Monday, November 11, 2013

Intention.


One of the most frustrating and counter-productive things we do in our relationships is fail to consider other people's intentions. We reflexively react to the actions and words of the people in our lives, and we get our feelings hurt or we get angry, or we just decide that what someone did or said equates to what sort of person they are...without investigating whether it actually meant anything at all.

In order to maintain high-quality relationships, we have to do some of the emotional heavy-lifting even when it doesn't seem fair. Even when we are hurt or upset or angry or uncomfortable. The questions we consistently have to ask ourselves, if we want to honor the people in our lives and trust that in general, they do not mean us harm, are these:

  • "What did this person mean by this (x word/action)? did they mean anything at all or did it just hurt my feelings because i'm sensitive to whatever the thing is that it's about?"
  • "Did s/he intend to hurt me with this word or action?"
  • "Does this person have a history of being careless with my feelings or can i reasonably assume if s/he knew i was hurt, efforts would be made to apologize or otherwise heal the situation?"
  • "Is this relationship more important to me?" (*if no, then i guess you can go ahead and do whatever you were going to do anyway.)
If the relationship is important to you, however, keep in mind that making assumptions about the intentions of others is never a very solid idea. You will oftentimes be wrong, and not even know it. And over time, you may begin to treat the person differently, and drift apart or have some big rift...but all that happens erroneously. If you do not investigate their intent, it doesn't give the other person the opportunity to clarify and, in most cases, help you to see where the miscommunication was.

(However, if you insist on continuing to make assumptions, whether because you're emotionally/interpersonally lazy or because you lack assertiveness and don't want to go around asking people probing questions all the time, at least do yourself a favor and assume positive or neutral intent. Anytime someone pings your feelings and makes you feel bad, assume that wasn't their intention, and let it go).

In that case, you might not ever resolve anything, but at least you won't be going around deciding things about people you care about that aren't necessarily true, and consequently damaging your relationships on the basis of false or fractured information. consistently jumping to negative conclusions about people quickly erodes the quality of whatever relationship that is. especially when we don't *actually* know what happened. If you don't ask "what did you mean by that?" you're shutting yourself off to what often amounts to a pretty quick and painless resolution, i.e., a simple explanation that lacks negative intention. 

And you can be all, "Oh, good. I feel better now."

October 2013