Archive for the 'intention' Category

Damage and intention

July 26, 2014

Maybe it’s a result having gone to law school, but I can easily distinguish the issue of a person’s intent from the issue of the impact of their behavior on others.  In tort law, as I recall it, we talked about the different standards that might be used when deciding whether to hold a person legally responsible — there were standards such as strict liability and negligence, not to mention a standard with regard to when someone intentionally causes damage.  There was also the issue I heard called “weak intentionality,” when we talk about how some consequences, say, of flailing your arm in a crowded subway car, are reasonably foreseeable and we deem them foreseen.

So I get kind of frustrated with people who say, “I could not have caused damage because I harbored no ill-intent.”  I am not talking about whether I can forgive a specific instance, I am talking about trying to improve a chronic pattern of behavior within a relationship so that I do not feel that I am hurting myself by participating in the relationship.

What interests me is my sense that the other person cannot tolerate the idea that their behavior has an impact beyond or different from the one they intend.  That’s what seems to me to be behind what can come across as callousness — the denial allows them to keep their sense of self as never causing damage and hence never having to _______  —  I don’t actually know what it is they don’t want to do, but I sense that they predicate something on their sense of a self who doesn’t cause damage — maybe what they don’t want is having to do something they don’t want to do or that helps the other person but not themselves directly.

I’ve wondered if something like this pattern is going on when a person is confronted by a situation in which they really are helpless to help another.  Then, I am thinking, maybe, to tolerate that pain, they extend the idea of helplessness in that particular context, under an umbrella of “my behavior doesn’t negatively impact others so long as I am well-intentioned,” to many other situations in which they actually could do something more helpful.

But, if you forget to pick up the baby formula on the way home, the baby goes hungry, regardless of whether the intent was good, bad, or indifferent, or medically explicable (in which case you should not have signed up for the task).  That’s my point.

Don’t know, I am not a psychologist, but I do get the sense of trying to teach people the difference between intention and damage.



December 21, 2013

I was writing about confabulation in response to Charles Blow’s column about the Duck Dynasty controversy, and one of my replies came too late to be posted, and I closed my browser tab, so it’s lost and I can’t even post it here.

So I thought I’d write a few words on a related issue.

I do think we often have trouble distinguishing between (1) bad intent, (2) ignorance, and (3) distortions in processing and other aspects of communication.  And I think sometimes the explanation for a situation is not malice or even ignorance but that the person is saying something not to communicate any truth but for some other purpose in the course of trying to engage in social relations.

What I thought I’d mention is that I think that just as school administrators often misunderstand student behavior, liberals often misunderstand why people who disagree with them are saying what they are saying.  I think some of the things people who wind up being politically conservative say, they say not out of malice or even ignorance, but just because it seems like the thing to say to fit the situation in terms of social expectations.  As a friend of mine would say, they are “just talking.”

Now, “just talking” can create all kinds of damage, depending on content, but to get a person to stop doing it, browbeating them with reason or morals is not terribly effective.

I suspect the habit of confabulation arises out of a number of different scenarios, including avoidance of childhood abuse and a discovery it gets positive results of some sort.  I think that to dismantle the habit, whatever is the underlying cause must be addressed.

So when liberals rail at conservatives in a way that assumes bad faith or ignorance or difficulty thinking, sometimes I think they miss the mark.  The person is damaged, limited, and doing the best they can.  But I don’t think we ignore any damage they create, I think we have to show them the impact of their use of this mode of communication while we supply them with alternative and support them in overcoming the underlying causes for engaging in confabulation.

And failing that approach at resolution, we can just not take at face value what they say and avoid situations in which we might need to.

Of course, liberals have their own patterns of thought and talk, arising out of their damage and limitations, and enabling seems to figure prominently among people who end up being politically liberal.  That kind of posture and behavior causes damage in its own way, too.

Unfortunately, the combination of the conservative and liberal profiles seems to be one of those “deadly embraces.”  How we break our civic polity out of this merry-go-round probably involves everyone trying to address their own damage.  Come the millennium.

We may be social animals, spiritual creatures, and instinctive organisms, but we are also damaged goods, most of us, and we don’t tend to function at peak operational performance.


July 1, 2013

Twice today (here and here) I wrote a comment on the NYTimes website that unwittingly echoed what somebody else wrote.  In both cases I hadn’t read their comment when I wrote mine.

This is not the first time I’ve had this happen, and it’s not always an echo of other people’s comments — sometimes it’s other articles and columns in the paper I echo without having read them.

I’m not sure what to do about it.  I think it happens because of how I take in information.  I also sometimes find myself having an emotional reaction before an event actually takes place, so there’s probably also another element, involving my perception and its relationship to linear time.  So I don’t think the issue going to go away, that its occurrence is just an aberration for me.

I will mull this over to figure out whether to change my process for writing comments.


January 14, 2012

I was thinking this morning that sometimes intention is everything and sometimes it doesn’t matter at all.

For example, if I’m bereaved and someone tries to comfort me and they say something I just don’t find helpful, if I perceive a real sincere intention from them to help, and they’re just clueless, I, at least, find myself comforted by that emotion of theirs, even if I recoil from their words.  And so, too, with other forms of help, even advice.

On the other hand, if someone is stepping on my toes, however well intentioned, it still hurts.  Actually, the example I had in mind is draining my energy, because that I find happens often inadvertently, probably due to my own make-up.  I am what some people label very permeable, and I pick up other people’s stuff really easily.  So, for example, after spending time interacting with someone, even someone I don’t really know (like a receptionist in a new doctor’s office), I’ll find myself doing something strangely foreign to me, like how I back up the car in the doctor’s office parking lot — my hands on the wheel feel different, I use an unfamiliar sequence of behaviors to turn and look out the rear window and for how and when I turn the wheel — it is not what I usually do.  I could override it if necessary, but I think the energy drain is not affected by that — I think that just as I’ve picked up some of the person, they’ve picked up some of me.  Which in and of itself I don’t think is a problem, but I think what happens is that if they then interact with people who use other people’s energy, while their own energy may remain safe and intact, mine will be pulled out by this third person, because I’m so porous and I have all kinds of energy that people apparently like.  And I can’t always easily draw in comfortably on my own enough fresh energy myself to replace what is being used, especially if I’m interacting with a lot of people who interact with a lot of people — I sometimes think that’s part of why people like contemplative nuns and hermits live secluded lives.

So, I have to be careful about how to respond to a person, when I should respond to intention and when I need to take account of the behavior regardless of intention.  Since lots of people’s belief systems don’t include ideas like porousness and energy exchanges, it can be tricky to try to arrive at a mutually agreeable way of interacting, since there may not be a way of explicitly communicating  about the issues.   But I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I just don’t care so much about what other people think — I’m not going to stand on ceremony while I get harmed, however inadvertently (and especially if the other person is blaming me for not being able to accommodate them), and if some embarrassment ensues, well, so be it — for me, the alternative may actually be far more deleterious.  But I will also say that my first choice is to try to work things out tactfully and without disturbing anyone, that’s Plan A.  I’m just not always that good at it.