Which matters more: Intention or Action?

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a joyful holiday season and 2014 is getting off to a great start for you!  It’s going to be a fantastic year – can you feel it?

I was reading a book the other day (gasp, actually having time to read a book??) and came across this question:  Which matters more:  intention or action?  It stopped me in my tracks, and I had to stop reading to ponder this question for a while.  The main character in the book was dealing with a crisis where he and the people around him were fighting for their lives.  These folks were tricked into doing something they knew was wrong, but they were tricked by someone they trusted implicitly and who had been guiding them, literally keeping them alive.  The main character was asking this question because these people had destroyed so much of what he loved and held dear. He had to decide if he could trust them enough and put aside his anguish enough to be able to work with them to complete his quest.

Now this life or death situation might not apply to us, but imagine this scenario:  we’ve been asked to fire someone that we know has been doing a good job but the boss just doesn’t like the person and has been told by headquarters to cut his staff. Now what?  Is the intention simply to meet the headquarters requirement?  Or is the intention to use this opportunity to clean house of all those “trouble-makers” or people we don’t get along with?  And does the intention justify the action? How do we square the motive with the task the boss has given us?

We all do it.  Rationalize, that is.  Especially when we know the actions we are about to take are wrong, or at least incongruent with our own set of values, judgments or sense of fairness.  But I ask again – which matters more: intention or action?  This question is about finding the courage to align our actions with our values.   How do we say “no” when it is appropriate?  How do we find the courage to take the action we know is appropriate, even if it’s the hardest thing we may ever have to do?  And how do we accept the decisions of others without punishing them or changing our opinions about them for doing what they consider to be right?

For those of you who’ve been following my writing for a while you know I ask this question of right vs. wrong a lot.  I feel I’m no closer to an answer now than when I first started asking.  For me “right” vs. “wrong” is a matter of context, of facts, of information we know and experiences we’ve had, as well as the beliefs we hold as important.  What we decide to do is influenced by material things, like receiving a bonus or keeping our jobs so we can pay for the kids’ education or our health insurance or our living expenses.  So the right answer and the wrong answer change depending on the situation.  The only thing that remains constant is the need to communicate clearly.  Even communication gets screwed up, though, when the stakes are high or the risk to us as individuals is serious.  We sacrifice accountability and integrity as emotions cloud our judgment and get in the way of clear communication. 

It is hard to remain objective, accept accountability, and align our intentions with our values and actions.  It is HARD.  But it is also one of the most important things we can do to maintain our own balance, fairness, justice, integrity and happiness.  So many people around us have just “opted out” of accountability, which for me includes making decisions and taking responsibility for our own actions.  It’s always somebody else’s fault.  Why do we have to assign blame?  Is it merely that we refuse to acknowledge that we make mistakes?  Or is it so that we can avoid being responsible for cleaning up the messes we make?  It’s discouraging to watch people whine and complain about not getting things the way they want them without realizing that they created, or at least contributed to that situation in the first place.  It is shocking to realize that we might be the only ones who care enough to agonize over the tough decisions we have to make.  And it is demoralizing to accept that people just don’t want to change until they are forced to. 

So I ask again, which is more important – intention or action? This is something only you can answer for yourself.  But it is something you can also share with others to start a valuable conversation. The lessons you might learn from this conversation are priceless.

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