It was a regular lunch shared between a group of friends, and our flow of conversation turned to the latest season of the Netflix show “Bojack Horseman” coming out. One of my friends pointed out how the protagonist: Bojack, an aged former sitcom star suffering from depression and substance abuse, and prone to making bad life decisions that adversely affected the people he cared about, could be considered a bad person. I took issue with this argument since I believed that deep down the character was a good person who happened to do bad things, but genuinely seemed to repent them in the end.
And surely enough, as is often the case with my friends and I, the conversation turned to a heated debate which boiled down to the question: When it comes to deciding whether a person is good or bad, should we judge them by their intentions or by their actions?
This is an eternal philosophical debate that reflects two schools of thought: deontology and consequentialism. Deontology focuses on evaluating the intentions or the internal rules or codes that people follow when engaging in an action. Consequentialism is on the opposite end of the spectrum. As the name suggests, consequentialism holds that to judge whether a person is right or wrong, you must focus primarily on the outcome of their actions.
My main argument against consequentialism is that it is a very rigid philosophy to follow, leaving no room for mistakes. People with the best of intentions do bad things sometimes. And I honestly don’t think that that those bad consequences make them bad people. Everyone makes mistakes. It is a highly idealistic notion to expect people to always end up doing the right thing. But at the very least, we could expect people to have the right intentions. To be a good person deep down. And to genuinely feel bad, repent and make amends for the mistakes they do commit.
Do I believe that the consequences of our actions do not matter at all? Absolutely not. This isn’t necessarily a black and white debate, and there is nothing to be said to defend a person who constantly does bad things with no respite. And giving second chances to people is encouraged, but when a person does not seem to learn from their bad behavior, then their intentions probably weren’t rooted in the right place. But if a person truly feels bad about their negative actions, and does express good intentions, then they should be given a chance.
This might be a more optimistic take on my part, but I truly believe that by giving people the benefit of the doubt, it can help reinforce their belief in themselves. If we constantly keep branding people as bad, they will learn to associate themselves with that label and view themselves negatively as well.
It is when we consider the larger context that shapes them to be the person that they are, as well as evaluate their true intentions and their innermost desire to become a better person that we give them the hope to view themselves as better people.
Even in the show “Bojack Horseman,” the main character at one point during his recovery process, looks to his friend Diane and thanks her for believing in him when no one else did. This is because even though Diane knows and has witnessed all the bad things Bojack has done, she believes that deep down his intentions are rooted in the right principles.
The battle between intentions versus consequences will continue to foster many discussions, but at the end of the day, people usually try to aspire to be good. And while sometimes people may commit regrettable actions, they should be forgiven as long as they ultimately manage to make amends and genuinely make further attempts to engage in actions that reflect their true good intentions.