Let’s talk about intention for a moment.
Let’s say Alexander hurts Bartholomew. There are only three possibilities:
1) Alexander intended to hurt Bartholomew,
2) Alexander didn’t care whether or not he hurt Bartholomew, or
3) Alexander did not want to hurt Bartholomew, and it is suffering for both of them.
In the English common law system, Scenario 2 is referred to as negligence, which is a way of saying that you didn’t care when you should have cared.
Scenario 3 is the most interesting, because it explains much of the hurt that occurs in the world. In his infinite wisdom, God allows there to be situations where we hurt each other unintentionally. We are hurt when we realize that we have hurt someone else without meaning to. We feel badly and we suffer, yet our intentions and actions were not culpable. In Scenario 3, there is no sin, and there is no need for guilt.
In Scenario 3, there is, in fact, no personal responsibility.
In our language, and in the modern culture, we have built up a large collection of ways to discuss Scenario 3, but we have also — and here’s the rub — built up a number of ways to discount human behaviour in order to make every situation sound like a Scenario 3.
Do you follow?
We talk about parental failure, as if childhood experiences negate the need to make good choices ever after. We talk about personality disorders, and we talk about insanity. We talk a great deal about not knowing better, and we talk about emotional intelligence. We talk about difficult circumstances, and we talk about peer pressure, and we talk about urges and drives, addiction and overwhelming needs.
Oh, so many lies!
After all, whenever we say that Alexander hurt Bartholomew ‘just because,’ we suggest that God created a world worse than he did. It is true that hurricanes happen, and volcanos erupt, but when it comes to personal interaction, we too often blame chance.
We too often blame chance.
We don’t want to think that Nancy hates Joan, and did it on purpose. We don’t want to admit that the father envies his son. We think it can’t be the case that the bridesmaid despises the bride. We want the happy ending, and we don’t want to dig deeper, but the truth is that so many hurts are there by personal choice.
I say this as a warning. I say this to all of good will, who find that they are hurt, repeatedly, by someone they know, or by someone they love. Yes, the first time was an accident, and you forgave him then. The second time has been explained (also an accident), and you forgave that too. Now you’re on to seventy times seven. Still an accident?
Forgiveness isn’t the issue. You can forgive, but do not say that there is no such thing as personal responsibility, because to say so is to be willfully blind. Understand that although sometimes A hurts B without any intention, there are two other possibilities. A might have wanted to hurt B, or A might not have cared about hurting B. Besides, even when we talk about forgiveness, there’s a world of difference between forgiving someone who didn’t know better (a toddler might not know better) and forgiving someone who is hoping that you suffer because they are envious of you. We might as well describe things properly. What exactly are we forgiving?
When your boss is repeatedly abusive to you, you owe it to truth to consider that it might be deliberate. Why console yourself with, “Oh, he’s just like that,” as if he has very little choice in the matter? You limit your options and your chances of escape.
When the business manager at the local church is incessantly snide with you and everyone else, why dismiss it as “just the way it is,” as if there is no hope for change? You will join all of the other cowards who fail to confront a bully when that is precisely what he needs, for both his good and the good of others.
When your spouse is unfaithful every second year, why console yourself with “his secretary was a flirt,” failing to get to the heart of the matter (he’s a loser)?
I call for a return to personal responsibility. Let’s stop making false excuses for each other and for sub-par behaviour. People are making evil choices, and we enable their evil choices by whitewashing them, by always assuming that there is A Good Explanation, by which we mean, A Good Excuse.
If someone does me wrong on a regular basis, or on a matter of great importance, I will no longer assume that it’s just a misunderstanding, a miscommunication or some type of personality flaw, as I used to habitually do. I will stop and consider the evidence, and I will ask the question, “In his goodness, would God allow this person to hurt me (time and again / on such a key matter), without this person realizing it? Is it possible that this person has made a choice?”
In the midst of a rather unpleasant exchange of emails, someone began one with, “Hell Mena.” Was this just a typo, did she not care, or was it deliberate? In response, I pointed out that reviewing emails prior to sending was a good habit, in order to avoid mistakes such as these. But was it an honest mistake? Guess what I think. There are typos, and then there are ‘typos.’ When confronted, she didn’t apologize or — to her credit — lie about it.
I once observed a woman arrive late to a meeting of her peers. They had been working on a group project for quite a while before she arrived. She walked in and all of her words were right, “Oh, I feel so terrible! I’m so sorry!” She seemed to feel very badly about her delay. However, she was holding a coffee cup from the nearby popular (and busy — as in, wait-in-line-for-a-while) coffee joint. She claimed to be so sorry, but at least part of her lateness was a choice, not an unforseen problem.
My point is that we need to return to consider why things go wrong. They don’t always go wrong ‘just because.’ They don’t always go wrong because people were ‘born like that.’ No. God hasn’t created a world that is filled with as many ‘oopsies’ as you might think.
He has created a world filled with people who have free will. These people often choose wrongly, and then try to hide it with a lie. They want you to believe that it wasn’t their fault and that they’re just so very darn sorry.
Now when things go wrong, I want to know why. I want to know why the graphic designer omitted the names of four key actors (she didn’t scroll down to page 2). Would this have happened to a designer who was trying her best? If yes, then the designer would have suffered along with me. That would be Scenario 3, and it can happen, but does that version mesh with the rest of the facts? No, it does not. So was the designer intentionally messing things up? No, that’s extreme and not consistent with the context. I settle on Scenario 2. I believe that she didn’t care as much as she could have, and the results followed from that. In his goodness, God wouldn’t have allowed a mistake of that magnitude to have happened to someone who was earnestly doing her best on a project so dear to his heart.
God rewards hard work, and he rewards good intentions. He almost invariably prevents damage to worthy projects and undertakings where people are doing their best. Yes, it does sometimes happen that our best efforts do not result in success across the board, and it is typical for people of good will to suffer from the apathy or malevolence of those around them, but entire failure of good undertakings by those who are doing their best is far less frequent than we have come to believe.
Turning to relationships, God preserves relationships where there is a sincere desire, on the part of those involved, to have a strong and loving bond, provided that the context is right. In such situations, problems will be overcome, and misunderstandings can be resolved with some effort. Those who find themselves in failed relationships should not blame fate, destiny, chemistry, biology or God. Choices were made.
Indeed, in every realm, people are quick to place blame on everything that moves. In a bureaucratic setting, blaming becomes so habitual that it is almost tangible. Inaction and failure to produce is blamed on:
(a) other people’s bad behaviour
(b) other people’s inability to cooperate (graciously ‘forgiven’ by the blamer)
(c) intervening holidays or events which reduced the available time to work
(d) inclement weather
(e) personal illness
(f) personal tragedy or difficult situation
Inaction and failure to produce is never blamed on:
(a) personal laziness
(b) personal unwillingness to take chances
(c) personal uncooperativeness and bad attitude
Yet the truth is that you will rarely find full effort in a North American or European bureaucracy. Far too many ‘workers’ are in a state of rest, devoting most of their energy to avoiding work, and scheming to sabotage the efforts of those they consider their enemy. Successes, in this context, are few, and those who are lazy use all of their mental energy and charm in order to claim as much credit as possible for any successes which occur in the organization.
Blessed be the workers who work diligently and earnestly, sharing their talents! Blessed be the managers and supervisors who reward the workers who put in a sincere effort!
What if everyone were paid according to the effort they expended? What if God himself paid the wages, according to effort?
Truly, it is a travesty of justice that so many well-paid workers use all of the talents given to them in order to distort the truth. They distort the reality of who is genuinely working, and they push themselves forward as exemplary workers, when, in truth, they are presenting the work of others as their own.
Worse than this are those who act as mud in the wheels of those who are doing their best. They will betray their organization and everything they purport to serve (even harming their own interests) so long as they can satisfy their spiteful desire to interfere with the success of the one they envy.
For shame! You are the stye in the eye of an organization which should be good!
Blessed be the God above, who sees all, and knows all. He is the one who prevents the envious from being victorious. The enemies of the good will stand by while the good are vindicated, and rewarded for their work.
My point is that the results of human activity are very dependent upon the intentions of the humans involved. God honours human intention, facilitates it, and makes it come to fruition.
God is NOT in the business of thwarting good intentions!!! Hear me, please!
It is evil intention that he thwarts. What is evil in the heart of your neighbour is prevented from affecting your life because God intervenes. Many, if not most, of the evil intentions that others hide in their hearts do not see the light of day because God does not allow their plans to succeed.
God is not perverse, letting good be trampled and evil triumph. If he allows it for a time, he does not allow it to be the final word. It is people who are perverse, wishing harm to the innocent, and hurting those who want nothing but good for them. It is people who celebrate and honour those who do wrong, and who come up with excuses for their own bad conduct and example.
We need to return to an intelligent analysis of why things have gone wrong. We must halt this knee-jerk reaction of finding someone or something to blame. Let’s stop blaming the moon’s gravitational pull. Let’s stop blaming hormones and electromagnetic waves and the fructose in the food. Let’s stop blaming the weather and chance and the curse on the team. It’s ridiculous.
Where things have gone wrong, the problem is generally going to be with the main actors in the situation. There is something that doesn’t add up; there is something about the intentions that you do not know, and that the main actors aren’t telling you. They protest that they care, and that they are entirely innocent, but careful examination will show you that the situation is more complicated than it appears at first. This mother acts as if she’s so sorrowful and so ashamed about her daughter’s wayward behaviour, yet she repeatedly takes centre-stage to tell all the details to anyone who’ll listen. Why? Because she can’t get onto the Dr. Phil show? It doesn’t add up. A loving mother will throw her mantle over the struggles of her daughter, not seek for pity while publicizing the troubles. Indeed, a loving mother will suffer many pains herself before she will expose her own to the disapproval and criticism of others.
Fix the intentions, and the results will follow.
God will honour your good intentions, and he will rearrange the universe to make your good intentions take effect. He is that good. God will support you, because he sees that you love him, and you love your neighbour, and that you want what is good for them.
God has been infinitely patient. People have pretended, generation after generation, that they had nothing to do with all of the evil that just ‘happened’ to materialize. They have blamed each other, the universe or God. They have looked the other way, never accepting responsibility for the evil that they actively intended, and for the evil that they did not care to stop.
Who me? A murderer?
Who me? A thief?
When the story of human activity is finally and fully told, how surprised we will be to see how many ‘regular folks’ have been involved in such heinous deeds.
So many things that ‘just happened,’ will be revealed as having being planned and intended.
And I look forward to the day, like a little girl looks forward to Christmas morning.
There was a time when I thought that it would be a fearsome thing, to have all of your deeds and thoughts and intentions exposed to the gaze of the world. Now I understand better, and I look forward to the day when all will be revealed.
The truth will be shouted from the mountain-tops, and what was said in the darkness will be heard in the light. What was hidden will be revealed.
So delay no longer. Come clean. Go to confession, and in the dark anonymity of the confessional, admit what you have been refusing to admit or even think about. Begin with the big things and then move to all the things that you try to tell yourself ‘don’t count.’
When you return home, go to “Compose” and begin an email. Admit that it was actually you who started that rumour. Admit that you were the one who scratched your neighbour’s car, and offer to pay. Admit that you were the one who wrote the dreadful review about your friend’s new restaurant, and remove it if you can. Admit that you lied.
Don’t sugar-coat the truth, or minimize your responsibility. It’s truth time, not excuse time.
Reward yourself with one perfect cheesie from the bag, and begin your next email or text. By the time you’re done, both your conscience and the bag will be much lighter.
It will be worth it.