Overall, I think I’m a fairly decent person, who’s done some really stupid things.
Almost every time that I’ve done something that hurts the people around me, it’s been through lack of intent. That doesn’t mean that my failures were intentional – I’m not the sort of person who sets out to hurt others, I hope – but it means that my failures and flaws came about mostly because I didn’t have an intention in mind.
They happened not because I meant for them to happen, but because I didn’t mean for them not to happen.
I wounded a close friendship apparently past recovery because I didn’t intend to preserve it – I said or did something thoughtlessly and the relationship was damaged.
I’ve hurt relationships, because I didn’t pursue what I thought was right – I figured that what was right would happen, and therefore drifted in ways that were not beneficial.
It’s not that I want to do the wrong thing; it’s that I think the right thing will be done, almost passively.
The way I see it is something like this: few men actually want to have affairs, but those who have affairs don’t remind themselves to purposefully avoid situations. They allow themselves to be in position to conduct an affair, rather than actively avoiding circumstances, because they know that their intent is to remain faithful. This is a construct of information, mind: I don’t know this for sure, but this is how I see my own behavior.
When I am at my best, it’s because I actively examine what I do, and measure it.
I was reading a site this morning, for example, and it made a reference to an off-color resource. It was not a clear reference, and I’m a curious person, so my first thought was to go find out what the reference was about. After all, I’m not interested in being off-color; I am faithful to my wife, and I’m not interested in not being faithful, right? Surely I can look at a humor site that’s moderately explicit without violating my mores about faithfulness, right?
… and then I caught myself. I wasn’t being intentional. I was allowing myself to be seduced by my own confidence (which has happened before, sadly.) I know I’m not interested in being unfaithful, but I was taking a few steps in that direction, by not actively pursuing a rigid monogamy. I wasn’t actively judging my own behavior; if someone were to say “here are my mores, I want to do this, do you think I’m being inconsistent?” to me, I would respond that yes, they were being inconsistent… while not looking at myself in the same light.
I was being unfaithful, in a tiny manner, by not being intentional and direct about being faithful. Once I realized that, I could do what I feel is right, and I can recognize my own curiosity (and acknowledge it) while denying its fulfillment. Once I am intentional about what I am doing, I can do what I think is right, and move on.
Without that sense of acknowledgement, what would happen? Well, I might go to the site in question, of course (I don’t know if my filters would have tripped it or not)… or I might not, which is what I’d hope would have happened.
But acknowledgement is critical, because if I don’t actually understand my own thought process, the curiosity would remain. I’d always wonder if it would have been okay to go to that resource, surely it couldn’t have been that bad, maybe it was funny, maybe enlightening. Maybe just distracting if I ever needed a distraction. (BTW, I never need distra- HEY, A SQUIRREL!)
With acknowledgement, I discard the site and whatever it was about. With acknowledgement, I put the behavior – destructive or not – in the past, and it doesn’t have to affect my any more. With acknowledgement, I can be intentional about what I do and read and say and think, such that I avoid anything that causes harm.
It’s not okay to just not intend to do something… “I didn’t mean it” is a horrible thing to have to say. By trying to live with intent, I can instead try to live in such a way that my grandfather would have been proud of my whole life, and I own what I do.
I actually changed the link for “Emotional Intelligence” to point to this page because it does a better job of describing it.