March 2013: Intentions
We all know where the road leads that’s paved with good intentions. Maybe that’s why, realistically, our intentions are irrelevant most of the time. Somehow many of us have fallen into the trap of justifying our actions with our intentions. However, regardless of what our intentions are or are not, our words and actions can inadvertently hurt others. And whether or not we intended to hurt a fellow human being, if our words or actions caused harm, we need to own up to that and make amends.
How many of us have begun an apology, I never intended to hurt you, but….? By qualifying our apology in that way, we are trying to give ourselves a break/get ourselves ‘off the hook’ somehow. It’s as if our intentions, whatever they may be, hold more value or weight than what we say or do, or what impact our words and actions have on others. In a nutshell, we tend to believe our intentions have more value than whatever hurt feelings someone else may harbour.
Of course, there is always a flip side. We also know many a manipulator who uses our words and actions against us. And we try to defend ourselves with our intentions. How do we handle that situation? How can we own our words and actions without falling prey to being manipulated or taken advantage of?
Again, intentions are irrelevant. When faced with bullying behaviour, we only have control over how we respond—our own counter-behaviour. Often, our own sense of being attacked or put on the defensive is the cue. If we sense our words are being twisted and used against us, there really is no need to engage in a battle of words—or intentions. As difficult as it may seem, there is truth to the statement of choosing our battles. Simply put, we can own our own feelings and respond accordingly—calling someone on their own behaviour and setting a boundary or limit. Books have been written on this subject. Maybe in a future blog post, I will review some of the classic manipulations and appropriate responses.
Another layer to our good intentions running a muck is triggers. What we say and do may trigger another person to have a certain response. That person is fully responsible for their own reaction to that trigger. However, there is a delicate balance of communicating and respecting triggers. If someone tells you a tone of voice is a trigger for them, you can get defensive and pull out your good intentions, or you can honour the courage it took for that person to communicate their trigger and the request for changed behaviour. Which option sounds like a longer-term, healthier solution to interpersonal conflict?
Same goes for the reverse. If we find ourselves triggered by someone’s words or actions, we can use that internal cue to make a request and/or process what the trigger is all about. Of course, there is always the possibility that our request is negated or turned down. It is then up to us to make a counter offer or figure some other way through this interpersonal conflict. That can be tricky.
Our intentions really don’t count for much when it comes to negotiating the turbulent waters of interacting with other human beings. We can set boundaries with good or harmful intentions. We can respond to triggers with good or harmful intentions. We can be railroaded or respected. But do we have a sturdy water-safe vessel, appropriate gear, paddles in good shape, and the skills to navigate the rapids of interpersonal communication?
The starting point is those skills. We can have all the right equipment; but if we don’t know how to use it, we will soon flounder under pressure. One of those skills is having a good sense of self including a good set of boundaries and a good understanding of who we are in relation to others.
Journey mercies to you as you continue to learn about yourself and navigate the rapids of life.