“When a person lies, what is important is not the lie itself. No, it is their reason, their “why”.” ~Holo, from Spice and Wolf
This is one of my favorite quotes in all of anime. The idea is incredibly simple and common sense, but is so often overlooked or ignored. So often, when we hear about people lying or doing something bad or wrong, all the focus is on the act. No one ever talks about the person’s motivations or reasons, even though they are infinitely more important than the act itself. Regarding things like crime, or even something as simple as a political gaffe, knowing the person’s reasons for doing what they did provides valuable context with which to interpret the situation. How can we properly administer a punishment to a criminal if we don’t take into account their reasons for committing the crime? How can we accurately judge the trustworthiness of a politician without taking into account the reason for a misstep?
I’m not saying that even if someone, say, commits a crime for a good or understandable reason that they should be spared any kind of punishment. They committed a crime, after all. Taking reasons and motivations into account allows us to better fit the punishment to the crime. Unfortunately, what often happens is that, because a person did something we deem to be bad, a part of us thinks they are somehow inherently not worth that level of thought. We remain satisfied with our knee-jerk reactions, not caring what that person’s reasons were for doing what they did, not caring that our willful ignorance may lead to a punishment that does not fit the crime. We like to judge, but not to understand.
This is true not just for specific and/or serious things like judging people who commit crimes or make political missteps. In our normal dealings with the people around us, our friends, family, co-workers, and classmates, when people do something that upsets us, so often we focus too heavily on the act, and not enough on the reasons or motivations behind it, which can lead to unnecessary conflict and interpersonal tension. This can be avoided, or at least lessened, by making the effort to understand what’s behind the action.