Friday, April 01, 2005

Are best intentions enough?

"We did what we believed was right."

That's the response I always hear when people are asked to explain some of the appalling choices they made when raising their children. "We did what we thought was best." Presuming they are sincere about this claim and not just using it to excuse laziness and negligence, is it valid? How can anything more be expected of a person than to do what they think is right?

How can a parent be blamed if they truly believed that beating a child was good for the kid?
How can a group be blamed if they teach their children that certain innocent behaviors are evil? Or that certain horrible actions are proper?
How can anyone be faulted for teaching their children to follow what they believe is the one and only right way to live their lives?
How can I blame a society that is doing what they think is right?

I'm not sure really. It sounds reasonable. But there's something about that line of thought that just doesn't ring true to me.

After all, if acting on your convictions are all that matter, then how can anyone ever be held responsible for any unacceptable behavior? How could we blame white supremacists, Nazis, fanatical cult members, Muslim suicide bombers, or any individuals guilty of horrible misdeeds if their actions were a result of the erroneous beliefs that they hold to be true?

But again, how can more be expected of a person than to do what they believe is right and true? Can anyone help me out with this? I know the reasoning is flawed, but I can't quite figure out why. Why isn't the claim of "We did what we believed was right" enough?


Mis-nagid said...

The deeper issue lies in the words "we believed." On what basis was that belief held? Notice how the answers to that question split your examples up.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

Just caught this on MSN. Kid in Nahariyya, Israel was hit by teacher, in front of class, went to police.


Rebecca said...

It strikes me that maybe the problem is in only paying attention to one's own beliefs, intentions, etc., and not entertaining any contradictory opinions - in not being open to criticism. Maybe when we make the argument that we're "doing the best we can" we are actually just being lazy and not trying to figure out better way to do things, and not listening to people who criticize our actions.