The Year 7 lesson on moral evil and natural evil asked students the question as to which they considered worst: a good intention with a bad outcome, or a bad intention with a good outcome? There was a general consensus within the class that the former was better; that something done with a good intention was always preferable to a good outcome from a bad intention.
I told the Year 7 class a story I had heard in 1998 when visiting Tanzania.
Part of the first day was spent at a seminar for development officers from the Anglican dioceses of the country. One of them told a story of how solving problems caused problems.
He was a man who spent much of his time in very rural, very remote villages. He would go and live in the community for a week at a time. There was one particularly problematic village he had been visiting for five years. He would sit and talk with them and asked them what it was that they needed. Finally, they agreed, “a school,” they said, “we need a school.”
So he encouraged the villagers to organise themselves. There was a good source of mud for making bricks nearby and a good source for timber. The first classroom was built; it was plain and simple, but it was a classroom.
At this point an American Christian missionary agency came in and asked the people what they wanted. “A school”, they told the American visitors, “we have only one classroom.”
So the agency with the best and most sincere and most generous of intentions built them a very fine school. Five classrooms that were far superior to the mud and timber classroom the people had built.
“Now what will happen?” said the development officer.
“When the classrooms begin to leak, they will say to the Americans, ‘your classrooms are leaking’. When there is a storm and the classrooms fall down, they will say to the Americans, ‘your school has fallen down.’ They have five new classrooms and five years of my work has been undone.”
The worst of results would be achieved with the best of intentions! The community would end up further back than where it had begun, less organised and resourceful than it had been, or it would become a dependant of the missionary agency which would constantly have to come back to try to keep things going.
The Year 7 students looked mystified.