Good Intentions Are Not Enough
Built into the word intentions is a gap. Intentions identify the inner motivations, the will, the desire that motivates an action. The gap appears between the intention, the action, and the result of the action.
The kitchen is at the crossroads of our small home. And in the middle of the kitchen is the refrigerator. Desire moves me toward it, often between meals. My intention is to choose a healthy, low-calorie item, maybe some chilled tea or some yogurt and fruit. And something else catches my eye, a slice of cheese or bread. The result of my trip to the refrigerator is often quite different from my intentions. And my best intention would be not to open the refrigerator door at all … and walk on by.
Every morning I’m reluctant to get in the shower as I notice what time it is and think, “Look at the time! I need to get going. I need to take a quick shower and while I’m in there, not use much hot water.” That intention has run into some problems. Philomena gave me for Christmas a fancy new dual head shower system with a detachable spray with six settings. Once I’m in the shower now, I’m trying out and playing with all the settings and having a grand time. Thankfully, it does have a water saving mode but I find it hard to get out of the shower while I’m enjoying it. This isn’t a new problem, as I greatly enjoy the feeling of warm water on my skin. It has just gotten worse. The result, longer showers, though I anticipate the novelty will wear off soon.
These simple examples point at the frequent deviations many of us experience between our intentions and the results of our actions. There is a temptation to blame a lack of will to follow through, and that is a significant factor in my two examples. But circumstances change and random factors can interfere with our intentions. Many people didn’t get to their intended destinations flying over the holidays because of the many baggage handlers and flight crews who came down with COVID infections and couldn’t come to work. Bad weather can disrupt our best laid plans. Losing a job or experiencing a financial setback can prevent people from making the loan or mortgage payment they had every intention of making. And a health crisis or family emergency, sooner or later, will disrupt our intentions for how we’d like to live our lives.
Intentions are also very important in the realm of microaggressions. The use of the term “articulate” is a good educational example. A Black person makes an intelligent, well-crafted statement in conversation then hear the response, “My, you are so articulate.” Rather than hearing that as a complement, the Black person may feel offended. They might hear in the response surprise that a Black person could say something that intelligent. They might have heard those exact same words in the past from white folks who were condescending in the way they meant it. Yet the responder may have genuinely been impressed by the Black person’s words and ideas and meant it purely as a complement. And still, their impression might have come from a subconscious racist expectation that Black people aren’t very smart. The problem is the Black person doesn’t know the truth because they can’t look inside that person’s head and assess their intention without knowing that person very well. This can be quite emotionally disturbing, not knowing how to receive another person’s words when racism often operates below white people’s awareness through deep conditioning of a white supremacist social system in which we live.
The intentions of institutions can be even harder to assess than the intentions of individuals. Their actions point to intentions but represent a collective will of those empowered to act for the institution.
To make those intentions clear, institutions use public statements of their purpose, their mission, their vision and their goals set out in their strategic plans. When these are clearly stated and consistently connect directly to the organization’s actions, the intentions of an institution become visible and inform those both inside and outside the institutions about its identity, values and intentions. Instead of lurking unseen in the head of the institution’s CEO, or President, or Minister in our case, it is the verifiable source for action.
This is why the consistency between our purpose, mission and vision and my actions as your Minister, our President’s actions and our Board’s actions are so important. All of Albany UU leaders need to check what we say and do to be in alignment with those public commitments of our institutional identity. This is the foundation for building trust in our leadership and commitment to our institutional efforts.
This is one powerful way we can close the gap between our collective intentions, actions and results. It is also a way for us to grow and develop by making our own personal intentions public as commitments to which others may hold us accountable for our actions and the results of those actions.