Menu Close

Did You Intend to…?


How much better would your world be if other people just understood that you seldom intend to say or do whatever is annoying or frustrating them? Let’s think about how that might work.

People seldom intend to be jerks. I think we have all had to deal with someone who is just being a jerk. They are being difficult and impossible to cope with due to their seeming to be stupid, insensitive, hopelessly self-centered or clueless, or maybe all of the above. But are we ever the jerk in the picture? We sure don’t intend to be the jerk but we probably have our jerk moments, at least from the perspective of other people. As reasonable and as appropriate as we try to be, even nice people like us may slip into jerk mode at times.

People seldom intend to do less than their best. Do they always make an effort to do everything they can do as well as they can do it? No, people surely don’t do that. Rather, they usually make their best effort to do as much as they think is necessary and to do it as well as they think it needs done. The problem is that we may not agree that they have done enough or done it as well as we needed it done. Our issue is that we wanted more or better. From our perspective, the other person could have and should have done more or done better. It seems to us that we haven’t gotten his or her best effort. We have to deal with a shirker, with someone who is lazy or is sloppy and half does things. Of course we always give everything we do our best effort, always do things correctly and completely – or do we?

People seldom intend to offend us or to cause us to feel resentful or indignant. It’s hard to know how to respond to someone who says or does something that we find insulting or offensive. We are immediately taken aback and even quicker to conclude that the person provoking our reaction has a bad attitude and probably enjoys putting us down or simply ignoring us. I don’t know about you but I’ve occasionally not related to people in authority with the degree of respect and deference that they felt entitled to. Usually after the fact, I learned that they were offended or indignant. They definitely assumed that I had intentionally insulted them or disregarded their authority.

People seldom intend to upset us or make us unhappy. What upsets us or makes us unhappy varies a lot from person to person and from time to time. It’s hard for me to predict what causes you to tilt and vice versa. The point is that when we do get upset or unhappy, we frequently attribute our reaction to someone else and his or her actions or inaction, his or her intentions or thoughtlessness. You are upset or unhappy and it’s my fault, you think. I either knew or should have known that you would be upset or unhappy but Either didn’t care or at least didn’t care enough to behave differently.

People seldom intend to frighten or alarm us. There are several ways people frighten or alarm us on purpose. Think of haunted houses at Halloween, roller coasters, scary movies and adolescent pranks. There are other times when we are frightened or alarmed that are not so acceptable. The TV weather person emphasizes the worst possible weather event to keep us watching the weather channel and its commercials. The doctor’s office leaves a cryptic message not making it clear just how bad our condition is or isn’t. Telephone scams try to frighten us in a multitude of ways so we will give them money to prevent whatever bad outcome they are pitching today. Unfortunately, we also frighten and alarm each other through what we do or at times don’t say or do. Our behavior can and does frighten or alarm other people when there is no real danger or risk. Since this affect can be intentional or inadvertent, it’s open to interpretation. Attributing intention or indifference to someone else may be no more than a product of human nature, but we all do it at times.

People seldom intend to be late. As best I can tell, the importance of being on time and how much flexibility there is vary a lot, depending on one’s culture and the specifics of the situation or circumstance. Even so, at some point, late is late. For our purposes here, late is any time past the time others expected us. So what is our reaction when someone we were expecting is late? If you are like me – and I suspect you are – our reaction is negative, from a little to a lot depending on how late they are. We assume that they could have and should have been on time. Further, we assume that their intention wasn’t clear enough or strong enough to get them to arrange things so as to be on time. Being late is their fault and we are totally justified in being annoyed.

People seldom intend to disappoint us. There are a lot of ways people can and do disappoint us now and then. The one thing all of those times have in common is that the other person failed to meet our expectations. We expected them to do something or to conform in some way, defined by us of course. But they didn’t and we are disappointed. When we’re disappointed, it requires an accounting. Since the other person disappointed us, they must have done or not done something we wanted and are thus culpable. Their performance and judgment were to some extent deficient. Naturally, when others are disappointed with us, our reasons are good and sufficient. For others though, reasons are usually little more than lame excuses.

People seldom intend to be rude or inconsiderate. So what’s the deal, since we frequently need to put up with people being both rude and inconsiderate? You know how it works. People have abominable manners, little to no social graces, behave as if what they want or need is more important than what anyone else wants or needs, disregard the rights and interests of other people, say and do things that are totally inappropriate and, as my grandpa says, let everyone know that they have had no fetching up. Since we know how to behave, how to treat others and seldom commit social faux pas, there is no good reason why other people can’t do as well as we do.

Okay, so much for that. Now let’s check out these tips for those times when we assume that other people’s intentions may not be as honorable as ours.

For jerks: When you’re being a jerk, to myself I’ll mention, being a jerk probably isn’t your intention.

For shirkers: When you’re cutting corners and not giving it your best, I’ll give thinking that you’re just being lazy a rest.

For the offensive: When you’re being insulting and I’m feeling indignation, I’ll give thinking that you are doing it intentionally a little vacation.

For people who upset us: When I think you’re the reason I’m getting upset and feeling bummed out, I’ll try hard to give you the benefit of the doubt.

For people who alarm us: If I’m getting up tight and anxious due to an action or omission, I’ll remind myself that this wasn’t your intention.

For being late: Since I know you have a busy life with a lot to do, I’ll cut you some slack when I have to wait around for you.

For disappointment: Disappointment usually can’t just be brushed aside; but I’m always okay with you, since I know for sure you tried.

For rude or inconsiderate people: If you are rude or inconsiderate today, I’ll assume that you have a understandable excuse for acting that way.

Now you know so there you go.