It was kind of a strange place to resonate with a George Bernard Shaw quotation.
Last night my wife and I had just finished watching episode 7 of the HBO Max series, "Love Life." Following each episode, there's an interesting discussion of it between Anna Kendrick, who plays the main character with a love life, and three other people involved with putting on the series.
One of them said something like, "As Shaw put it, All men mean well. Sinners, saints, everybody." Hearing those words, I paused Apple TV, got a pen and piece of paper, and wrote down the quote.
As I told my wife, one reason I liked the quote so much was that the day before I'd written a blog post about how the Oregon football team had lost to Stanford in the last two minutes because of a dreadful coaching error and two 15-yard penalties by a couple of defensive players who messed up big-time.
Since Oregon was ranked #3 in the country, those screw-ups made it considerably less likely that the team would end up in the four-team college football playoff for a national championship.
But I suddenly realized something obvious that had escaped me.
The coach calling the offensive plays meant well when he ordered up a pass after Oregon had been running the ball well and taking time off the clock near the end of the game. Yes, that incomplete pass gave Stanford an extra 40 seconds or so that enabled them to score a tying touchdown, and then win in overtime.
Yet when that pass play was called, the coach thought it would help his team win the game. Ditto with the two penalties. The players who roughed up the Stanford quarterback also meant well. They were trying to do their part to stop the Stanford offense, even though it turned out that those 30 penalty yards were a big reason Oregon ended up losing.
The full George Bernard Shaw quotation will be more familiar to many.
I think this is absolutely true, though I'm sure others would disagree.
Understand: I'm not saying that the actions of Hitler and Ghandi are to be equated because each man felt he was doing the right thing. Obviously people who are causing others to suffer need to be stopped, while people who are causing good things to happen need to be supported.
It just struck me that always viewing our fellow humans as meaning well -- from their own point of view -- takes away a lot of the judgmentalism and holier-than-thou posturing that bugs me when other people do it, so it should bother me just as much when I do it.
Meaning, when we stop calling into question the motives of other people and focus instead on the consequences of their actions, the world becomes a better place.
For example, I don't like how Senators Manchin and Sinema are standing in the way of President Biden's agenda. Often I think they're selfish, uninformed, and beholden to special interests. All that may be true. However, when I think, "But Manchin and Sinema mean well," my irritation at them becomes less personal and more political.
I stop thinking of them as bad people, and see them as engaged in some bad actions from my point of view -- a big difference. The same even is true of Donald Trump, though it's more difficult for me to think "he means well." Still, Trump does, in his own mind.
Anyway, George Bernard Shaw was on to something when he came up with the quotation that I like so much, though it's true that both "hell" and "heaven" are paved with good intentions. It's just that when an intention ends up creating something positive, we view it as heavenly, while the creation of something negative is viewed as hellish.