We Aren’t Our Intentions

Intentions are a big deal right now. Everyone wants to pin down your intention. We affirm our intentions. We call on the universe to seal our intentions. May I raise a hand and suggest another perspective?

How exactly are you behaving? What are your actions saying about you? If your actions aren’t matching your intentions, there is work to be done.

judgeothersSaying that we don’t judge, that we love people for their inner beauty does not match up to the action of making fun of someone who is overweight, or dressed unfashionably, or with an unfortunate haircut.

Celebrating a season of peace and kindness does not match up with snapping, “It’s perfectly all right to say Merry Christmas and God Bless America!” in a belligerent way, daring someone to disagree with either half of that mismatched sentence.

Sadly, we are judged by our looks, our weight, how cool we are (or are not). That’s the first impression. Hard to overcome. But the lasting impression, what builds our reputation and speaks far more than our intentions are our actions. When we are mean, small, cruel, it’s hard to say, “But I intended to be kind, generous and understanding.” That which we do to others we do to ourselves. In diminishing another person, we diminish our own potential. The road to perdition is paved with good intentions. But the road is traveled by actions.

The great Jewish sage, Hillel, was once goaded by a detractor to describe the entire Torah (Sciptures) while standing on one leg. Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — go study it.”

—Quinn McDonald prays for violence and anger to stop. Next February she will teach a workshop in Las Cruces New Mexico to do just that.


18 thoughts on “We Aren’t Our Intentions

  1. I so much enjoyed this blog post. The first thing I did was look inside myself as an outsider might…is that really possible? There is always the desire to be more than we are, better than we are.
    There have been instances when I have begun a conversation with “don’t take this the wrong way” and wondered if I was trying to betray my intentions. If my intent in saying that was to distract from my intended message I think it didn’t work. I just warned my listener that I was going to say what I really meant and wanted them to hear without any prettiness. I was making myself feel better while saying what I really intended which might have been hurtful to the listener. I was allowing myself, fooling myself, into believing I wasn’t really as mean as that!
    Well, sometimes I am. And as long as I know that, I can change. And it’s never too late. I don’t allow myself to say “don’t take this the wrong way” any more. I don’t want to fool myself or anybody else about who I am (most of the time). lol If I slip now and then, I stop and ask myself “what is it I am really doing?”. Then I can proceed with honesty in my words.
    My version of the “intention” police.

    • This is just such a heartfelt reply. So wise about yourself and others. And, I’d guess, most of us say some version of “Don’t take this the wrong way.” (I won’t any more). Once we look at the imbalance, and lot of information about us jumps out, doesn’t it?

  2. Actions speak louder than words. Very old adage. Psychology Today magazine once explained that studies show that people were asked their standard of conduct, then encouraged to act against it. Those that acted against it changed their minds about the standard and justified their actions.

  3. Love your reference to the torah here. I’m a firm believer that actions speak loudest. Intentions are great..but follow-up is necessary to be truly who we are.

  4. Jesus said pretty much the same thing as Hillel when he encapsulated the scriptures into two commandments: to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But a friend of my family, interim pastor at a church we attended, took it further. He said that the trouble with that commandment was that most of us just don’t love ourselves enough. I know it took me until I was in my 60s to learn to love myself just as I am. Lord, was that hard! But I’m a lot happier and more decent person since learning it.

    • Almost all ancient religions (religions that started a long time ago) have a version of that thought–Buddhims, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism have the same thought. When I did the research, I also found a reference to the “Golden Rule” in both positive and negative ways in Zoroastrianism. But loving yourself the way you are? Sooooo hard. Congratulations on the good work.

  5. Thanks for the reminder, I should apply this in a couple places. We have no control over how we are judged, only how we respond, and we define ourselves through our actions. If we behave in a way that is damaging to others, we damage ourselves in the process. Intention is nice, but carries little weight unless reinforced by actions.

  6. I use my intentions as a compass to align my behaviour. That being said, I don´t usually set vague/too wide intentions as the “be good” category. Mine are on the practical side and even when my actions are matching my intentions, there is work to be done. 🙂

  7. Intentions, I think, are a bit of fiction we tell ourselves, and relatively unrelated to behavior. Intentions — or the idea that they exist — is IMHO an artifact of the binary thinking from your post yesterday. There’s “the intention” and then there’s “the behavior”: two separate things with a specific relationship that we want to be causal, and are distressed when it is not as causal as we desire.

    But…in the same manner that you don’t observe, then form an opinion (it appears to work in precisely the opposite direction), you don’t intend, then behave. There is only behavior, and mental states (which may perhaps be somewhat illusory too) are just an aspect of behavior. So is speech, whether it corresponds or diverges from other aspects of behavior.

    As a thought experiment, try thinking of the speech-behavior and action-behavior relationship (or even the thought-behavior and action-behavior relationship) in terms of left-hand and right-hand behavior. If you try to pick up a pencil with your right hand and simultaneously you’re trying with your left hand to prevent that, it would be perfectly obvious you either have a medical problem or, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re some kind of buffoon. Say one thing and do the opposite? Same deal.

    • OK, so here is my experiment: Try to understand Pete’s worldview, while figuring out the steps you are describing and keeping my head from expl. . .BANG! Nope, can’t master that yet.

  8. Agreed. “The road is paved with good intentions”…which means it doesn’t happen. People “try.” However, “intent” is a core element that just “is” and flows. Either way, there’s alignment to limitation or flow. It has to do with internal beliefs from which cascade thoughts and behaviors. Too many stated “intentions” that don’t match the behavior…and a limiting belief becomes evident (which can be turned around, btw.)

  9. Yes, very interesting. I’ve noticed that I’m quite poor at reading people’s behaviour, and tend to believe what they tell me of their intentions rather than read their intentions through their behaviour. I’m learning, slowly, to trust the behaviour, not the stated intention. Hillel was, I think, an extremely wise man.

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