I’m not religious, but I have to admit that there are some quotes of Jesus that I really like. This one, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”, is a real gem. This one instruction is monumental to my peace and well being. Now I don’t think of these words all the time, but implied in his statement is the idea that everyone is doing the best that they can. All the time. That is a foundation principle that I live by.
When I look at human behavior, right or wrong, good or bad, I keep coming back to the same question over and over again. “Do people behave as they do because of capacity (or lack thereof), or just poor character?” Every time I try to divine the answer to that question, it comes down to capacity.
There is another quote that is relevant here: “Better to assume ignorance before malice.” Sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I see people intentionally pushing my buttons. In my research for this article, I looked up the actual quote and learned that it is as follows: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, which is a more complicated way of saying the same thing. (It is formally known as Halon’s Razor.) Both statements make the same observation, that challenging behavior, or poor behavior is about capacity rather than character.
Character vs Capacity
So often, we see people behaving poorly and we think we need to punish that person because we’ve already made an assessment of character. We think that a person deserves punishment when we see someone exhibiting poor behavior.
Consider the following examples. He hurt someone because he didn’t get what he wanted. She deceived someone to get what she wanted. He withheld relevant information to get something he wanted. She blackmailed him to get something she wanted. All of these examples are of people using some sort of force, as adversary, to get what they wanted. They lacked the capacity to do better. I know now that once I put all poor behavior in the context of capacity, rather than character, then I never have to take anything anyone says or does personally, again.
Now we could assume that they lacked the character to do better. We could assume that they woke up one morning with a desire to do…