Impute Motives

Cardinal Newman in his "Definition of a Gentleman" said that a gentleman "... is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him ..."—a remark that has long stuck in my mind because I've never been able to understand it. Now, a decade or two later, I think I may. To "impute" is to assign blame for something. "Imputing motives" must mean imagining that what somebody does is deliberate, for hurtful reasons. This mini-epiphany came to me when I saw a person flick a pencil across the table recently: I caught myself making up negative motivations for the act. In all probability it was just a slightly clumsy attempt to be helpful.

A key challenge of life is building good mental models to explain why other people do what they do. Fantasizing that many of their actions are driven by evil thoughts is silly, as well as quite counterproductive. Yep, it's one more habit I've gotta work on recognizing, and letting go of!

^z - 2009-03-18