For years, I never understood why people talked about intentions. Why not say goals? I assumed that speaking about “intentions” was way to sugarcoat laziness. Plus that whole “road to hell thing” …
But back then, I was a goals-loving-fool! To give you an example, here is a postcard I bought and framed (!) but totally misunderstood.
But wait—before I tell you what I think it means, what do you think it means?
(1) I succeed in reaching my aim
(2) I’m open to discovery
I’d always thought #1, but we do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are, and all that.
When I bought this postcard ten years ago, I was so enamored of goal-setting that I used to make index cards for friends with their goals written on them.
In retrospect, this makes sense, because what I wanted for the first 22 years of my life was well-suited to goal setting:
* To swim a fast 200 breaststroke
* To graduate from college
* To be able to afford lattes
Currently, my wants don’t work with metrics:
* To be a good friend
* To handle difficult conversations well instead of reacting and making them worse
* To not be a fucking liberal idiot about America
So now I’m seeing this postcard differently. Pablo Picasso’s not saying go for it! He’s saying Be open and who knows what you’ll find!
(Arguably there is no right answer. Turns out the word “find” means both to succeed in reaching and to come upon, often by accident.)
But the point is that this is a good angle for my blog, in which I theoretically aim “to understand America.”
I often joke that if my blog were an AP test, I’d only get a 1.
(Sad truth for all you bookish, study-bugs out there: you, too, will still think in these kind of extrinsic rewards, even 20 years later. It’s OK.)
I hadn’t realized any of this goals-versus-intentions-stuff until I tried to learn about gun control.
After the shootings in Aurora and Wisconsin, but before the shootings in Maryland and at the Empire State Building, I was even more confused about America.
I wanted to interview someone who was against gun control. How, I wondered, in the wake of all this carnage, could people not want it to be harder to get assault weapons?
Surely it would be easy to find someone willing to speak with me? Supposedly 70 million Americans own handguns.
I wrote a quick status update on Facebook asking for help, and several friends (mostly liberals) sent me some links. From them, I learned that Jason Alexander (from Seinfeld) has a good take on gun control. As does Eliot Spitzer, whose solutions seem workable. And that this has divided the country evenly for the past decade (50% for; 50% against).
I got names of people who might be willing to talk to me!
I even sent a few pathetic tweets at the NRA.
Sadly, I never heard back from anyone.
I’m not pretending I worked hard to understand this issue—I barely tried. If I were still a journalist, and told my editor that I emailed a few people and sent some tweets in pursuit of a story, I’d never work again. (God bless journalists!)
But that’s kinda my point: No wonder respectful discourse is so difficult. It takes a valiant effort to get some basic discourse!
Old me would have said, “I failed.”
But here is what I “found,” if you will: Having the intention of “trying to understand” helped me learn. And if I’d only been focused on the goal, I’d have ignored all this progress.
I get it now: intentions let you enjoy the process.