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Protect People's Good Intentions

Icon Sources: 1, 2

There was a renowned actor about to go on stage. His student passed by and told him, "Sir, your shoelaces are untied." The actor nodded and said thanks, then he knelt down and tied his shoelaces. After his student left, he knelt down again and untied his shoelaces.

An observer saw the whole scene and was thoroughly confused. He asked, "Why did you untie your shoelaces again?"

The actor replied, "Because I am playing the role of an exhausted traveler. Having my shoelaces untied shows how long and difficult the journey has been."

The observer asked, "Then why didn't you just say that to your student?"

The actor replied, "The fact that my student noticed that my shoelaces were untied shows that he is very observant. He also notified me, which shows that he is very considerate. I have to protect and encourage his goodness. Besides, there will be lots of opportunities in the future to tell him why my shoelaces were untied."

(Story Source: Harvard Family Instruction, Chapter 1)


This story reminds me of a principle for good relationships that I've been working on: See the intention behind their action. Most of us tend to over-focus on people's actions and forget to consider the intention behind the action. Sometimes, we get annoyed or upset at other people's actions, but the person actually had positive or neutral intentions. In such a situation, the other person would feel wrongfully treated if we get annoyed at them. I'm very impressed at this actor's ability to see his student's intentions rather than just focusing on the matter.

Moreover, he used the words "protect" and "encourage". "Encourage" is not surprising; we want to encourage people to have good intentions. But the word "protect" caught my attention. Indeed, it can be hard to find people who always hold positive intentions towards others in our modern society. One factor is likely due to popular media promoting selfishness and self-centeredness a lot more than compassion and humility. Thus, if we encounter people trying to be good, we should try to protect their goodness.

How do we protect and encourage people's good intentions? Well, it depends on the situation. First we have to see their good intentions, then we can affirm their intentions by saying things like "Thanks for your consideration" or "Thanks for your good intentions." Other times, we just follow their request, as was the case in the story.

My Experience

In my experience, parents might ask us to do things that we feel are unnecessary, but if we consider their good intentions more, we'd be more patient with them and more likely to listen to them. For example, I was recently fixing the grout in between some kitchen tiles. One tile had a crack, and my mom asked me to put some grout on the crack. I explained that the grout won't work on the crack because grout is meant for the area between kitchen tiles; it is not meant for a crack in the tile itself. Plus, it would look ugly. She still insisted. I asked why, and she said she's worried about safety.

At first, I didn't understand how a crack in a kitchen tile constitutes a safety problem. But then I remembered she talked about how a neighbor's kitchen tile cracked and sunk into the floor. Although I still don't think a crack in a kitchen tile is dangerous, I could sort of see why my mother is worried. If I just consider the matter itself, I wouldn't put grout on the crack, but I considered my mother's intentions (safety), so I did what she wanted. This was my way of focusing on people's intention more than the matter itself.

Recently at work, a fellow teacher invited me to teach his beginner English class because he wanted to learn from me. Although he viewed me as a senior, I still asked him to give me feedback on my teaching afterwards. He told me to be more careful with time management because I went a little overtime. I was going to explain to him that I actually paid very careful attention to time management throughout the class, and I wanted to explain how I made that judgment call to go a little overtime rather than skipping something important. But I stopped myself.

One reason is because I wanted to cultivate humility. After all, overtime is overtime; his advice is reasonable. But I also remembered this story, and I saw that his intention was simply to help. Plus, it takes courage to give advice to a senior. Ultimately, I wanted to affirm his intentions and courage. If I explain myself, then he might not want to give me advice again in the future. Hence, I simply said, "Thank you, I will be more careful in the future."


Don't over-focus on people's words or actions. Instead, consider the intentions behind their actions. Most of the time, people have positive or neutral intentions, so we shouldn't get annoyed. We should also try to protect and encourage people's positive intentions because that is precious. After all, don't we all want a world with more good people?


Weekly Wisdom #243


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