Good Behaviour vs Good Intentions

If you were a parent and could only pick one trait to be taken on by your children, which one would you prefer? How about if you were a teacher and were deciding the principles by which you approach educating your students? Or if you were the government managing a citizenry?

As we get further away from an actual relationship at a one-to-one level, we tend to begin to favour good behaviour often at the expense of good intentions. Because intentions are not as quantifiable as behaviours, we choose to use the quantifiable trait as a proxy for the non-quantifiable one instead of recognizing they can be different. Yet if one was a parent, he/she knows and could probably tell the difference. So does that mean the background values/intents/principles are different in developing a child, education a person or moulding a nation?

While on the surface this might seem philosophical, there are huge policy implications and considerations when we uncover what we are prioritizing as part of our values. Carrots and sticks may make for good behaviour but that means that enforcement is external and it fosters good behaviour without encouraging good intentions. The strong ability of our government to focus on incentivization for behavioural change without addressing underlying values and intentions should not be seen positively under certain circumstances. As the country matures and people become more educated, we need to ask ourselves if it is still behaviours we are targeting – or intentions? Do we just want to stay at dealing with the hard stuff? The soft stuff are genuinely hard to handle but it must be done. We have more resources than ever to handle these – are we thinking enough about it? Or at we still obsessing over growth statistics?