Intent and impact, and the relationship between them, is something I have been thinking about a bit recently. There has also been some discussion in other forums around it and so I want to state my intent in writing this piece really clearly. This is about me and my response. I do not for one moment think that others would all feel the same way, and I will not use examples to illustrate what I am saying as that would alter my intent, shifting it from being an account of how I think and feel, to being a personal comment towards others.
For me, the intent behind an action is key. If someone has said or done something which has hurt me, then their intent behind it matters to me. In fact, it matters a lot. If their intention was to hurt or upset or harm me in some way, then I find it hard to move past that. The emotions that I have in this instance will be very strong. Furthermore, if it has been their intention to make me feel as I do, then they are unlikely to want to sort things out with me. They have done it intentionally to cause me hurt or upset, so for them to seek any sort of reparation will be unlikely. I accept that, but I find it very difficult to know what to do with my feelings.
To try to resolve things is always my first port of call, so if there is not an opportunity to do that, it is hard to know how to channel the feelings in a positive way. Fortunately this does not happen a lot. I am a kind person who is interested in others. I would not go out of my way to injure others and I tend to know some pretty nice people, so usually I don’t find myself on the receiving end of maliciousness, which is nice. In terms of resolving difference, I believe in restorative practice. I believe that repairing the relationship and addressing the harm done is the only real way to move past an issue, and of course, intent is central to being able to do that.
I think that generally, intent is accepted as being important when considering the impact of what has been done. Although restorative justice is being used more and more, especially for younger offenders, our legal system remains mostly punitive. In terms of looking at consequences, intent is key; we usually punish more severely for murder than we do for manslaughter, despite the fact that the consequence for the victim has been the same. People accept that when the intent was not to cause death, there should be a lighter penalty than when it was.
Where for me intent is always something that I want to consider and something I use to manage my feelings, I understand that for some this is not the case. For some people the hurt or the harm caused means that they cannot move past the way that they feel in order to consider whether or not the intent to make them feel that way was there. I imagine that this can be partly the way that you process, but also come down to the depth of the feeling and whether or not those feelings draw on other previous experiences. If this is the case, then there would be no way to repair that harm or hurt in they eyes of the person who has been affected, and so restorative discussion, which I plan to write more about, would not work.
It is also the case that whether or not our intent was to hurt someone, they may be hurt none-the-less. I cannot remember a time when my intention has been to hurt someone, but that does not mean that I am naive enough to think that it could not happen anyway. This is why I believe in repairing things through restorative means, as, when done properly, it allows both parties the opportunity to understand the thoughts and feelings of the other, and of how the incident has affected them. Accountability is important, but I think you can only truly hold yourself accountable and resolve things when you are able to understand and empathise with the way that the other person is thinking and feeling, and this is true for both parties.
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