Intent Does Not Equal Impact

How often are things intended one way and taken another? How often do we communicate something and the tone, or one word changes the impact we intended? How often is something said that we may think is nothing and someone is offended or hurt by it? Our intent may be one way, but the impact on individuals may be different.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my husband and 2 step-sons. We were having dinner and I should have realized my husband was bothered by something but I was oblivious. One of my sons made a comment about how he wasn’t really applying himself at school, that everything seemed too easy so he wasn’t really trying very hard. I made a comment, in the form of a joke, about he was like his dad, who did the same thing. My intent (however ill-timed and wrong it may have been) was to lighten the mood and let him see that he was like his dad. My husband blew up at me. To him, I was making fun of him in front of his children and how dare I do that. He was livid. The impact my silly little joke had was immense. Probably a defining moment in the crumbling of a marriage that was never destined to be forever, despite my belief and effort.

That was a very big lesson in intent does not equal impact. I think this sentiment comes up a lot in ideas around racism, sexism and all the other “isms” that are out there. Some people’s intent is never to actually offend someone else but the impact of what is said is different than their joke or their use of a word that to them is innocuous. I remember the first time I heard a friend of mine use the term “Jewed down” to say they negotiated with someone. To them this was just a term that they had learned in their non-Jewish associated life as meaning “I was able to get them to my price.” When I told them how hurtful it is they stopped, at least in front of me. They had never seen or understood the impact of a comment like that on someone else.

Very often the intent is either a joke or a comment that the speaker sees as not an issue. What we have to become much more adept at is understanding that impact is not about us, it is about someone else. As I see it, having empathy, where we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see things from their eyes not as we see, is actually necessary to alleviate an impact we don’t want. I never want to offend, yet at times I do. I do not judge others , that is something I have learned through my journey of self-healing and letting go of my judgements of me, yet there are times my comments may have a judgmental impact.

I have a friend who at times goes weeks without a conversation, a text back or anything. Sometimes I wonder if they are still alive! This friend goes in their own head and keeps very much to themselves when they are trying to figure life out. Yet the impact is that you as their friend are not important. When you reach out and don’t get any kind of reply for weeks you feel as if you don’t matter in their life, that anything you are dealing with is not important to them. They don’t even want your input on what they are dealing with, exacerbating the feeling that you are unimportant and inconsequential to their life. That is never the intent, the intent is to just stay to themselves and deal with their own life’s issues. The impact is a friendship that goes through big ups and downs and never feels as important as it once was.

Intent does not equal impact. A life lesson I continue to learn.

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