Intention: The Complicated Beast

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Intention is a multi-layered, complicated beast. We can’t separate intentions from the values behind them, the effort put into them, and the results gained from them.

Best Intentions. It is true that intention backed by positive values needs to be endorsed. We wish to propagate and spread the benevolence and humanity behind an intention. I want to encourage a child’s generous desire to bring me a glass of cold water even if the kitchen is flooded and half of the dishes in the cupboard are broken in the process. But objective can not be solely endorsed because, despite the best of intentions, uneducated intentions sometimes lead to fruitless and controversial results. For example, my principal may think she is being considerate when she gives me all end-of-day duties because she knows that I commute the furthest and believes early morning duties may prove challenging. Yet, despite her intentions of being kind and thoughtful, she has actually complicated the situation: numerous appointments needed for family members occur at the end of the day and can only be gotten to if I leave directly after school is finished. Our personal beliefs and opinions bias our intentions.

The Mind Unleashed

I disagree with Charles F. Glassman’s quote: “When your intentions are pure, so too will be your success.” There are many, many historical examples of when “pure” (arguable, of course) intentions did not lead to success: Best Intentions gone wrong. Canadian residential schools, controversial and complex, leaving a deplorable legacy, are an example of a best intention gone horrifically wrong. The “best” part of intentions may be debatable and yet some people’s intentions were in fact “good” ones based on the idea “that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing society. It was believed that native children could be successful if they assimilated into mainstream Canadian society by adopting Christianity and speaking English or French” (CBC).

I recently read Chris Voss’s book called Never Split the Difference. In it he discusses the hostage situation in Waco, Texas which he believes could have been handled much differently (and much more successfully) than it was. The FBI approached the situation with Best Intentions which included their usual guns-heavy approach to negotiations. Their intentions may have been “pure” and “good” but the impending result of 75 people dead, including children, was not a success.

Understanding the base of your intentions involves education, reflection, and surrounding yourself with right, knowledgeable people. It takes consideration and work. It involves effort.

I know I have many good intentions for my work, but what if I’m wrong?…So if you ever have doubts about the work you are doing and then making sure to have challenging reflections, then you are probably going in the right direction. If you’ve never seriously considered the idea of being wrong (and I mean really thought about it, not just in idle moments), then you probably should be. Drew Serres

Effort. Not only the intention, but the effort behind the intention also needs to be endorsed. The amount of work input needs to be recognized, especially when the effort is substantially increased for some individuals. For example: the amount of effort I need to put into something is unlikely to have been as considerable and as extreme as it is for someone who is not blanketed in white privilege. Even when I look at a simple example from my own situation: just as it takes a toddler’s guardian longer to leave the house so too it takes a caregiver and their charge much greater effort to ready and depart. Do you need to walk your spouse to the washroom to make sure they try, tuck in their clothing, make sure their hands are washed, ensure they’re wearing proper footwear (why not rainboots to church?), physically see that all of their items are on their person (they may say they have their wallet, hat, water bottle, bathing suit, keys, admission ticket but it’s an unamusing lesson learned when you arrive after a two hour drive to discover that what they said proves false) or better yet, on your person (even if they then get angry and temper tantrum-y about how you have stolen their items)?

But effort can not be solely endorsed because, although important, it does not ultimately determine the results. We’ve probably all heard about how it took Thomas Edison almost 1,000 attempts to create the light bulb. Those efforts — those mistakes — may have led him closer and closer to his final invention, but had he stopped after what he felt sufficient effort, there would have been no light bulb. His efforts, no matter how many and how dogged, would have been futile.

Results. Ultimately our intentions are observed through our results. It is easy to state our intentions but not so easy to fulfil them. I can say I want to do a marathon, but it is only through my endless hours of toenail-removing, thigh-chafing training runs and ultimately the medal after crossing the finish line that prove my intentions. We can have great values backing our intentions, and we can focus great effort into an intention, but it is the end result that confirms our success.

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”
― Pablo Picasso

Intention is a multi-layered, complicated beast. Will you embrace the best intentions? Will you put in the educated, reflective, knowledgeable effort? Will you attain the results?

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Jennifer McDougall

Attempting Serious and Satire... Sometimes successful. Editor, Doctor Funny.