Monday, April 28, 2008

Two Reasons and the whole story

“A man always has two reasons for doing anything - - the good reason and the real reason.”J. P. Morgan (1837-1913)

Most of us have either heard, or even possibly stated ourselves, the admonition “give me a good reason…” Sometimes its about staying out later than a curfew, or spending a year abroad before starting college; or getting someone to make a loan or do a favor; or maybe its about packing up the family and moving across the country, or out of the country, and starting a new way of life.

Generally these kinds of issues, where we want to do something out of the ordinary, prompt us to give a good reason,” a rationale for why we should not be considered out of our minds for contemplating the undertaking we are proposing. However Morgan’s quote, and Morgan was a shrewd banker who likely had heard every “good reason” conceivable in an attempt to secure a loan from his bank, suggests that the “good reason” is a disguise for a “real reason” that might not secure the desired outcome.

So, does that mean that the real reasons doom us to failure or are an indication of such? There is nothing to be found that Morgan held “real reasons” in disdain. However, it does suggest that he might not have made a loan to someone from whom he could never get the “real reason.” There is plenty of evidence that the right “real reason” may have more to do with success than the best “good reason.”

As an example from Morgan’s own life, his father sent him to at least two universities abroad ostensibly to get a better command of the languages ( – Biography: John Pierpont Morgan). Now as a future banker was Morgan in need of foreign language skills? Maybe, but it seems more plausible that the “real reason” for an education abroad was the experience of how other populations think about and use money. Of course this is speculation because it is never stated anywhere but if Morgan’s premise is “a man always has two reasons…” then it follows that he recognized that his father had two reasons as well.

Does the real reason matter; yes. Does it matter the way we think it does; maybe not.

There’s two ways to look at this, from the inside and from the outside. When you are putting together an argument for doing something new or different do you give the “real reason” or do you anticipate the question and craft a “good reason?” Likewise when someone gives you a “good reason,” whether you have asked for one or not, have you wondered if that was the “real reason?”

Don’t forget to leave a comment.


Melissa Donovan said...

This could easily evolve into a deep, philosophical discussion. It seems to subtly raise some ethical questions.

If you donate money at the end of the year to change your tax bracket, you are giving for the "real reason" of lowering your taxes. You might say, however, you donated for the "good reason" of giving to charity.

Here are my thoughts. First of all, you could have found some other tax write-off, like fixing up your house or buying stuff for your business. So in a sense, you chose to donate, and the "good reason" still applies.

Second of all, even though your real motivation may not be so noble, donating is still good.

There is selfish reasoning (taxes) and charitable reasoning (giving). Both are valid.

One solution to the dilemma you present is to simply not give a reason at all. Why are you giving the money to a charity?

Because I want to.

G's Cottage said...

You are absolutely right. And this example of charitable giving and tax write-off could unleash a whole other can of worms. Part of that would be why charities wait until December to turn the screws to get the contributions to balance their budgets. Partly they've been trained that it works and that's when people are feeling charitable. Ah, the ethics of it all.