I am in no way, shape, or form a fan of former Vice President Joe Biden. However, one of the stories he has been telling on the campaign trail stands out to me. When he was a very young U.S. Senator, a colleague much more experienced than him said, “Joe, always question a person’s judgement, not their motivation, because when you question their motivation, you make it impossible to get any work done together in the future.” 

While I think the absolute of ‘always’ needs some clarification as there are certainly times when motivation should be questioned, this advice remains very, very solid, especially for those of us in the political world. 

One of the key factors that has led to the political tribalism we now see is that we constantly attack motivation, not judgement. “You must hate immigrants.” “You just want to take everyone’s guns away.” “You don’t care about poor people.”

In reality, our motivations are often more similar than we care to admit. I, as a conservatarian who clings to freedom as tightly as possible, often share motivations with leftwing socialists. At a base level, we want to improve people’s lives. 

Now, while we can share policy motivation, I question their policy judgement (as they certainly question mine). We start at the same point along the path but quickly diverge. Where paths diverge is what we should be questioning, not where they begin. 

If you’re in need of a solid example, discussions regarding the Second Amendment provide one. I begin in the same place as people pushing for gun control: We want people to live safe and happy lives. Our paths diverge as soon as we dive into policy. I don’t question their desire to keep people safe, but I certainly question the policy plans they believe will accomplish this. 

There will always be opposing points of view, and I never want to see that not be the case. But there is a way to argue well, and we can strive to be kind and well-intentioned while holding differing opinions. You don’t live in the minds of others, and you can’t truly and completely know their motivation; therefore, let’s start by assuming the best and then argue over the choices in judgement that are obvious.

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1 comment
  1. Good points, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Doesn’t Judge Judy frequently question the motivations of people on her show? In fact, that happens in just about every courtroom. When a person has a history of slimy character, then questioning their motivations is perfectly normal. In fact, to do otherwise would be naive. Christ told us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. When the boy who cried wolf finally told the truth, were the townspeople wrong not to believe him???

    If you’ve just met someone, of course, you should certainly give them the benefit of the doubt. But once you get to know someone more, then you can get a better feel on what makes them tick. For instance, should we believe Nancy Pelosi when she says she “prays” for President Trump?? Well, maybe she prays for him to get hit by a bus or something. 😉

    Anyway, I agree that we shouldn’t routinely be trying to judge others’ motives. But as you pointed out, there are certainly times when it’s appropriate—and necessary. In addition, in regard to the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:6–8, those who have the first gift (prophecy) are commonly called “perceivers.” And these believers are naturally perceptive and very good at discerning others’ motives. So, if you’re not a “perceiver” and you need help in reading someone’s behavior, find a mature “perceiver” and get their opinion on the situation. 🙂

    I think the key is whether you actually care about uncovering the truth. If you’re trying to be fair and impartial and using your God-given discernment to judge someone’s intentions, that’s one thing. But if you don’t care about the actual truth and are just trying to smear someone’s reputation, as the Democrats seem to have done with their impeachment of Trump, then that’s quite another. As John 7:24 says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

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