In the field of human potential and coaching there is a principle that states, “behind every behaviour is a positive intention.”
What this principle enables the coach to do is to track back from a behaviour to the frames of mind (mental map) that generated it. By labeling the intention as ‘positive’ we do not make our client wrong and are therefore able to build rapport and leverage change.
For example, if I was working with someone with overeating behaviour, I would not say, “you stupid fat person, don’t you know that overeating is bad for your health!” Instead I might ask about their intention when they eat, do they eat for pleasure, or for socialisation, or for reward, or to remove pain, or overcome loneliness etc etc. By understanding and acknowledging that even an unuseful behaviour has a positive intention we can establish rapport and invite the client to consider a new behaviour that meets the intention and is also ecological (safe for self and others).
What often confuses non-coaches and people who do not understand the abundant frame of NLP is that they mistake the term positive intent for good intent. For example if a political leader causes a genocide, how can that be good? Well it is certainly not good or positive for the victims, but the behaviour will certainly be positive in the mind of the political tyrant. He might see genocide as a behaviour to remove threats to his power or to fulfill some personal vision of racial purity.
At least by understanding the positive intent we can understand behaviour even if we don’t agree with it according to our own or group’s moral standards.
To create a ‘good society’ where behaviours such as murder or genocide do not exist we would have to have a shared intention. Shared vision and group identity sets up cultural norms of behaviour where the majority will willingly comply. Unfortunately and fortunately there are always outlying individuals who either consciously or unconsciously challenge the cultural norms of behaviour. This is unfortunate when people like Hitler or Mugabe gain power but fortunate when in the case of Rosa Parks an African American woman who challenged the “good” norms of American culture by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and sparked the civil rights movement.
So “yes” a positive intention for an individual can definitely be bad for another or a group, but we must first seek to understand before being understood. The alternative is to deny human intention and enforce the greater good on the individual – but then isn’t that what Marx and Lenin believed?