intent and impact

Intent and impact

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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  1. > 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.

    Exactly! It’s a lot easier to deal with painful words for me as well, when I know that there was no intention to hurt behind them. Or at least to make me suffer.

  2. Yes I agree. The intent is incredibly important if there is to be any chance of repairing things. Even when someone intended to hurt me I would at least want to know the why. Question the intent. Even if there is no repairing possible at least I’d like to understand.

    • Yes the same is true for me. And I honestly think that this can only be done directly with the person. Sometimes others seem to decide what the intent has been and this can just further the misunderstanding. Thank you for commenting ?

  3. I know it’s not fashionable, but I see intent to be the important element. If the other person is insensitive, unaware or just plain tired I have no need to assume it’s a micro, or indeed a macro, aggression. Humanity has not yet adapted to the online world. For 99.99% of the span of homo sapiens we have relied on visual cues to augment our communication.

    Even then it could all go wrong. Remove the visual cues and the misunderstandings multiply many fold. Empathy is a big loser when we can’t see the facial expressions and body language. Deliberate intent to harm is not often the case and a mature approach will get past the bump. Sadly it’s all too often the case that rather than address a miscommunication some will assume intent that was never there.

    As for intent being deliberate, you’re right. There’s not a lot you can do to resolve that.


    • Thank you Melody and you have made an interesting point about visual cues which I am glad you have highlighted. I think that the stat is something like only 7% is verbal so it will make a huge difference when things are just communicated via words. I know at work I will check every email over an over especially when communicating about something where there are high emotions involved. ?

  4. I agree with PS words hurt and people know that. Taking responsibility for the hurt you have caused someone regardless of why you have done it is so damn important in my opinion.

    If someone says… “what you said/did/wrote harmed me”

    and the reply is…. Oh I didn’t mean it. Or… Oh but I didn’t say THAT…. or Sorry, but I didn’t mean to because

    I feel like the person getting that reply is going to say. “Oh OK, sure, but you did really upset me/hurt my feelings/make me feel scared”

    and then they get back again another version of “Oh yes sorry about that but..”

    I think that the person who was upset/hurt can easily feel like that is not really acknowledged because it is constantly being couched in qualifiers.

    Also my understanding of restorative justice, especially in the criminal justice system but also in school etc is not really for perpetrators to get to justify what they have done but for victims to speak about how what has happened to them made them feel. It is meant to get perpetrators to understand that their actions cause harm, and often impacts them beyond the initial crime, making them fearful, experiencing self loathing, sadness etc. So that they can start to see how their actions have a wider impact than just that someone is physical hurt by their punch, or sad that they lost the thing that was stolen etc but that the damage is much more than just superficial. That the persons actions have much deeper consequences.

    “Restorative practice supports people to recognise that all of their activities affect others and that people are responsible for their choices and actions and can be held accountable for them. It enables people to reflect on how they interact with each other and consider how best to prevent harm and conflict.”

    and more… this is about in schools which seems quite relevant if we are not talking about crime

    “Restorative approaches enable those who have been harmed to convey the impact of the harm to those responsible, and for those responsible to acknowledge this impact and take steps to put it right.”

    Restorative justice is not an opportunity for the person who caused harm to try to mitigate or justify what they did. Yes those conversations might be had but not to allow them to lessen or take away the impact on the victim. Literally every page on the restorative Justice website talks about impact.

    I absolutely agree that we should all talk more and try to understand one another. To really LISTEN to one another but particularly to people who have been harmed and try really hard to understand why they may feel the way they do. Empathy is so important but you can’t really empathize if you don’t listen.

    Also that often people who feel harmed don’t necessarily react as their best self in those circumstances. They feel angry, scared, upset, etc. And so may well not come across as polite or understanding. It was a common response to people of colour when they faced discrimination to be told they were too angry, they came across as aggressive etc. There is a long history of people harmed being told their feelings/responses where over the top. Same with women who have spoken out about being sexually assaulted.

    Facing up that you have done something wrong is fucking HARD. I think it is something we all struggle with because no one wants to upset the people around them whether they be friends, partners or people we know in a wider community. Knowing you have done that is a really uncomfortable feeling. In fact it is your indicator that you know that wasn’t your intent. Because if it was your intent you would likely shrug your shoulders and think…I don’t really care, fuck em, I think they are dicks, they deserve it etc. When that is not your reaction then you care about the impact you have had and you hate/dislike what you have done. It is very easy to try to justify your way out of that by focusing on YOUR intent rather than your impact. I also think if you can’t acknowledge or understand the impact you have had on someone then really your intent is fairly irrelevant.

    I think a conversation about intent and really understanding what that might have been can really only happen when a person understand/acknowledges the impact first but as with restorative justice the focus is very much on impact and feelings surrounded what happened, giving ‘victims’ a voice and getting those who have made a mistake to really understand that.

    Thank you for writing this piece though, you have really helped me to cement my thoughts on this subject and do some research on restorative justice so I could understand it better.


    • Thanks for your detailed comment Molly. I was really only trying to explain why intent is important to me in the post but I am glad that it has generated a wider response. I had planned to write a bit more about restorative approaches in a separate post although my practical experience of it is only as a practitioner in school and not in the wider restorative justice system. I agree with a lot of what you say here although in school it is about both parties gaining an understanding. This is because often there has been hurt caused on both sides. As you rightly say, when we are hurt we can behave in a way we would not usually do and so often by the time people are in a place to seek a resolution there have been actions which are regrettable on both sides. As a facilitator of a restorative meeting, my role wouldn’t be to make judgement or see one person as perpetrator and the other as a victim. I realise this may sound strange which is why I was going to explain in more detail in a post. I am also aware that where it is being used as a response to crime, it would have to be different in format as one party has committed an offence against another. Sorry, this has ended up being a very a long reply. ?

  5. “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”. This will stick with me. It is so true – I think people regardless of their walk of life need to read those words and understand them.

    Thaks for writing this post, Missy x

  6. “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.”

    This hit me right between the eyes. I have been taught that you should own the mistakes you have made, understand that your words and actions can hurt someone, that you should apologize for that, and learn from your mistakes. Also that you are allowed to say what your intent was, so the other person knows you have not hurt them on purpose (or have if that is the case). Only then both parties can find closure and really move on.

    Thank you for this post, Missy.

    Rebel xox

    • Thanks Marie. I am glad that you felt it was helpful. I think that if you have truly meant to hurt someone then you wouldn’t care about them or want to fix it. I also think that for most people this is not the case and actually they are happier if they are able to resolve things in some form as it provide closure and allows them to move on. ?

  7. A few in depth comments here Missy – I am just going to give my view on your post rather than look what others have written. Only so much time in my day.
    If I am hurt by someone intent comes into play. Also how much that person knows me is a factor. I am not an expert on restorative practice – I have been in mediation which didn’t work as the other person was not after resolve.
    The main thing for me is if intent is present the impact feels far far worse.
    May xx

    • I would agree with you. I think for these things to work both parties have to be in the right place for it too. Often if the hurt is great that can take time so there is no point trying to force the issue. For me it is how I like to work professionally and privately but then I don’t like to think that I have hurt others and usually want do something to lessen that if I can. ?

  8. I completely agree with you missy intent is important, if I have been hurt but know it wasn’t someone’s intent it would be easier for me to understand my feelings and begin to choose to move on. If I knew it was negative intent I think my resolve would be very difficult. Really interesting read.

  9. I’m not sure I can add anything. Intent is important but the extent of the impact is too. Interesting, thought provoking post with some very thoughtful comments.

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