We’ve all heard the phrase The highway to hell is paved with good intentions, but let’s not wash it with sorry tears.
From the perspective of #goals, we basically just don’t want to be this girl:
And it doesn’t have to be a text, either. We all know that sense of panic when we meant to do thing A but thing B occurred instead. It’s called “My intentions didn’t add up to my impact,” and it SUCKS.
We’ve all done the thing and wished we hadn’t, and then lamented about our good intentions and how things just didn’t go to plan.
So, wait, what the heck is intent?
In law, intent is actually one of three general classes of mens rea necessary to constitute a conventional, as opposed to strict liability, crime. A more formal legal term often used is “scienter”: which is the intent or knowledge of wrongdoing. It’s why there are criminal charges like “Manslaughter” (accidental) and Homicide. In both cases someone died; in one case, someone was negligent and in the other, the person’s a monster.
So… Intention refers to a determination to act a certain way.
I’m assuming most of us aren’t sociopath/criminal jerks, so I’ll make an ass of us all and move forward with the expectation we’re all setting out each day with good intentions. This makes you not a sociopathic jerk, but it doesn’t excuse you for off-side behaviour dressed as a joke, an accidental knee to the balls, or a careless comment dropped at an inopportune moment.
“BUT I DIDN’T MEAN TO.”
As it just so happens, this is a topic of conversation at my house on a daily basis. My son recently tore the knees out of a new pair of pants when he was “sliding” across the floor like a “cool guy”. Since I don’t have a money tree like his friends’ parents allegedly have, I told my son he had to replace his own pants because his carelessness had resulted in their demise.
Him: But I wasn’t trying to rip them.
Me: I’m not saying you were trying to rip them. But you did rip them, and now they have a hole in them.
Him: THIS IS SO UNFAIR WHY DO YOU HATE ME.
(And that’s essentially how most evenings at my house go.)
Intent is a hot topic right now.
Intent and intentions are a hot topic outside of my household right now, too, as more and more high-profile names are being dragged in the mud rightfully or wrongfully and the go-to, canned response: It was never my intention to make her feel threatened/objectified/my penis in her vagina without her consent.
PRO TIP: IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Intent does not always equal impact. Full stop.
Why do we think our intentions excuse our behaviour? And how can we fix it?
First things first: OWN YOUR ACTIONS.
Whether you meant to hurt someone or not, you did.
Whether you meant to tear the knees out of the brand new pants you BEGGED YOUR MOTHER FOR OR NOT, you did.
Intentional or not, something bad has happened as a result of your action(s).
I know it’s hard. But there is a single word that can help enormously.
I recommend leaving your intentions out of it, too – they’re IRRELEVANT to how this person is feeling. Instead, simply say you’re sorry. Acknowledge the person’s feelings. And understand what you can do to do better next time. Here’s how.
Determine the impact you want to have.
Create an action plan for a positive outcome.
Work backwards. Understand what you want to happen, determine what you need to do to make it come true, and follow through.
If you happen to screw up, apologize. Learn from the mistake. Move on.
But now, it’s story time!
I once dated someone who was a very literal guy. For our first Valentine’s Day, I jokingly told him to forgo the chocolates and get me a gym pass instead, poking fun at my body and claiming a need to lose weight.
He got me a second-hand elliptical machine. Shit you not.
Although it was never, ever, ever his intent to make me feel like I needed to lose weight, this chipped away at my self-esteem and body image – both of which weren’t great – and it was perceived as hurtful. He thought he was giving me what I wanted. It was his intention to make me happy. Unfortunately, his actions lead to hurt.
For someone who doesn’t know him, he sounds like a pretty big ass but, in fact, he was trying his best to meet what he perceived to be my ask. Good intentions. Questionable impact.
I’ve had good intentions with questionable impact. We all have.
So, wait. Do my intentions even matter?
Obviously, you should be well-intentioned (especially as intentions come into play in legal issues!). If you’re not well-intentioned, you pretty much suck.
Just remember intentions don’t excuse poor behaviour or colossal screw-ups, and they won’t heal the hurt you inadvertently caused. Apologize. Learn from the mistake. Move on.
And do better next time.