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Don't Let Your Good Intentions Trouble Others

Have you ever done something with good or neutral intentions, but it didn't turn out so well? Perhaps others got annoyed or misunderstood you. Or perhaps you unintentionally created trouble for others.

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We are all human, so we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. In addition to learning from our own mistakes, we can also learn from other people's mistakes. I'll share some of mine here to help you avoid the same mistakes:

1: Don't give away things without permission

This past week, I was out in my garden with my mother. A neighbor came over to give my mother some seeds. My mother was delighted, and as always, she went to pick some garden vegetables for the visitor. Seeing my mom always fond of giving gifts, I thought I should follow her example.

She was picking fresh celery for the visitor, and I remembered she picked some tomatoes earlier in the day. I said, "How about I get a couple tomatoes that you picked earlier?" She didn't reply. Since the visitor already heard me mention the tomatoes, it felt awkward if I didn't get it for him, so I went to get a couple tomatoes. After he left, my mother told me, "Earlier I told grandpa that those tomatoes were for him."

Suddenly, I understood why my mother didn't reply earlier. It would be awkward for her to say, "No, don't give tomatoes to the neighbor. Those are for grandpa." But she also can't say yes. So she didn't say anything. I then reflected on how to avoid the same mistake next time.

In the future, if I know a visitor is coming, I can check with my mom beforehand about what gift she wants to give. If the visitor came without prior notice, then I shouldn't offer any gifts; instead, I should let my mom offer the gifts. This way, I won't accidentally mention something that she doesn't want to give away. If there is something I think she can give, but she didn't give it, I can ask my mom about it after the guest leaves. Either my mom says, "No, I don't want to give that," in which case not saying anything was smart, or my mom says "Oh yeah we should give that!" in which case we can still give it to the guest later.

This actually happened another time, when my mother's friend came over. As usual, my mother went to get a bunch of garden vegetables for her friend. We had just gotten a box of mooncakes from a neighbor, so I was thinking my mom might want to give those mooncakes to the visitor. But the whole time, my mother never mentioned it. I didn't say anything just in case mom had other plans for the mooncake. After the visitor left, I asked my mom about it, and she said, "Oh yeah, I forgot!"

I said, "Well, this situation is better than if I had mentioned the mooncakes and you didn't actually want to give them. Besides, you gave her so much garden vegetables already, forgetting the mooncakes is hardly a problem."

2: If you're doing something for someone, check with them before and after

Usually, my mother cooks breakfast. One day, I noticed my mom didn't cook breakfast at the usual time. I thought perhaps she was still busy finishing up her morning reading. I happened to be free, so I decided to cook. I saw that there wasn't much food in the fridge, so I cooked some noodles.

Later, my mom came and said, "Huh, why did you cook noodles? There's enough leftovers from yesterday for breakfast."

I said, "Really? I checked the fridge and didn't see much."

She then opened the fridge and showed me that there were leftovers at the back behind a bag of vegetables. I realized that I could have prevented this trouble if I had simply checked with my mom if I should cook breakfast or not instead of assuming that she forgot or was too busy.

Another time, I tried cooking a new kind of potato pancake. I thought it was pretty good and wanted to cook more. But I remembered to check with my mom to see if she likes it. She said it's OK, but she prefers regular pancakes. It's a good thing I asked, or else she might feel awkward to say that she doesn't like it that much, and I would have made a lot more potato pancakes.

I heard a term called "loving you without your permission," which refers to when people do something that they think is good for others, but the receiver does not want it.

For example, a parent forces their child to take art classes when the child really has no interest in art. This is a lack of consideration and empathy on the giver's part. If I had cooked more potato pancakes for my mom without asking her if she likes it, I would have committed "loving you without your permission."

3: Don't publicly ask questions that the person cannot answer

In the course I'm taking, our class leader often communicates things to us on behalf of our professor. Recently, she was explaining to us how to submit our assignment online. We have to submit in two places: draft and final copy. Originally, we were told that we can submit multiple times in the draft location to check the plagiarism score, but it turns out we can only submit once.

I asked, "What's the point of submitting to the rough copy if we can't submit multiple times? Maybe we should check with the school to see if there's an error with the website?"

She said, "Yeah I don't know either. OK."

Afterwards, I felt I might have made her look bad in front of the class because I asked a question that she couldn't answer. My intention was neutral, but my lack of consideration and sensitivity resulted in making her look bad.

In the future, I should make sure that my question is one that the person can actually answer. If not, I should ask in private, not in front of the whole class. Also, I should be more polite and humble when I ask. For example, I could have said, "It seems strange that we cannot submit multiple times. Could I trouble you to check with the school and see if it's an error on their side?"

4: Consider other people's ability before asking them to do something

It's Teacher's Day next week, and I was thinking of getting some classmates together to create a collective gift. I felt like our teacher would be happy to see us classmates working together. But the idea I had in mind requires quite a bit of time from each person. I thought about it, and my classmates are all very busy people, and it would be quite awkward if even one person couldn't commit.

I remember this actually happened to me before. Another classmate wanted all of us to make a video together for a teacher, and it was really rushed too. The thing is, if a few people do it, it's very awkward if the remaining classmates don't join, so we're kind of pressured into doing it. I don't want to give pressure to other people, so I decided to not suggest this idea.

I heard another story related to this topic. One time, a person told a monk, "The next time you guys have a charitable project, let me know. I want to donate." A few months later, the monk found out his master had a charitable project to do. He was about to call that person, but his master stopped him and said, "Wait. Are you trying to collect a debt?"

He was utterly confused and said, "Master, this person told me a few months ago that she wants to contribute to the next charitable project. It's her wish."

The master said, "I know you think you are keeping a promise, but think about it. It's been a few months. Maybe back then, she had money that she wanted to donate. But after these few months, it's very possible that she might have already used the money elsewhere. If you call her now and ask her to donate, and she doesn't have that money anymore, then you will cause a lot of embarrassment for her."

The monk said, "I understand now. I'll wait for her to call me then."


It's great to have good intentions, but we must remember that good intentions alone are not enough to produce good results. We need to have wisdom and consideration. We are all human, so we will all make mistakes. There's no need to frustrate over our mistakes. As long as we learn from them each time, we will grow in wisdom. And before we do anything that we think is good, we should always consider the impact on others and how they might feel, and it's usually better to check with them before and after the matter.

Do you have any experiences where your good intentions didn't lead to good results? What did you learn?


Weekly Wisdom #256


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