If I lend a hand to an old lady when she tries to get up from a seat, am I a nice person?
Maybe it was just a reflexive reaction, because I am used to giving assistance to my grandmother when she moves around… so I am not really a nice person.
If I go wash my mug and see a sink full of dirty dishes, and decide to wash them all together, am I a nice person?
Maybe it was just my way of silently protesting to the person who was supposed to do the dishes that I am not pleased with their work… so I am not really a nice person.
In the former, it really is a reflex to me – there is no intent in me to be nice. And in the latter, I was not protesting but I did not intend to be nice either – I simply thought I would do them all because I had the time and ability. But no one can see what goes on within me, and all that speak to them are my actions… so they think they see me having a helpful pair of hands and come to believe I am a nice person (and some resent me for making others believe I am a nice person by providing help unasked).
So then, am I, or am I not, a nice person, really?
Maybe I am, because I can be nice without trying to be nice.
Or maybe I am not, because I just happened to be nice without meaning to be nice.
Well, I suppose this could quickly become a philosophical question – the one that asks about what determines an action to be right / good or wrong / bad. Is it your intention that matters above all, or is it the consequence that counts the most? If the action brings about more happiness than suffering, is it a right / good action… even if it makes the action-taker suffer, feeling bad for being praised for the consequence without ever intending it?
I have not yet arrived at a permanent position to take in this utilitarianism debate. I believe I should do what I mean to do, but I also think all is well that ends well. And I am often torn between intention and consequence, especially when things turn out good without my good intentions. It makes me feel worse than when things turn out bad – then, I can at least apologize or take the blame – because I feel like such a phony for taking the credit where it really is not due.
But I can say this much: maybe I do not have good intention behind every action that turn out to be good, but I do generally want to be good.
And maybe if I keep wanting to be generally good, I will have more chances of doing good.
So then, once again, am I, or am I not, a nice person, really?
I cannot say, but I want to be… I think that says it all, for now.
I suppose I will have to see how I turn out, to find out if intention matters above all or the consequence counts the most for me.