Exposing ulterior motives

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Monday, March 17 2014

We continue our discussion on identifying trustworthy people. The first key proposed by Confucius is to see and observe their conduct and actions.

2. Discern a person's ulterior motives

The second key to identifying the trustworthy requires one to look beneath the surface to understand one's heart or ulterior motives. Likened to peeling an onion, discernment involves all of one's senses.

There is a story in the bible which best illustrates this point. Samuel was appointed by God to anoint one of Jesse's sons as the next king of Israel. Taken by the looks and stature of Eliab, he assumed that the Lord would choose Eliab but the Lord said to Samuel: "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart."

Mortals like us do not have the wisdom of God to look into man's hearts and motives. Therefore analyzing a person's motives will involve careful and methodical discernment.

The first step is to establish is: whose interests are represented. For instance, in the case of bankers, it is their clients whose money and interests they are meant to safeguard; for doctors, it is the patient's health and confidence; and for government ministers and civil servants, it is the citizens' interest and welfare they are meant to serve. Confucius submits that whilst a man of noble thoughts is conversant with righteousness, a knave is interested in personal gain.

We will first have to ascertain if their ulterior motive is personal gain. To this end we will need to carefully analyze the hidden agendas, to expose well concealed motives. We will have to establish if their proposals, actions and deeds betray the trust of the very people (e.g. clients, patients or citizens) they represent.

A study of the history of the person in question, how they live their lives, will give clues on their motivation. If for instance, they are by nature greedy, live beyond their means, have habits such as gambling which fuels their greed, they are susceptible to commit fraud and likely to be used to do so. Their aspirations and goals often leave indelible clues. Hence Confucius stresses the importance of contentment and simple living.

Matching their proposals and actions with their objectives validates their intent and timing of the proposals and actions verifies their justification. Unjustifiable moves, poorly timed should cause the inquisitive mind to suspect selfish motives. Putting it differently, how would what they do or propose to do address the problem at hand and who would tend to benefit and who would lose?

To answer this question, one would have to delve further to identify the players in the equation connected with the person in question. Who would benefit or lose from the person's proposals and actions? Who would have influence and control over the person in question? Who is this person dependent on and who does he report to? Ex Goldman Sachs banker was made to repay $175000 (of his $1.5m bonus in 2007) and fined $650,000 for misleading investors. Is this breach of trust driven by his personal greed or is he under direction from his bosses or his employers (the bank in this instance) to perpetrate this fraud getting kickbacks in return by way of hefty bonuses? Motives also commonly disguised as reasons are most commonly blamed on company policy or directives to avoid detection.

"The moment there is suspicion about a person's motives, everything he does becomes tainted." Mahatma Gandhi

The discussion continues…