Editor's Note: This column first ran on Nov. 22, 2019.
For the past few weeks, I have been the recipient of repeated hurtful actions and when I communicated my feelings with each perpetrator, the same response was offered, “It wasn’t my intention.” The frequency and flippancy of this explanation has gotten me to thinking about accountability, and whether intentions or actions should be the guide by which we measure relationships and outcomes.
This is a difficult concept to analyze because on one hand, most people come from a place of good intentions and do not set out to maliciously hurt others. But, on the other hand, there has to be an assessment of outcomes and accountability for an action. It isn’t enough to repeatedly say, “It wasn’t my intention,” and expect another person to understand.
One of the first lessons I taught my children was that there are consequences for any action and that it is important to put yourself in the shoes of another and to weigh all sides before acting. In this fast paced, do it today world, I believe that part of the equation is missing. People are in such go, go, go mode that they no longer stop and think about how what they do will impact another. They are so robotic that the thought process gets stunted. Action is taken with little to no regard to consequence.
There also seems to be a diminished capacity for empathy and compassion. People see life only from their frame of reference, what they want, and not from the lens of another. There is an inability or desire to look from another person’s perspective.
Ego also comes into play. Some are so caught up in the story that they are a good person, that they no longer pay attention to what they are actually doing. That person believes that being a “good person” provides a moral high ground and, therefore, hides behind their story seeing only what he/she was trying to do, and not what was actually done.
The fact of the matter is we judge ourselves by our intentions, but other people judge us by our actions.
There is a big difference between intentions and behavior. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!” Many think that if intentions are good, that should be worth something. But the problem is, no one can see intentions. The only thing that can actually be seen is behavior. People cannot read minds. A person can have the purest motives in the world, but if those motives are not communicated clearly or if action does not reflect those motives, things will be misunderstood and will go awry very quickly.
This is a lost lesson that needs to be relearned. Everything we do impacts another, and we have a responsibility to others to align intentions with actions and stop using it as an excuse. Perhaps once we accept responsibility for our actions, we will once again be accountable for our lives and not expect to be excused based solely on intention.
Naturally, to have healthy relationships, intentions should be weighed in any given situation, but when intentions continually do not align with actions, then it’s a pattern of behavior, a choice, which needs self evaluation.
Ask yourself if your behavior demonstrates your intentions. Do they align? Remember, no one can read your mind or knows what motivates you. Even if they are noble, intentions must be backed up by matching behavior. When they do align, others will know your motivation and you will not have to tell them. Remember the sage advice of Napoleon Hill: “Good intentions are useless until they are expressed in appropriate actions!” How are yours expressed?