Does Intention Matter?

You know there are memes and quotes and anecdotes that will support whatever “side” you’re on, right? Sort of like you can find research to support both sides of a claim-nothing is very simple when it comes to being a human being. For example:




Life is full of perspective and points of view, and they are all shaped on a number of things. Your background, your experiences, your biases, from who you seek advice, where you get your news, mental health struggles, trauma/abuse and more.

The thing about morals and ethics is that there are certain things we can all agree on, no matter who we are (think: the golden rule), yet it’s really not black and white because of how many different ways we actually see a situation. And whether we like it or not, what we see is somewhat already shaped by our natural bias, by our experiences, by that whole list of things I added above.

Lately, though, what’s been weighing on my mind has been the concept of intention. The purpose behind our actions, or lack thereof. The thing about this issue specifically is that there is no way to really know someone’s true intention. We can guess, right? We all can speculate, we sit and we analyze, we discuss what that person is going through (according to us, of course) and we draw conclusions about what happened.

Wouldn’t it be fair, though, to admit that we can speculate all we want, but we don’t really know?

This year, especially, I have grown and changed a lot as a person. That is to say that I’ve experienced some growing pains. I’ve had to become extremely comfortable with knowing that people dislike me, or are angry with me, or are making judgments about me that I cannot control.

(Ok, so I became a little more comfortable. Not extremely comfortable.)

Most of it I’m proud of, some of it I’m not. You know that expression about how you can only take so much before you blow?

I blew.

I got so tired of hearing the same stuff, seeing the same actions, being somebody’s villain, that a few times (2 come to mind immediately) that I completely lost it. Once was yelling. Yelling like someone who had had.enough. Yelling in a completely angry, irrational way.

Do I wish I could have stayed calm? Of course. But do I regret losing it like that?


Because I know that my intentions were good. I know that I am ALWAYS doing my best with any situation that comes my way, with whatever I have at that point. I know my heart. I know that my intentions are always good.

But then, in the end, do my intentions even matter? Because people decide why I did what I did without asking me. Or even if I get the chance to share my intentions, I’m not believed.

So then, in the end, does it matter if what I do is coming from a place of good intentions?

I just want to say that I think it still does. I think it matters. Even if it’s just for your own heart.

On a simple level:

Someone stands you up for a coffee date.

A) she was in a car accident

B) she just didn’t want to come and didn’t bother to let you know

That’s different, right? When you don’t intend to hurt someone, the hurt they feel usually goes away. We’re always looking for that reason–and, frankly, sometimes in this complicated and messy life, you are not the only person that’s being factored into decision making.

As an educator, we spend a large amount of time trying to figure out what a student’s motivation/intention is for their misbehavior.

A student is acting out in class.

A) the night before, his dad was arrested and taken to prison

B) he is trying to be funny to get attention from his peers

Which one diffuses the situation? It’s almost like we breathe and we say, oh…ok. There’s a reason for this. It’s understandable. That poor baby.

But, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe we should treat A and B equally and not care about the intent. (I will say that as an educator, my initial response will be the same, I don’t want you to worry! But getting to the bottom of the why is so, so important).

It personally helps me-I’m often comforted by the explanation, by knowing that what hurt me was not intentional. For me, it makes a difference.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Do you think intention matters? Does it make a difference? Do you listen to people’s intentions, and seek to find out if you don’t understand? Do you believe them when they tell you? I hate even saying this, but … do you believe in the “benefit of the doubt?”