With intention | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Feb 19, 2017

St. Thomas Aquinas differentiated between a just cause and a rightful intention. Samuel Johnson warned that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. On the other hand, we hear intentionality and good intentions can take us to a better place. Gurus write books and give seminars about guiding your life through intention.

Today’s political and social disagreements have brought on much questioning of the underlying intention behind a statement, a vote or a tweet. We see strong responses to the actions (or lack thereof) of elected bodies across the country, and protests, marches or writing campaigns are becoming the norm.

This is not new in our history, but rising again. I experienced this personally as a member of the Edmonds Diversity Commission when, after our last meeting, citizens were critical of the commission, urging it to be more considered in the words we use and more active in our policy work.

I was both concerned and invigorated by the reproach. The Diversity Commission is somewhat limited by its charter, but we bring our own reasons and intentions for being there and can learn and change, as can each of the members of the community who joined us.

I have always struggled with the concept of intention as a deliberate act. In its worse form, it feels manipulative, like I am driving or being driven to a certain result without consideration of new thoughts. At best, intent can guide one to be kind and thoughtful, and most importantly, considerate of others’ needs and feelings.

Several years ago, I was talking to my dad, and he really pushed me to think about how we behave and treat each other as Americans. Confidence in where we come from and how we got here is one thing, but how we proceed into the future needs just as much attention as the road so far.

He said that only by striving to be worthy of our aspirations and proceeding with the intent to do better for all could America hope to keep up with inevitable change that can swallow our past progress and future opportunity.

We do, of course, question each other’s intentions. When looking at something I think is wrong, I wonder what the angle is, or at least what could possibly make something wrong in my eyes seem right in someone else’s. Quite a bit of value judgment there.

How can we reconcile how difficult it is to see things from another perspective or through a lens of intention so different from our own? I attempt to overcome the emotional confusion with a lesson from my dad: fight the policy, not the person. It is my duty to speak up and show up, but also to not judge the individual.

This week, these words feel less formed, less clear, as I write them. Uncertainty reminds me how little we know and control, but luckily does not slow me down.

Should we consider the intent behind someone’s actions or words? I sure hope so. I have said and done many a dumb thing and likely will do so again (and again) but will attempt to be better. As Augusten Burroughs said, “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”


Comments (2)
Posted by: Nathaniel R Brown | Feb 20, 2017 13:08

A very good article, thanks!  But the "road to hell" quotation is attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, not the ever-quotable Dr. Jonson. The English classical scholar Martin Routh (1755-1854) was wont to say "Always verify your references."  --  That aside, I applaud the work the Diversity Committee is doing!




Posted by: Nathaniel R Brown | Feb 20, 2017 14:19

I should add that I always thought the "verify" quotation was Jowett - a lesson to me!

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