Just because someone does something nice or does the right thing, doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing or make the outcome pleasant or appropriate. On the surface things can seem one way, but the meaning underneath can be something completely different. Take court testimony. If you read a transcript, you get the facts, the actual words that were said. And the words, strung together in that specific order, interconnected with other words spoken by other people overlaid on the rituals and rules of the court system, make meaning out of the whole thing that is unique to that proceedings. And if a witness knows that, then they can speak in such a way that the record says something that is correct and incomplete. Because the court reporter doesn’t have a way to record irony. They can’t note down sarcasm. They don’t have any means of documenting the averted eyes, the confrontational stare, or the non-reaction to aggression which takes the piss out of the argument. And so what goes on record is the words which have their own meaning.
The underlying motivations behind an act have their own meaning which modifies the act. A man saying “I love you” in general is seen as a lovely thing. But if his motivation is to control someone, to keep them from doing something he doesn’t want, if he says it while physically intimidating them, then the meaning is completely different. And yet if you look at “the transcript” of the event it looks loving. If a woman brings flowers from her flower beds or vegetables from her garden to her neighbor, that would be friendly and generous. If she did so because she wanted her neighbor to feel inferior, if she wanted an opportunity to flaunt her wealth, her expertise and her superiority, then the gesture is no longer positive.
At times it can be difficult to see the issue. Because we get caught in the face value of things and excuse away the negative results or give them very little weight for our own reasons or just don’t recognize them beyond a vague feeling of unease. But if we stop labeling the actions for their surface value, set aside the labels of ‘good deed’ and look at the results only, motivations become clear. And then we can make a choice as to how to go forward in that situation. Of course, that means we understand our own underlying motivations, right?