Why good intentions don’t justify any behaviour

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Photo by khorzhevska on DepositPhotos

This essay first appeared in This Singaporean Life (subscribe!), a newsletter I sent out every Sunday (SGT) where I share my weekly musings on work and life in Singapore.

I’m sure we’ve all been through this: We do something for someone out of good will, but he or she doesn’t appreciate it. Or we only mean well with our actions but somehow others think otherwise.

“They don’t know better to appreciate my good intentions.” That’s what most of us would tell ourselves.

It could be overprotective parents shielding their children from the harsh reality that is society, a close friend hiding the truth of a cheating spouse from us, or teachers who drill into our heads the importance of a proper education.

While the above actions are all out of good intention, it’s hard to tell if the recipients would actually benefit.

Getting shielded from the harsh reality of society can make us unprepared for the real world; not knowing our spouse is cheating and knowing our close friend hid it from us is worse, and proper education isn’t always the key to success.

What I’d like to suggest in this essay is this: Instead of expecting people around us to accept everything we want to give, think deeper about what it is that they really need.

Just because our intentions are good doesn’t mean others have to accept and give us credit. Every one of us knows that too well, especially those who grow up in the typical Singaporean family.

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“When you grow up, you’ll learn to be grateful for what we’ve taught you,” said almost every Singaporean parent. Advice about staying away from “bad company”, never to pick up smoking and don’t date in primary or secondary school among many more.

Yes, it’s every parent’s duty to raise the child up well. Is blocking them out of the “evil” really the best way to do it, though? Of course, there are those who heed their parents’ warnings, but others choose to do the direct opposite.

We all know too well that our parents (most of them) only have our best interests at heart. Which parents would want anything less than the best for their children?

However, most of us would appreciate a guiding hand more than a forceful hand, one that earns respect more than instilling fear.

I’m not in a position to comment about parenting, but being on the receiving end of parental control up to my twenties, I can say many of us don’t appreciate our parents forcing their ideals on us.

I don’t blame my parents or any parent for that matter, but when it’s my turn to start parenting, I’ll be sure to keep my ideals to myself and guide my child towards the right path and not hold his or her hand all the way through.

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After reading self-help books, blogs, and podcasts, I feel like I have to share the nuggets of wisdom with everyone around me. It’d make their lives better, so they must want it, right?

Well, I couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve come to realise some of our friends or family members are not ready for that. They might never be ready, and maybe they’d never need it anyway.

No matter how good a piece of advice is, if the listener is not ready to take action or even hear it, it’s as good as moot.

If someone were to share self-help content with me when I was still in my teens, I would dismiss it and even stay away from that person. I was more concerned about hanging out with friends and playing games. I wasn’t ready.

I’ve since come to terms with this reality, but I still do my best to share anything that could be of help to people around me. After all, we wouldn’t know if we never tried, right? The key is to not force our ideals onto others. It’s suffocating.

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Sometimes we think we’re in the best position to give good advice to friends. It can be finding a comfortable job, identifying the “perfect one”, or dealing with a family problem.

But our idea of a perfect world to live in is often different from others. That’s not to say we don’t even try giving advice or help. It all comes back to empathy – understand and share what others are feeling before anything else.

A piece of good advice that either turns into valuable action or fall on deaf ears depends a lot on how we frame our words and actions to the intended party.

Everyone appreciates understanding and guidance from others more than mere commands and directions.

Call to action

Your good intentions don’t justify any behaviour, whether it’s in the best interests of others or even sacrificial.

Don’t force your ideals on others, as you wouldn’t want others to do the same. Practise empathy, guide over command, support instead of protect, because that’s the only way our good intentions translate into valuable action.

About the author

Vance Wong
Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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Vance Wong by Vance Wong

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Vance Wong

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.