You often hear people say “it’s the intention that matters”.
But is intention really all that matters? When I initially started thinking about it, I thought surely action matters more than intention, since it is action that actually makes an impact or creates consequences? This question has particularly been interesting to me this week, with everyone talking about their New Year’s resolutions – if one of my friends mentions that they intend on running a marathon this year, is that intention of running a marathon really all that matters, surely it should actually be the act of running the marathon that matters and the mere intention of doing it being neither here nor there (no one congratulates a person for having just had the intention to run a marathon surely?).
To be clear, I’m speaking about intention for the future (as distinct to intentional action and intention in acting).
Imagine I say to McCool, “I am going to write you a love poem for every day of the week starting tomorrow.” There, I’ve expressed an intention to do something, but then imagine for whatever reason, despite my genuine intention to write love poems for McCool, I don’t actually do it.
Alternatively, imagine I express an intention to McCool to go for a 10km jog by the end of the day, but then again I don’t actually do it.
Is it appropriate in these circumstances for either McCool or myself to say “well, you know, it’s the intention that matters”?
I think that in the former scenario, it is the intention that matters, but that the same cannot be said for the latter. The distinction comes down to purpose – what is the purpose of the intention? If the purpose can be met by the intention alone, then there seems no reason to me why it would be incorrect to say it is the intention that matters (working on the assumption that the expression of intention is genuine and is taken by the recipient of the expression to be genuine and not a lie). If, however, the purpose of the intention can only be met by the action that the intention contemplates, then I do not think that intention is what matters at all.
The purpose of my intention to write a love poem to McCool everyday would be to make her feel warm and fuzzy inside. Arguably, even if I didn’t actually write the poems, McCool would still feel warm and fuzzy because I intended to do so, in itself still being a demonstration of my love for her. If the intention is genuine, then that would mean that the not writing of the poems would have been unintentional.
Of course, whether the purpose has been met here will actually come down to McCool and whether she personally felt warm and fuzzy by the intention alone, which is rather subjective and not something I can decide upon myself – therefore, I’m not saying that it is impossible in this scenario for the purpose only to be met by the intention followed by action. Imagine also that my purpose had been to show off my poem writing skills to McCool, in this case, purpose again would only be met by the intention followed by action.
The purpose of the intention to run 10km would be to assist with staying fit and healthy. If I don’t actually go for the run, then I’m not meeting that purpose at all. Even if the intention was genuine and I had been prevented from going for the run by something completely unintentional, the fact is, having the intention alone does nothing to assist with the purpose of staying fit and healthy.
In other words, the sentiment that “it’s the intention that matters” is not really that useful at all, used as such a blanket statement. It may or may not be, and perhaps when we express an intention, we should actually take a moment to consider its value and what purpose we are hoping to achieve by giving it.
Since I mentioned New Year’s resolutions earlier, I also want to confirm that I’m not saying that people should stop making them. Resolutions would in the majority of cases, if not all, involve intentions which purpose could only be met by action, but that action also comes as a result of the intention to do it. I’m just saying, at the end of the year we can’t just flippantly say “well, I did none of my resolutions, but I genuinely intended on it, and it’s not even really my fault that it didn’t happen, so it’s the intention that matters”.
Anyway, so if I were to simply answer the question of whether intention is all that matters, I would answer by explaining that purpose met by intention means intention is what matters and purpose that can only be met by action means intention is not what matters.
Perhaps the easiest way forward is to not over complicate things like I just have, and simply always aim to follow the intention do something by actually doing it, but not feel too guilty if you were unable to do it if the purpose of the intention was met anyway. It’s probably safest to just also never say “it’s the intention that matters”, so people like me don’t spend long periods of time then analysing the value and truthfulness of such a statement.
Also, awkward if people don’t actually ever say this and I’ve just made it up.
Since I mentioned love poems to McCool, I will end on such.
McCool, you are my sister,
More important than any mister.
You have short hair,
But do not despair,
My love for you will last longer than a game of twister.
( and clearly, the purpose of intending to write that, was never to show off my poem writing skills)