Intent.

Last week, (or whenever it was), I wrote about our ability to learn from our mistakes. When we make a poor decision with no ill intent, it is simply a human error in judgment, and we move on with life.  No harm, no foul. But what happens when there is harm? When there is foul? Why is intent sometimes looked at and not others?

My thoughts on this were prompted a few days ago when a liberal friend of mine posted something about guns on her Facebook page. She essentially said that she doesn’t want to take away guns; she just wants people to get proper instruction and training, so you know how to handle the firearm. Now, I’m not sure the context in which she meant this, and I know she does not condone violence. But my initial reaction was, “The bigger concern is not so much about if you know how to use a firearm; it’s more about what you intend to do with it.” Learning to use a gun specifically for murder is a lot different than learning to use a gun for potential use in self-defense.

But I’m not here to start a gun control debate with you. I’m sure you know how I feel about that. My point is that intent matters.

Following up on my interest in stoicism, Rafał Albiński explores the idea that there are two components to action: 1.) the intent or willingness to act, and 2.) the act itself (doing what was intended to be done). According to psychological theory, creating intent is within our control. Intent is conscious motive. But the action is not always entirely up to us. I may intend to meet my friend for lunch at 11:30, but several things can prevent that from happening:

  1. Someone pulls out in front of me and I get in a car accident (an external condition)
  2. I get focused on a project at work and lose track of time (nonvolitional will – unconscious decision)
  3. I deliberately choose to stand him up (volitional will – conscious decision)

Stoics believe that if something is not fully up to us, then it is not up to us. It’s fate-based. Therefore if action 1 happens, then I was not meant to meet that friend for lunch. My life was fated to take a different path. If action 2 happens, then it is possible that I was late because I was fated to avoid that accident. If action 3 happens, then I’m not really practicing Stoic (or simply kind) behavior and should reconsider my intent.

But this isn’t a lesson in Stoicism, so here’s another angle. Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D. says:

Intention is the human ability to redirect the electricity in your brain instead of just letting it flow down the path of least resistance. Animals don’t do this. The world reaches their senses and electricity flows into paths paved by past experience. We humans can notice that flow and divert it.

If we go back to the gun issue as an example…this is an emotionally charged debate. But it’s what prompted my thought process, so I’m going to follow through on it.

Pulling the trigger is the second component of the action. The first component is the willingness to pull the trigger. Which means the human consciously diverted their energy into the action. This two component approach is also used in criminal law. The intent (mens rea) must be proven in order to secure a conviction for the actual act (actus reus).

Had I of commented on my friends post with my initial reaction, it likely would have started a gun control debate with her or one of her other FB friends. Her intent on the post was genuinely good. She was extending a Second Amendment olive branch out to her conservative friends, so to speak. My reaction would have blown her comments out of proportion, and created a defensive/divisive environment on our feeds.

As I said in my last post, “just because we can use media as mindless entertainment doesn’t mean we should always consume it as mindless media.” We need to stop receiving everyone’s commentary at face-value and consider the intent of their messages. especially on social media. We subconsciously think that everyone is out to intentionally inflict harm on us, when really, people are just voicing an opinion that they have every right to have.

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