The Burden of Intention
I’ve figure something out. At least it rings true for my experiences and observations. Good intention appears to be a comfortable shield for those who use it to hide ignorance and deceit. “Oh, they meant well.” I’ve said it myself when someone’s actions end up backfiring or going sideways. I admit that it’s possible these people may be guilt-free of malice; that somehow they do believe they are doing something nice. But I think there’s some stunted self-awareness going on, too. This is the place where their intention becomes a burden for someone else. The burden is the weight of taking whatever emotional backlash that automatically presents itself (as a natural reaction) and re-fashioning it so that the pain no longer exists.
When I was a few years out of college, I went to a graduation party for a friend who had just finished grad school. When I got there, I noticed the house was packed. (Instant tension for an introvert and in my case, more so because I was the only Black woman there.) Everyone that greeted me also told me there was a guy there I just had to meet. I was still recovering from a break-up and not interested. They were being sweet, right? As I surveyed the crowd, I noticed one and only one Black guy. I thought, “Really? He must be the one they want me to meet!” (Ugh) Since he was downstairs, I went upstairs. A couple of hours later I went to refresh my drink, turned around and dang, bumped right into him. “Hey, you must be Ruth. Everybody’s been telling me we need to meet.” “Yeah, I heard that, too.” I politely left him where he was standing. I know fate was protecting me when I later found myself in his sights again. He asked me out. I declined. Does anyone recognize the phrase, “Hi. I’m Larry. This is my brother Darrell and this is my other brother Darryl?” Well the guy’s name was Darryl and my last two boyfriends had the same name. So I told him I couldn’t go out with him because my family would commit me to an asylum if I came home with another guy named Darrell. LOL
So even though that ended on a funny note. Did my friends just mean well?
I was at a bridal shower for another college friend at a venue where the entertainment was mostly female impersonators (which included bartenders and wait staff). The only men dressed as men were the DJ and the guys working transportation. AND lucky me, there was one and only one Black guy. One of my friends pointed out the “fine guy over by the DJ” and told me to go for it. Ugh. I thought, “Again?” I ignored her several times. So she decided he was so perfect for me that she brought him to me.
So was this a loving gesture from a friend who meant well?
In neither of these situations did I feel cared for. Beyond the embarrassment, I felt the reality of not really being known – of at best, partial invisibility to those who claimed me as a good friend. And the added burden has been that our friendship includes a spiritual empty place where depth of true friendship could have lived. In some ways it is a type of mourning.
And now, all these decades later, I’m back in a mostly domineering culture environment. Guess how I respond when someone wants to “fix me up” with a date? Yup – I just laugh and say no thank you.
So in some ways, when we accept a behavior/action as well meaning and don't provide some correction or accountability (some gentle push back) we allow ignorance to roam free. And if we do that, we must question the impact of and rationale for our own intentions.