check this link right here now additional info A while back, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion with one of my meditation gurus, Sharon Salzberg. Using a water bottle as an example, she made a very interesting point about intention, where she discussed how an action may look the same from the outside but the motivation (intention) behind that action could vary significantly, and it went a little something like this (FYI, I’m paraphrasing here):
You have a nice, cool plastic bottle of water and you offer it to someone who is thirsty. Now on the surface, this may appear to be a generous act, but below the surface, the intention behind that action may or may not be as it appears.
For example, it could be exactly as it appears; you saw someone thirsty, and out of kindness, you gave them something to drink.
But the act could also come from less than kind intentions. Let’s say you’re not too crazy about the person, so you gave them the water bottle because you wanted to make them look like some environmentally irresponsible asshole who doesn’t give a shit about the planet.
Or maybe you’re offering the water because someone is thirsty, but the primary purpose isn’t to quench someone’s thirst, but rather to receive the recognition of quenching someone’s thirst in order to gain acceptance or praise (sometimes referred to as “hero syndrome”, “martyr syndrome” or “savior complex”).
Same action, very different intentions behind the act.
While I felt a sense of validation that I wasn’t completely off base in my propensity to question people’s motives as I nodded in agreement to her words, I also felt a sense of uneasiness, since this is exactly the kind of stuff that puts my cynicism into overdrive.
But there was another thing Sharon mentioned in that discussion about intention that put things into perspective. She said that the only person who truly knows the intention behind the action is the person doing the act.
We can come up with assumptions or our very best educated guess about a person’s intentions based on previous knowledge of how that person has acted in the past, but we will truly never know for sure; only the person doing the act knows what his/her intentions are.
This is where being responsible for our own actions and intentions come into play.
Let’s say for example, the person acting did not have the best intentions at heart, but the act itself was “nice”; perhaps we just take it for face value and respond in kind. If the person doesn’t have the best intentions behind that action, sooner or later it will come to the surface. But in the meantime, we cannot control how others act; we can only control how we respond. So therefore, we take responsibility for our actions, our intentions.
Of course, there are some people who choose to not take responsibility for their own actions and intentions. They choose to place the blame into other’s hands, saying that it was because of the other person that they chose to act a certain way. This is where boundaries come in, which I’ll need a whole other post to discuss. (But don’t worry, it’s coming.)
Taking responsibility for our own actions and intentions—as well as taking responsibility for what and who we choose to surround ourselves with (again, boundaries, and yes, it’s coming)—puts us back in the driver’s seat of our mental well-being as well as relieving ourselves of the concern of what’s going on in the other person’s head. Because, truth be told, we will never truly know—and to try to figure it out will only drive us freaking bonkers. Our own stuff is the only stuff we can ultimately control; the rest is out of our hands.
As terrifying as that may sound, it’s also kind of liberating if you think about it. How many times has our well-being taken a back seat to the frustration of attempting to put together pieces of a puzzle comprised of assumptions and suspicions to try and “figure someone out”? Why do we invest so much time in trying to figure out the intentions of others when the only ones we can truly change are the ones within ourselves?
That’s where the focus lies; doing our best to be the best version of our authentic selves with the best of intentions on a consistent basis. If someone else chooses to act from intentions that are less than stellar, that is for them to figure out, own up to, and work on (should they choose to); if they choose to not work on it, again that is their responsibility.
And when you come across someone whose intentions you question, again, if the act is “nice”, then respond in kind and lovingly move on your merry way. Even if they’re not coming from a good place, at least you can make peace with the fact that you are. It’s like Wayne Dyer said: “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
Speaking of karma, one last thing about intention and taking responsibility for our own stuff: while it’s true we have no way of knowing the true intentions of others, we absolutely know the intentions behind our own actions. So, when we’re faced with the temptation to act on something without the best of intentions (because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there), maybe we should take a moment before we act and ask ourselves “Why?” and have the courage to answer the question honestly. If we can find the humility within ourselves to admit when our own intentions are less than stellar, perhaps we can then reflect on why that is and what it is we can do to shift our mindset toward intentions that are well-meaning instead of self-serving, and act accordingly. Call it idealistic, but who knows? Maybe if we reflect a little more on our own intentions and actions, then maybe, just maybe, we can spend a little less time questioning the motives of others—and spend a little more time respecting one another.