Intent and Impact, What's the Difference?

I lead anti-racism and yoga trainings and I hold sacred spaces. In any space I lead, I offer an assumption about intent and impact. I have been conditioned to believe that good intentions somehow guarantee a positive impact. Dominant culture has taught me that if I am good then what I do will be good and culture goes on to condition me to believe that when it comes down to it, all that matters are my intentions. This cultural conditioning makes it seem as if we are moving around this planet on our own, isolated and not responsible or accountable for anyone else's experience.

Intent and Impact: There is a difference

Intentions are great and fine and most people have positive conscious and even unconscious intentions most of the time. But it is important to remember that we do not have control over how our good intentions are experienced by others. In other words, intent does not translate into impact. Meaning well does not translate to not taking personal responsibility.

Mantra: My good intentions are not enough.

Why is it important to understand that INTENT does not equal IMPACT? Well, I believe spiritual bypassing happens in our transformative communities because some of us have bought into the idea that if I believe "we are one" and treat everyone as if we are one then the world will treat everyone in that manner. (If I could figure out a way to insert the buzzer sound from a game show when a contestant gives the wrong answer I would.) We know better. The culture has been constructed in a purposeful and intentional way to other, invisiblize and marginalize anyone who doesn't fit the cultural norms perpetuated by dominant culture. We aren't one, moving around having a singular experience. It is skillful to understand that many of us are having very different experiences as we navigate culture and institutions that weren't construcrted for us or our liberation. I'll break it down even more- we cannot afford to walk around the planet believing that our good intentions, like believing we are one, don't cause harm. It is skillful to begin to understand that it is likely we are in many spaces where harm is being caused and that at times we don't know how it's being caused we just have to know it's a possibility that we may have contributed to it in some way. 

I have good intentions, I do good work in the world, I create sacred and safer spaces and still even I, a black woman who has been marginalized time and time again by a system that doesn't love me and teaches me not to love myself, knows that in the past, I have and in the future I will continue to cause harm. Not intentionally but because of not being able to see all of my blindspots and not being able to know how someone else's experience is different than my own based on their marginalized identities. 

I invite you to consider the motivation behind your intentions as you create social change work. I invite you to practice being in an undefended space when someone suggests that you caused harm to them through your positive intentions. I invite you into the deep knowing that we don't know what we don't know. We have blindspots and we have the capacity to change. 

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*Photo Credit: Ashley Freuler 

Michelle Johnson