Good, Good Intentions
by: Maya Talisman Frost
I always do a lot of thinking
about good intentions in December.
It's not because I'm inspired by
the holidays. I'm simply observing the anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. Each year, around December 10th, I reread that incredible
document just to remind myself that as humans, we can all agree on what it
means to have basic rights and to be treated fairly. It's an inspiring piece of
writing, and it fills my heart with hope--that is, until I remember that we
don't seem to be making much progress on the goals we set for ourselves 55
From the time we're very young,
we learn that there is a difference between what we mean to do and what
actually happens. After a scuffle, your mother asked, "Did you do it on
purpose or by accident?" It was sometimes okay to kick your brother in the
teeth as long as you didn't mean to do it--like, say, if you were reaching a
toy for him on the top shelf and stepped back wildly on your way down. You were
trying to help, you caused pain accidentally, you felt bad about it, so it was
Now that we're adults, are our
accidents excused? Do good intentions serve as a sort of "Get out of jail
free" card? Not exactly.
Democritus, the Greek
philosopher and physicist, said: "My enemy is not the man who wrongs me,
but the man who means to wrong me." Tell that to the mother of a child
killed by a drunk driver. Bad things happen, even when they are completely
unintentional and repulsive to the perpetrators. Negligent homicide isn't
intentional, but the results are the same as if the guilty party carefully
planned and carried out his attack.
If we watch the news, we see all
kinds of examples of good intentions that go terribly wrong. Whether we're
talking about the results of a new Walmart or a new war, we can't always get
what we want, but if we try real hard, we just might find--we screw things up
royally. (apologies to the Rolling Stones)
The latest brain research tells
us that it's possible to make things happen by simply having a clear intention.
As long as we look in the mirror every day and repeat, "I will become a
millionaire and benefactress, feeding the poor with my great wealth", then
eventually we'll be writing those fat checks to the local food bank.
Unfortunately, those mirror
musings don't always focus on the good intentions behind the goal. Given the
option of manifesting our destiny, we tend to go with our top choice. The
millionaire thing wins out--we can't open door number two (becoming a
benefactress) without opening door number one first. Consequently, we end up
with a whole lot of people repeating the millionaire mantra every day, and the
real intention--giving generously--gets lost in the shuffle.
The same thing happens on a much
larger scale all around the world. Rich countries want to help poor countries.
They need to raise money in order to give it away. In order to raise that
money, they need to show results from previous efforts. To get positive
results, they have to come up with programs that sound feasible and promise
outstanding outcomes. They must jump through the appropriate hoops. Any grant
writer can tell you that there is an art to getting money, and it has very
little to do with good intentions.
We need guidelines even when we
have the best of intentions, but sometimes we get so caught up in following our
plan that we fail to do the right thing. A recent news story told of a local
organization that missed out on over $700,000 in funding it receives from a
particular agency each year. Why? The grant application was submitted using
margins that were four letters too wide. The agency expressed regret that they
would be unable to support this worthy but unfortunate group this year, but
stood by its strict rules as a means of filtering out those who are not able to
follow instructions to the letter.
We use good intentions as a
cloak on far too many occasions. There are times when it's necessary to
recognize that where we're headed wasn't anywhere on our map when we started
the journey. Just because we mean well doesn't mean it's okay to keep going in
the wrong direction.
It's fine to figure out what you
want, and it's okay to ask for it. There's certainly no reason why we shouldn't
think of ways to improve ourselves and our world and set out to achieve our
But it's not okay to pursue an
activity once we realize that the original intention--the reason for beginning
in the first place--has been lost in the flurry of activity required to pursue
it. If you kick your brother in the teeth while stealing his toy, you're going
to get in trouble, and Mom will show no mercy.
We know what we want for all
humans on the planet. It's right there in writing, in that document which has
been translated into over 300 languages. We're not even close to achieving all
that we want, or all that we can. We created a beautiful promise in that
proclamation, but we've become too distracted to make it our priority.
If Mom were taking care of this,
she'd sit us down and make us read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
until we knew its salient features by heart. We'd emerge from our bedroom
contrite and committed to being a better citizen. We'd do our best to please
her and to make things right, not because we feared her wrath but because we
knew she was lovingly teaching us what it means to be excellent.
O Mother, where art thou?
About The Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind
masseuse. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 70 countries around the
world. Her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage, serves up a satisfying
blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com.
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