Impact vs. Intent. Its an interesting conversation. Does the intention of an individual really make a difference in how wrong their actions are, when those actions have a negative impact on another person? Does it really matter if they didn’t intend anything negative to result from their words, their deed?
Eh, not really.
I mean, yea, there’s a difference for the person at the intention end of the deal.
A person who accidentally pops a champagne cork into a fellow party go-er’s eye is a significantly less shitty person than if they had done so on purpose.
But does the fact that they “didn’t mean to do it” save the victim’s eye? Nope.
I mean seriously, it doesn’t.
We often feel like it does, though. While I was trying to build up the courage (I’ll get to that in a moment) and discipline to actually sit down and write this, I thought doing a little field research might help. It did! I read this really awesome article by Melanie Tannenbaum for Scientific American and you should totally read it because she says some really great broad-perspective stuff on why and how we consider intent when deciding how bad the impact was.
Since Melanie did such a rad job explaining the whole phenomenon, and you can read all about that in her article (and tons of others) I wanna take this in another direction.
I have to admit that I had some difficulty sitting down to write this. I keep finding myself so busy and scatterbrained with all the goings-on of a new “main job” working in a café, juggling subbing classes and trying to keep my own dance and yoga practice alive and well. So yes, there’s finding time to do it, and there’s the general begrudging procrastination of not staying in constant practice upon the page (er, computer keyboard). But this has been hard for another reason.
I started seeing “Impact > Intent” in response to the recent US Presidential election and saw some statements made that really made a lot of sense.
See, I totally support anyone standing behind a candidate that they feel has the best policies. Even standing behind the candidate they feel has better policies than the others even though all the policies aren’t ideal. Hell, I still think you should stand behind the candidate that has even just slightly less-shitty policies than the other shitty candidate policies if that’s your view on what you think should be going on in whatever you’re voting on.
And I totally respect your right to do so. I may not like it – but I can respect it.
Here’s the real problem that I (and many others) have with the President Elect…
Regardless of anything that he is doing or intends in his speeches, rallies, twittering escapades, “locker room talk,” or whatever it may be:
What his is doing is impacting other people.
He’s setting a terrible example for our nation and our children. That example is leading many people to feel like racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and mistreatment of the LBTQ community is on some level acceptable. And all of this is creating feelings of concern, anxiety, and even actualized instances of a loss of safety for minorities, women, LBTQ – in other words, you know, PEOPLE.
Anyways, why has that lead to me having a really hard time sitting to write and share my thoughts on this? Because I know and love a lot of people that voted for Donald Trump.
Like really love these people. They are wonderful human beings. The thought of offending them, saddening them, alienating them, or misrepresenting them with this blog is just gut-wrenching for me.
There’s a part of me that has all of the best intentions of just keeping everything in my world even-keel and serene (in a rather sterile sort of way) by simply remaining silent and avoiding the subject.
But what’s the impact of that?
Nothing happens. Nothing changes. No information gets shared, no communication comes about, no new perspectives are shared. Essentially my cowardice on approaching the subject might as well be my agreement of current circumstances.
Let’s consider this with regards to Satya or “truthfulness.”
It’s hard to balance the necessity of honesty with the desire (and yes also a very worthy goal) to be kind and happy with everyone. Sometimes it’s a delicate thing to have to tell someone that sweater really does look awful, or that they have lipstick on their teeth. But if we do it compassionately, we can step out of our uncomfortable cowardly shield of “I’m just trying to be nice!” and let the truth set us all free.
I once walked by all 45 members of my college’s dance company from the dressing room to the wings of the stage (smiling and talking to almost everyone) before one dancer finally said “Girl I know you’re not about to walk out on stage with that lipstick all about your teeth!” It would have been nice if he had said it with some kindness rather than sneer at me, but I’m still pretty grateful he had saved me further embarrassment.
No one wants to walk on stage with lipstick on their teeth. No one wants to be called a racist, a misogynist, a person who promotes hate (OK some people might but we’re just going to go with the assumption that most people would like to see those things eradicated from our culture – especially people we know and respect). Therefore it is our duty to find a balance of both Ahimsa (non-harm, compassion) and Satya (the truth) and find the courage to engage with each other about these issues.
If my intention is to maintain balance in my relationships, but the impact is that I’m not standing up for what I believe in, not helping to make any changes or share what might eventually be valuable insight… my good intentions mean squat.
We should always try to have the best intentions. Carefully aim every arrow before we pull back and fire. But we need to keep an eye on whether we’re actually hitting our mark. If our arrows are missing the target – perhaps hitting our fellow archers instead – then we need to grab the first aid kit, apologize, and adjust our aim.
I didn’t say it’s easy to have these conversations. It’s not easy on either end (when was the last time you graciously accepted that you had unintentionally done harm? It’s hard, isn’t it?). I suggest taking the time to prepare yourself for these conversations with some meditation. Do something to clear your head.
If you’re into movement to clear the head, maybe check out the video below.