T.H.A.T.R: “Intent”

Posted: November 13, 2009 in The Hardline According to Ren

Now, believe me or not, but I am a person who puts a whole lot of stock into intent.  “Intent” is a tenant of my life.  I may to a whole lot of folk come across as half-cocked and ready to go nuclear at the drop of a hat…but anyone who actually knows me can tell you that while I do occasionally wander around half-cocked and ready to go nuclear at the drop of a hat…well, that was all part of my plan.

I rarely, and I mean rarely, do anything without intent.  I am not by nature a whimsical or go with the flow kind of person at all.  With the exception of perhaps fiction writing-where things tend to go as they will- almost everything with me-  ah yes, there is intent.

And my intentions are not always good or benevolent, but they are absolutely thought out and purposeful.  It saves a lot of time, that intent thing…cuts down on cheap or silly regrets and having to repeat oneself and all kinds of things.  It decreases the level of bullshit measurably.  Accidents happen in life, especially where other people are concerned.  I don’t like accidents, hence my love of intent.

And personally, I do not put a lot of stock in folk who say “I did not intend to..”.  I didn’t mean to hurt them, I didn’t mean to upset them.  I didn’t mean to (blah blah blah).  I didn’t mean to is a crappy excuse, because I do think for the most part, in almost all situations, people do things with intent.  Have I, intentionally and with critical and serious forethought, said things that I knew were hurtful or upsetting to others?  Yes.  I have.  I don’t lie about it though.  Once again I am pretty upfront about that sort of thing.  Have I with intent done things which I knew would benefit me in some way- long or short term-sure.  So has everyone else on the face of the earth.  Have I, with intent, done nice things for people just because?  Sure.  And none of those things were accidents.  None of them were “something just made me do…”

Maybe it is because I so firmly believe in it myself I have a real, real hard time thinking other humans do not do all kinds of shit, good and bad, without serious intent.  People will try to shift blame- the movies, music, books, society, weather, twinkies, whatever- but very rarely do things happen without actual intent.

So sayeth me anyway.

  1. Dead_Vladimir says:

    well you know what they say ..”the road to sodomy is paved with good intentions”

  2. Dead_Vladimir says:

    frankly I think intentions matter little, it is the end result. Good intentions do not excuse harmful results. Also A lot of good intentios are just a cover and a sham for selfishness.

    • Ren says:

      i agree that good intentions are not an excuse nor are bad ones or countless other things…

      but I do think “intent” itself is something humans employ often.

      • Dead_Vladimir says:

        oh I will concede that everyone does everything for a reason, even if they don’t admit it
        and yes I agree that in the end everyone is responsible for their actions, but so what?
        people of weak character will always find excuses or hide behind “but but my intentions were good” when they stick it to someone else. it is the way of the world. People suck.

  3. rootietoot says:

    I have rarely hurt someone without intending to, nor have I helped someone without intending to. Like you’ve said, it’s admitting that you intended to that people have trouble with…to be honest tho, I think they just say that, “I didn’t mean to…” when they actually did but don’t want to look like they did. Or something. that’s essentially what you said, right? “Oh, I accidentally baked you a casserole when you were sick!”

    People will always pretty much suck, but I think if you look hard enough you can find something redeeming in most folks, if you’re of a mind to. Once in a while you’ll even come across someone who’ll say “I can’t believe I said that I’m so sorry!” and not throw out a ton of excuses. Me, I like excuses and keep a ready arsenal.

  4. Erik says:

    Thank you, rootietoot, for sticking up for excuses! They so often get a bad name, perhaps because politicians are their most frequent practitioners, but excuses are really a short form of creative performance. I would like to hear some of rootietoot’s favorites, and I shall lead with one of mine. As a toddler, my grandfather was busted with poop in his pants but immediately shot back “Torvald (his younger brother) did it!”

    As for intentions, I am delighted to say that I rather disagree everyone. Perhaps I am being intentionally disagreeable. Anyway, I think we often act in ways that have unintended consequences. Sometimes this is because we act from ego, focused on getting what we want and oblivious to the collateral damage we cause. Sometimes, though, it is simply beyond us to foresee all the results of our actions.

    Here is a social rather than personal example: the “Freakonomics” authors have gotten press recently for positing that the downward trend in crime rates is a consequence of the legalization of abortion. I cite this not to stir a debate about either Freakonomics or abortion but to point out that actions may have far-reaching and unintended consequences. History is a catalogue of them.

    • Ren says:

      Erik; Actions may have consequences beyond the expected, but those actions are generally undertaken with the INTENT to do something.

      • Erik says:

        Sure, many – perhaps most – actions are undertaken with intent to do something. The point I stress is that the unintended results may be more significant than the intended ones. Christopher Columbus intended to find a trading route to India, but instead he helped bring into being the European colonization of the New World, the Afro-Atlantic Diaspora and the extirpation of the Native Americans of the Caribbean. He might have needed one of rootietoot’s excuses, or perhaps a simple “oops” would suffice.

    • Dead_Vladimir says:

      a lot of unintended consequences are quite actually obvious from the outset if people actually cared to think it out. Problem is most people are too self absorbed to think things through, and then they hide behind unforseeable or unintended

      • Erik says:

        “If people actually cared to think it out”…there’s the rub. I would like to think out a cogent reply, but I am tired and want to go home, lie on the couch and watch a Tivo’d episode of “Glee.” Hope I do not run over any endangered species, act as a pandemic vector or tip the planet into a CO2 death spiral on the way.

    • rootietoot says:

      let’s see…”I got busy (doing something redeeming) and forgot!” and…um…the classic “but I didn’t do that, must have been someone else!” I also have employed “oh, I didn’t think God wanted me to do that (for a nebulous reason).” I mean, who’s going to argue with God? Nowadays it’s easier to admit I screwed up and apologize.

      “Sometimes, though, it is simply beyond us to foresee all the results of our actions.” While this is true to some extent, many people choose not to foresee at all, with disastrous results. I maintain that if people considered the potential results of their actions, alot less harm would be done.

      • rootietoot says:

        make that “alot less unintentional harm would be done”

      • Erik says:

        I really like Excuse #1: “I got busy doing something redeeming and forgot!” Can think of many potential variations. “So many hospice patients needed my chaplaincy that I forgot all about our date for the dinner theater.” Or “We went overtime on the Habitat for Humanity house build, but I just hated to miss your political fundraiser.” The only thing that trumps Excuse #1 is an anniversary: there is absolutely nothing that can exempt you from remembering an anniversary except sudden and premature death. Your own, that is.

    • hexyhex says:

      As a toddler, my grandfather was busted with poop in his pants but immediately shot back “Torvald (his younger brother) did it!”

      Not QUITE as ridiculous as it sounds. I’m still traumatised from the time my elder sister (a sadist the likes of which I can only ever aspire to be) carved MY NAME into the kitchen table when we were kids.

  5. As other commenters have already mentioned, there’s two meanings to “intent”. Most actions are taken with intent (some aren’t, like sneezing, the literal version of the knee-jerk reaction, withdrawing a hand from something suddenly painful etc). But the intended consequences of the action is a different meaning of intent.

    Sometimes the consequences are avoidable if sufficient forethought is put into it; sometimes there aren’t really the clues to warn us in advance. As “allyship-101” posts all around the blogoverse attest, when negative and unintended consequences occur the ethical thing to do is admit one’s mistake: “I goofed, I’m sorry, please don’t hate me, I shall do better.” And, if necessary, see what you can do to fix the problem.

    But the tendency is to find excuses, because people feel like their worth as human beings is called into question when the negative consequences of their actions are revealed to them. Thus, they deny intention because they feel obviously if their intent was good then they can’t be bad people. This is the same as the “what you are” versus “what you did/said” conversation. That is, when people are called out for [blank]ist comments/behaviour, they tend to say “but I’m not a [blank]ist”, when the issue is that what they did or said had the effect of being [blank]ist. Where [blank] is any means of marginalising a group (so, [sex]ist, [race]ist, [whore]ist etc).

    There is the politician term of “mis-spoke”, meaning words chosen poorly giving the wrong connotations to an intended comment. With speech-writing that’s less excusable but if it’s in unscripted comments (or just an ordinary person speaking) then it’s understandable to some extent. Where it clearly reveals underlying opinions then obviously their opinions are laid bare and no amount of “I didn’t mean to…” will count, because what they didn’t mean to do is simply reveal to everyone else what sort of person they really are! But where it’s just poorly-expressed then I think most people can be given a pass (as long as they apologise and express themselves more clearly and precisely).

    So, ultimately, I too have very little patience for “I didn’t mean to”. But equally, expecting “my intentions were good” to mean anything doesn’t work with me. Ultimately, what matters is what we do about what actually did happen, not what we meant to happen. Making excuses or denying responsibility is not an ethical response!

    • I don’t really like judging a situation based on whether or not someone could have foreseen the results. There’s just too much difference in which people are good at predicting what sort of situations.

      I’m a lot happier when people just skip the apologies and do something about the problem. If it’s something like mis-speaking, just get on with it and find a better way of saying what you wanted to say. If it’s something else… well, that varies. But I’m far more likely to trust someone who says “Damn, that didn’t go how I planned it,” than a person who apologizes too elaborately.

      “Where it clearly reveals underlying opinions then obviously their opinions are laid bare and no amount of “I didn’t mean to…” will count, because what they didn’t mean to do is simply reveal to everyone else what sort of person they really are!”

      I’ve come to the conclusion that anything people say “reveals underlying opinions” is in fact not revealing any underlying opinions unless they keep doing it again and again. Given enough time people who are trying to hide something like that always seem to fail, but I’ve seen too many cases where those judgments are made less based on what someone actually said than on memories of someone else who had a few halfway-similar words.

      • Roy Kay says:

        I like this. I deeply distrust giving or taking apologies. Often that just becomes an endless cycle of coup counting: “But I apologized!” thus diminishing the person apologized to; or “That’s not a sincere enough apology.” Argh! Just fix the problem and quit tormenting each other already.

      • But I’m far more likely to trust someone who says “Damn, that didn’t go how I planned it,” than a person who apologizes too elaborately.

        Well, yeah, but an elaborate apology is generally not a sincere apology, and therefore isn’t really an apology at all. In general, I think apologies are important because they at least acknowledge that someone got hurt along the way, and I don’t really think “shit, let’s fix this” always does that – I think it can end up feeling very impersonal.

        As for “reveal underlying opinions” – my policy is to assume people meant things in the least offensive way possible because (as you say) if they did mean them offensively, they’ll reveal themselves soon enough. But there are some things which simply cannot be taken as anything other than statements of deeply-held beliefs, but that people still try to excuse with “I didn’t mean to…” For example, things like comments made not realising the microphone was on.

  6. Ernest Greene says:

    I like to go by Oscar Wilde’s maxim that a gentleman is never unintentionally rude. I like to think of myself as a gentleman, so when I’m rude, it’s never uninentional.

  7. Ernest Greene says:

    Make that “unintentional.” I unintentionally left out a letter.

  8. rootietoot says:

    for all my litany of excuses, and I have them because they are a fallback to when I was 5, and honestly thought my parents would believe them, it is indeed much easier now (that I’m 44) to simply admit I screwed up, apologize, and try to make amends. At this point, most offense I cause is quite intentional. The excuses still go through my head, but I’d like to think that a big part of being grown up is owning my errors, even the unintentional ones.

  9. FW says:

    This is a huge peeve of mine, in all things

    “I didn’t mean to…….”

    ok, well, Yeah, I get that you did NOT mean to, but: Did you mean NOT to? I mean when you set out on your little adventure, did you think about the things you should take care to NOT do, along with the things you should? I think that call that having ethics.

  10. hexyhex says:

    I find myself constantly having to explain to people that “I didn’t mean/want to hurt you!” and “I actively tried not to hurt you!” are two very, very different statements. Usually “I didn’t mean to hurt you” actually means “I did nothing to prevent you being hurt by my actions, but I don’t want to take responsibility for those actions.”

  11. I think that may be the same group of people who also say horribly hurtful things, thinking you’ll laugh in response but then when you don’t they say, “I was just jokin’! Really!”. Hahaha.

  12. […] T.H.A.T.R: “Intent” « Renegade Evolution […]

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