Good Intentions

It’s hard to rely on my good intentions
When my head’s full of things that I can’t mention
Seems I usually get things right
But I can’t understand what I did last night

First Verse, Good Intentions by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Good Intentions        

Have you observed that the intentions we notice are the good ones that went bad?

The most glaring examples are those made at the government level.  For example, the 49-year war on drugs seems to be one of the best ideas that continually produces unintended results.

At a more personal level, most of us have tried to do something well-intended that had the opposite results.  Sayings like “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” “You look great for your age,” and “Look on the bright side, it could be worse,” never allay the concerns of the person you are talking to.

Businesses are not immune from good intentions gone bad.  Coca Cola meant well when they tried to “improve” the recipe for coke.  Borders Books was well-intended when they chose to expand their brick-and-mortar stores at a time when internet sales were skyrocketing.  And Bank of America tried to be a bank for every type of retail transaction and ended up being just a mediocre bank for fewer customers.

The bottom line is that our intent can be nice and altruistic, but if the outcome is bad, your intent is irrelevant.

How to Keep Good Intentions Good

While Toad the Wet Sprocket admits it’s hard to rely on good intentions, it is possible to have a strategy to make sure that all your intentions are both well-meaning and reliably effective.

First, you need to have an end goal in mind with your intentions.  For example, you have a habit of being late for everything, which has resulted in a reputation of being untrustworthy and undependable.  You intend to be on time, but in reality, your always late.

Understanding that your intention is to be known as being trustworthy and dependable changes how you envision the importance of being on time.  By recognizing how your intentions fit in a larger scheme helps to emphasize its importance and strengthen your resolve to meet your intentions.

Second, be aware of how fulfilling your intentions (or not fulfilling them) affect other people.  For example, acknowledging that being late for a meeting is devaluing and disrespecting people’s time.  And recognize that being dependable is an asset to your character, and your actions matter to other people.

Third, think through your intentions.  How would feel if you heard the words you are planning to say or saw the actions you are planning to take?  Is it possible for you to constantly be on time, or do you need to find a new strategy to be known as dependable and trustworthy?

Fourth, be prepared for the emotions that come with having good intentions that fail.  Just because you made a poor choice of word when expressing sympathy should not keep you from expressing sympathy in the future.  We all need to express compassion, some just say it better than others.  Keep trying.

Last, learn to see good intentions in others.  Recognize when someone holds the door, a friend works extra hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and someone you don’t know goes out of their way to give you a little encouragement.  When you can see good intentions, you can see how you can also make good intentions work.

The Bible

The classic Bible story about good intentions is in Luke 14:28-30.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?   For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”

Jesus is recommending to:

  • have an end goal in mind,
  • know how this will affect others,
  • think through your actions, and
  • be prepared for the emotions if you fail

(see 1-4 from How to Keep Good Intentions Good from above).

God wants each of us to act with good intentions, but for good intentions to be good, the outcome must also be good.  We all need to see the good intentions in others and learn from them.  The goal is for people to be able to rely on your good intentions, and with God’s help, they will.