Intentions vs. Impact


Motives and ValuesPower and PrivilegeServing and VolunteeringSocial and Political ChangeWork and Vocation



To Hell with Good Intentions


Illich, Ivan

Big Questions

Can selfish motives result in positive action?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?What is power? How does it work?Do acts of service lead to social change?Should we keep a distance from the people we serve?What enables change? What gets in the way?What kind of change am I making? What kind of change does the world need?What do I hope my work accomplishes?

Opening Activity

Think of a time when you did something you thought would be helpful to someone else only to learn that it wasn't. What was the situation? How did you learn that your 'help' was not helpful? What did you take from the experience?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does Illich tell his audience of would-be volunteers that they are hypocrites?
  2. Why does Illich argue against his audience members' "pretentiously imposing" themselves on Mexicans?
  3. Do you think it is possible to intervene in others' lives without imposing pretentiously?
  4. What sort of training do you think could mitigate the problems Illich identifies?
  5. Where should we, in Illich's view, try to help?

Closing Activity

Think of a time when you did something that you know was helpful to someone else. What did you do? How do you know it was helpful? What can you take from this instance to apply to other attempts to help?

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