Monday, April 1, 2019

"I intended to take out the trash" -- why good intentions are not enough

Recent events in my faith community have caused me to reflect on the use of the phrase "good intentions." Here are my reflections:
  1. People only reference their good intentions when things didn't work out. When does anyone ever say "I got what I wanted because of my good intentions"? 
For example: saying "I intended to not be racist (or transphobic, etc)" is the same as saying "I intended to take out the trash." It didn't happen, did it? Guess what: the trash is still there. It still needs to be taken out. Intention alone does not make that happen.
  1. Privileged people talk about their good intentions. When do marginalized people ever say "I had good intentions"?
As Rev. Mykal O’Neal Slack puts it, "I am also disinclined to ponder the goodness of the intentions of the editor or the author. We UUs spend far too much time tripping over ourselves to be nice and make sure white, cis, straight and temporarily able-bodied people feel as good as they can possibly feel."

Some people recommend comparing intention to impact. In my experience, "impact" is a word that can be weaponized against marginalized people. When a privileged person says to a marginalized person "You hurt my feelings, you need to consider the impact of your words," they are defending their privilege. Having been on the receiving end of that, I don't care if the other person believes in my good intentions or not.

Privileged people focus on their intentions because it makes them feel good. Marginalized people are focused on survival. It is our intention to survive. That's not a "good intention" in the same way that intending to take out the trash is a good intention.

Privileged people do feel threatened when someone challenges their privilege. They feel that they cannot survive without privilege. They're wrong. In fact, anyone who is white/cisgender/male is in no danger of losing those privileges. Some privileges can be lost, but not those.

But we've all heard privileged people say "Unless you recognize my good intentions, I will never take out the trash, ever."

 The trash is still there. Good intentions do not get it taken out.
  1. We do not have good intentions. I don't know about you, but I'm lazy and selfish. I don't want to be bothered. I procrastinate. I know I should take out the trash. I see the trash. I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I will not lie.
"Good intentions" are a pernicious form of perfectionism. We do not have to be good. We do have to take out the trash at some point. We would like to survive.