Monday, June 20, 2011

Motives and Outcomes

I spent a little bit of time this morning thinking about the things I have written about in the past, and in the process I began to notice something. Over and over again, the things I have gotten passionate about enough to write about have had a similar theme: the overwhelming importance of outcomes and the (relative) irrelevance of motives.

What I mean by that is this: it seems that in many situations in life and in this world, we give credit or support based solely off of the motives of people involved. If someone has good intentions, often that is enough for us to write them in as good and worth supporting, irregardless of the outcome of their endeavor or pursuit.

One great example of this is TOMS, which I've written about before previously. When people hear about TOMS business model, a one-for-one donation scheme, they hear the story of someone who wants to help and often want to begin to do the same thing. But the concern is never outcomes; if people stopped and did the research about what happens when TOMS or other in-kind donations come to impoverished areas, they would discover that the outcome is not nearly as rosy as they anticipated. In fact, it is often harmful and stunts the growth of those being "helped". But because our initial concern is motives rather than outcomes, few challenge TOMS, and even fewer take the time to research what the outcomes really might be.

This same idea applies for another of the things which get me fired up, short term missions. Whenever I hear about a new youth group or high school going on a mission trip, I usually hear the same ideas being proclaimed ahead of time: "we're going to make an impact", "we're really going to help people this time", "we're going to learn what it really means to serve". While I have little doubt that the intentions of those going on these trips are pure and rightly focused, I do doubt the outcomes of these trips. I mean, what lasting impact can a group of high schoolers with no experience make in just a few short days? Often, little or none. And the bigger issue is what harm they might be doing to whatever community was bombarded by a bunch of white kids with money who left as quickly as they came, never to be seen again. The motive might be good, but the outcome often is not. Yet the Christian community consistently considers first the motive behind missions, not the outcomes.

I want to be clear, I'm not trying to argue that we shouldn't help people or look for opportunities to serve. In fact, that's the very opposite of my argument. What I want is for us to pay attention to outcomes more than just motives; I want missions and service to be focused on outcomes, taking time to be sure that they are making a lasting and positive impact on whomever is served.

You see, the idea isn't that motives aren't important. They certainly are; I would much rather deal with someone with good intentions than someone without them. But it seems as though we often give people or ideas a free pass or even our support simply because they mean well, without demonstrating their impact or outcome.

One of my favorite blogs recently is an aid watchdog run by Saundra Schimmelpfennig known as Good Intentions Are Not Enough. On her website, Saundra says that "Good intentions are not enough for aid to be successful. If assistance is done poorly it can hurt the very people it is supposed to help." And that isn't just true of aid. Good intentions are not enough for anything to be successful; the sooner we all recognize that and begin to hold organizations and ideas and people accountable for the outcomes they create, the better.

And so on...

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