Why the road to hell is paved with good intentions


Kevin Mangelschots


  • Simply having good intentions without carrying them out is meaningless.
  • Good aims can still cause unforeseen, and negative consequences.
  • Those with good purposes can change over time.
  1. Good intentions without action are meaningless

    The quote, “a good intention with a bad approach often gets a negative result” written in white letters on a brown background.

    You can have all the good intentions in the world, but they’re still worthless if you refuse to take action because you’re afraid, lazy, or simply don’t know how to.

    That’s not to say that behaving according to your values is the easy thing to do. On the contrary, it’s much easier to say how others should carry themselves rather than doing so yourself. Yet, you should hold yourself to the same standards as you do others.

  2. Good goals can still lead to unwanted consequences

    Hell is paved with good intentions. Just because you want to do good for the sake of others doesn’t mean that there can’t be unwanted, or negative outcomes either.

    It’s not always what we say that’s most critical, but even more important is how we convey that message. Even when we do everything right, people might still take it the wrong way. Life’s unpredictable. Times change, and people transform. Not to mention that what others do with the information and help they’re given is up to them.

    Still, if you truly want to assist someone, then you should be mindful of how to approach and deliver your message. Humans aren’t exactly sensible. Not at all. We’re irrational, and strongly influenced by our emotions. That’s true for even the most reasonable individuals.

  3. People are inherently lazy

    Woman sleeping on the sofa with her mouth open.

    We’re often more lazy than we like to admit. Perhaps because we like to think of ourselves as being better than we truly are, or because the ego that we’ve formed over the years desperately tries to protect itself from anything that tries to “attack” or dispute our beliefs.

    Perhaps this laziness is a leftover from times long past when food was scarce, and hence, so were energy sources. That means that not using any unnecessary energy can be considered a survival mechanism. And squandering too much time on subjects that don’t matter all that much to our immediate survival isn’t all that beneficial. Especially not if we worry about things we can’t change anyway.

  4. We are imperfect

    A sign reading “nobody is perfect”.

    Nobody is perfect. Hence, just because we start with good ends in mind doesn’t mean that we can keep them, or live up to them.

    Talk is cheap, and the easier part of the two compared to doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. Still, that doesn’t mean that doing what’s challenging, even when the temptation is there to take the easy way out, doesn’t offer any benefits either.

    It’ll teach us to become tougher, how to delay gratification, and how to persevere in the face of hardships. Ultimately, that’s what’s life about, since it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies.

  5. Good purposes can become corrupted

    There’s this popular quote that says, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”, which conveys that sooner or later, everyone will become what they first despised. And there’s certainly some truth in that.

    Events that have been bothering you for too long, even though you detest them, can make you angry, cynical, and even vengeful. All the very things you despise and want to prevent yourself and others from becoming.

    Being constantly surrounded by negativity can become so stressful and exhausting that we become lesser versions, and even a shell of our former selves. That’s why we should make it a point to wind down regularly and make time for enjoyable, tranquil activities. Think of endeavors such as gardening, reading, and exercising.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” mean?

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.
This quote can have several meanings.
It can convey that many wrongdoings are carried out despite starting with respectable purposes. This can be the case because we’re lazy, or get corrupted in the process of doing good. Furthermore, even sound purposes can still lead to unintended, adverse outcomes.

It can also be used to stress the importance that simply having good intentions isn’t good enough in life. It’s useless without behaving by your aims, and you will be punished, or get issues eventually if you do not adhere to those values.

Examples of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” 

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

  • Despite trying to get your overweight friend to lose weight by telling them to exercise and to eat healthier for their benefit, your friend decides to get mad.

    Moreover, they start to develop even worse eating habits as a result of being angered, sad, and feeling misunderstood.

    While your intentions were noble since you wanted them to drop some weight because you love them, and want to see them healthy and doing better in life, the results weren’t as expected since they took your advise the wrong way.

  • Another possible example is giving your cat too much food every time they’re hungry and asking to be fed.

    While taking care of your pet is good and your responsibility as a mature adult, letting them consume too much food isn’t good for their overall health, their joints, their digestive system, and their organs.

    Your cat will be less fit, and die quicker than if it wasn’t overweight.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions origin

Image of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

The citation is thought to originate from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He was a Cistercian abbot who lived from 1090 to 1153.

Nevertheless, the earliest reference to him stating this wording was given almost 500 years later in the form of a written product, which means it’s possible that the expression doesn’t belong to him.

Bottom line

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions since we’re often lazy, get corrupted in the process, or because our actions produce unforeseen detrimental results.

Still, that doesn’t mean that every experience is going to end up in disaster. But it does show that we must be careful and that just having the best aims for those around us isn’t enough most of the time.