Often, our assessment of others’ motives has more to do with us than with them. If someone is doing something we would never do, we tend to ascribe the motive that we would need in order to do that thing.

Is someone a political liberal? He must hate America … because I love America and I would have to hate everything I stand for in order to take his position.

Is someone a fiscal conservative? She must not care about the poor …  because I care about the poor and I think government programs are the best way to help them.

Has someone walked away from a long-standing commitment to faith? He must be in rebellion against God … because I could never give up my faith except as an act of rebellion.

Has someone chosen to remain with her faith in spite of significant doubts? She must be unwilling to face the truth … because I faced it and came to a different conclusion.

So here’s one of my New Year’s resolutions. I resolve to be skeptical of my ability to read other people’s motives. I want to apply the same evidence-based thinking in that area that we should apply everywhere else.

8 responses to “Let’s Stop Judging Motives

  1. I think a lot of our divisiveness comes from our tribal nature, and our search for a comfortable easy life. In this pursuit, we are all driven to join a group. Even if joining the group isn’t your goal it helps you get what you want. For instance, politicians may not agree with everything their party does, but it is easy to get half of the votes just by saying you are a republican or a democrat.

    Religion on the other hand I think really is someone not capable or not willing to face the truth. I can completely sympathize with someone who wants to believe in heaven or a god. I just find it more harmful to believe than not to believe. Much like a political scenario. Someone who is born into a religion would often not find a reason to want to stop believing.

    The only motive I really care about is selfish or selfless. But I suppose I just formed two camps for people to be in again.

  2. I think that’s the right approach, you should try to gather evidence and evaluate arguments than judging people’s motives; people’s motives won’t always tell you what is true or false anyways.

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