Why Our Intentions Are More Important Than We Think


A couple of evenings ago, while vacationing in Cancun, I was dining late at a food court with my father. We walked in about ten minutes before closing — which, as a food service person, makes me highly uncomfortable — and ordered a few tacos. I knew my brother would shortly join us after leaving the nearby supermarket and likely anticipate some sort of meal, so after my father and I ordered, we quickly put in another order to take back to our hotel for my brother.

When he finally joined us, he said, “Well, the others probably haven’t eaten, so we should also order them food.” He proceeded to request twenty more tacos to-go. I cringed and quickly said, “We’d better leave this man a good tip.”

At that remark, my brother quickly became defensive and told me that our order “probably made this guy’s day” and explained that, although we are keeping their store open beyond the hours of operation, the employees are likely grateful for the additional business.

I explained that it is still rude — whether they are grateful or not — to delay a business from closing by serving us outside of their operating hours. I explained that I understood in Mexico they are often grateful for the patronage, but I noted that we are ignorant to the personal and professional situations of others. My resolution was that we should always do our best to be considerate using the means available to us.

The conversation escalated to my father telling me that I am often considerate of the wrong people, and frankly, I was a bit insulted. All people hold value to me, from the lowest paid employees to those with ample wealth. It is strictly the character of a person that influences my judgment, though I believe we are all entitled to a basic, humane level of respect. Not to digress too far, but my father was upset because he believes I am particularly sensitive to the needs of food service employees. I am sensitive to the needs of many groups; however, I understand this culture, so the subject comes up frequently when dining out.

We began to discuss what ‘consideration’ entails. We touched upon the relationship between consideration and intention.

My brother used an example from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. He said, “Is it disrespectful if someone spits on your face?”

I responded, “Yes, of course.”

“What about in Ace Ventura, when the tribal chief spits in Ace’s face? It’s a sign of respect in their culture.”

“Well, we must always take into account cultural relativism. We will be ignorant to many things, but we use what we do know to do our best. After all, we cannot know everything.”

One must wonder, when we hear disenfranchised groups explain the meaninglessness of intention, is this truly accurate?

I mean, if we truly have good intentions we may find ourselves prone to an occasional misstep, especially outside of our own culture, but generally, one would think others will perceive our efforts.

This comes up frequently in conversations about cultural appropriation. In these cases, many will use the defensive argument, “My intentions are good,” which leads the group experiencing the appropriation to dismiss the very notion of intention. Unfortunately, I find that many believe their intentions are good when, in fact, they are simply acting without thinking.

The definition of the noun form of ‘intent,’ according to Merriam Webster is,

“The thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose.”

The definition of the adjective form of ‘intent,’ according to Merriam Webster is,

“Showing concentration or great attention,

1: directed with strained or eager attention : concentrated,

2: having the mind, attention, or will concentrated on something or some end or purpose.”

Therefore, thoughtlessness does not indicate pure intent, and neither does ignorance — just as consideration must be a conscious decision. Certainly, we can find ourselves acting considerately by accident. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, as the saying goes. Yet, living a life of consideration and good intention is something just that: intentional. We are not good by accident; we are good on purpose. If we do not make the effort, despite our ignorance, and despite our missteps, we are neither considerate, nor well-intended individuals. This is reason I would argue that intention is important.

My brother and I came to an agreement on that evening: we should always strive for consideration, even if we only know our own variety, until we learn the ways of others. After all, good intention and consideration may take different forms, but the sentiment is universal.