During the summer of 1982, I led a short term team to Papua New Guinea. Jim, one of the assistant leaders on the team, was a musician. One evening he sang a song to us that included the line, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That was the first time I heard that idea and it caused me much pause, so much so, that I remember it like it was last week. Up to that point in my life, I assumed good motives were good enough.
Since the summer of 1982, I have observed the truth of that statement played out many times. For example, there was the incident in November of 1982 when I wrote a love letter to my girlfriend. I desired to communicate my honor and respect for her. However, I experienced severe unintended consequences simply because I compared her to a gray squirrel, a forest animal that I find attractive, graceful, industrious, and forward thinking – many of the same characteristics that are lauded in Proverbs 31. Fortunately, she forgave me, married me, and loves me to this day.
In the international development world, the unintended consequences of good intentions have often resulted in increased poverty, stolen opportunities, and discouraged people.
Good intentions are not enough, we need to consider the unintended consequences. We rich Westerners want to help and we often think that we can relatively easily solve problems by throwing our abundant resources at them. Unfortunately, the situation is often worse after we are done than it was before we started.
Currently, I am concerned about a campaign led by Invisible Children, http://s3.amazonaws.com/kony2012/kony-4.html. Everyone agrees that Joseph Kony is a bad man. However, this Kony campaign is full of landmines, so much so, that I wish it had never been launched. However, now that it is viral, I pray that the hoped for results will succeed and the unintended consequences will be minimal. For more see: Kony 2012: Why I’m Opposed To The Campaign