Your Motives Matter for You but Not for Other People

Issue 33. July 28, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Colen Meg

One of the most important questions I’ve learned to ask myself when trying to decide what the right thing is for me to do is, “What are my motives?”

I came to see that my motives for helping people were often that I wanted their approval. I wanted to be seen as a helpful person. It’s not that I didn’t want to be helpful, I did, but I was way more tied to other people perceiving me as being a helpful person. Once I saw that, I realized this question “what are my motives?” was helpful in guiding my behavior.

It’s been quite helpful in many areas of my life. It helps me to really think, “Why am I doing this?” If my answer has something to do with how others perceive me, then I need to take a pause.
Living my life focused on what others thought of me didn’t really work out too well. It’s not that I don’t want others’ approval at all, I do, but now I want my approval more!

When it comes to other people, they don’t give a shit what your motives are, they care about your behavior. Think about people experiencing racism. They don’t care if you “didn’t mean to be racist,” they care that what you did or said was belittling, dismissive, disrespectful or in some other way offensive to them. You don’t get to be the judge of how they experienced your actions, they do!

So they don’t care about your motives. They care about your behavior.

Let’s say you take on an intern at your workplace. An altruistic motive could be that you want to help young people have the kinds of opportunities you were given. A selfish motive could be that you want to impress the boss or that kid’s parents. Either way, that young person gets an internship. They don’t care about your motives.
If you want to be a person of integrity who lives in alignment with your values, then you should care about your motives. When you’re clear about what your values are, and your motives align with the fulfillment of those values, that’s being in integrity.

If community is a value or yours, or giving back is a value of yours, then taking on an intern for those reasons brings you into alignment with those values. But if you’re more focused on how it looks to have taken on an intern, it takes you out of alignment with those values. Those kinds of actions chip away at your integrity.

What they see are your actions, not your motives. Even if you tell them your motives are, that won’t take away the impact of your behavior if it was harmful to them.

Your actions matter to other people, not your thoughts, beliefs, feelings or motives. Those things don’t impact others the way your behavior does. Your actions are what create results.

The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is a perfect illustration of why your motives don’t matter to other people. It doesn’t matter to the other person that you were “just trying to help” if your suggestion landed them in the hospital. It doesn’t matter to the other person if you “didn’t mean it” if they experience your actions as racist.

Your motives matter for you because of your own personal integrity. Your motives don’t really matter to others as long as the results of your actions feel good and kind to them.

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