Discerning Motivations, part 1
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Discerning Motivations, part 1

As I discussed last essay, it is difficult to ascertain our own motivations, and even harder to discern the motivations of others. This observation encourages us to refrain from presuming the motivations of other people, however tempting it might be to ascribe bad motivations to behavior of which we disapprove.

While it wise to withhold judgement about others' motivations, identifying our own motivations can help us avoid victimizing other individuals. As masters of self-deception, humans tend to attribute good motivations to their own harmful activities. This observation encourages us to avoid harmful behavior whenever possible, but sometimes we must decide between unattractive options, none of which avoids causing harm.

One strategy is to enlist the perspective of those who might be harmed. We should try to engage them and find out whether they believe they might be wronged and, if so, why. Sometimes, we dismiss the harm we might cause to those with whom we disagree because we believe that they simply seek harm against others. If this is the case, we might encourage them to explain how they justify their own potentially harmful activities. In this context, we should be seeking understanding, not changing anybody's convictions.

Nonhumans have difficulty communicating their thoughts, but it is not hard to recognize when they are being harmed. Imagining how they experience the world, though necessarily somewhat anthropomorphic, can provide insights. For example, we can be confident that wolves generally kill only for sustenance, rarely for pleasure.

Next essay I will consider another strategy, which involves identifying how we feel.

Go on to: Discerning Motivations, part 2
Return to: Reflections on the Lectionary, Table of Contents

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion