Intent doesn’t matter.
Sure in a courtroom or an ethics class or a therapist’s office, intent is relevant. But in human relationships, it serves little purpose.
Why bother to make the distinction? Because too often peoples’ initial reaction when they realize they have hurt someone is to say
“I didn’t mean to…”
“It was an accident…”
“I didn’t do it on purpose…”
Pleading intent misses the point.
It’s about caring. If people think of you as malicious, they aren’t going to let you get close to them in the first place. So when they let you get close and you inadvertently hurt them, minimizing your role suggests you don’t care. Saying “I didn’t mean to…” may make you feel better about it, but it doesn’t acknowledge the other person’s experience…it puts pressure on them to drop the issue. Selfishness quashes caring.
Instead of pleading intent, validate what’s happened. It’s not about blame, it’s about compassion. Own it. Keep it real. You have the power to make it better. Indeed, if everyone does this, the world will be a much better place.
To be clear, I don’t think this applies to people who are threatened by points of view that differ from their own. Keeping it real requires us to engage in rigorous, respectful vetting of one another’s ideas and values. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that having been said, insensitivity does not cancel out sensitivity; it exacerbates it.
“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still…”
-T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday (1930)
Own who you are, but not at the expense of others. Take charge of your actions…in relationships…in work…in life. When your actions do damage, caring makes the difference.