Perhaps the most common question about human nature is this:
Why do good people do bad things?
It is a relevant question, one that affects the human race, but it has been debated for centuries — arguably even millennia — with no concrete result. The more interesting question, the question that has been absent for far too long and may shed light on the matter, is this:
Why do bad people do good things?
Consider, for a moment, the case of infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy.
Kidnapper. Rapist. Ruthless murderer. The man took pride in his coldblooded behavior and was described as “the very definition of heartless evil” by his own defense attorney.
Now take a moment to look at suicide hotline volunteer, Ted Bundy. Same man, different situation. The man attempted to rescue callers from despair by persuading them that their lives were worthwhile. This Ted did something worthwhile, something that, in itself, was decent and humane.
Why would Ted, a notoriously bad person, do something generally considered to be good?
The answer? Motivation.
Ted’s goal, in each endeavor, was not to personify evil. He wasn’t looking to be a bad person. No, what Ted truly wanted was control. Power. The ability to govern the lives of others. The man’s true end was to manipulate people and bend them to his will.
On the one hand, this meant Ted kidnapped, assaulted, and killed victims to establish his dominance. He committed atrocious acts in order to fulfill his primary motivation. But he wasn’t being evil simply for the sake of being evil.
On the other hand, this meant that Ted forced himself on others by convincing them to abandon their plans of suicide. He directed the primal manipulative force that he possessed towards his service at the hotline and, in doing so, may have saved lives. But he wasn’t being good just for the sake of being good.
In the end, the problem is with the questions that we pose. We shouldn’t be asking why good people do bad things or vice versa. Instead, we should be asking what drives a person’s actions in a particular moment, whether those actions seem good or bad. Only then will we find answers.
Motivation is everything, whether a person be good or bad or somewhere in between, and Ted Bundy is the perfect example of this. So ask yourself — if you aren’t too afraid to do so — what motivates you?