Intent vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter

thoughtful man

When you’ve hurt someone, whether you meant to or not, what matters is how you repair the situation.

Imagine for a moment that you’re standing with your friends in a park, enjoying a nice summer day.

You don’t know me, but I walk right up to you holding a Frisbee.

I wind up – and throw the disc right into your face.

Understandably, you are indignant.

Through a bloody nose, you use a few choice words to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing.

And my response?

“Oh, I didn’t mean to hit you! That was never my intent! I was simply trying to throw the Frisbee to my friend over there!”

Visibly upset, you demand an apology.

But I refuse. Or worse, I offer an apology that sounds like “I’m sorry your face got in the way of my Frisbee! I never intended to hit you.”

Sound absurd? Sound infuriating enough to give me a well-deserved Frisbee upside the head?


So why is this same thing happening all of the time when it comes to the intersection of our identities and oppressions or privileges?

Intent v. Impact

From Paula Deen to Alec Baldwin to your annoying, bigoted uncle or friend, we hear it over and over again: “I never meant any harm…” “It was never my intent…” “I am not a racist…” “I am not a homophobe…” “I’m not a sexist…”

I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen people attempt to deflect criticism about their oppressive language or actions by making the conversation about their intent.

At what point does the “intent” conversation stop mattering so that we can step back and look at impact?

After all, in the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?

In some ways, this is a simple lesson of relationships.

If I say something that hurts my partner, it doesn’t much matter whether I intended the statement to mean something else – because my partner is hurting.

I need to listen to how my language hurt my partner. I need to apologize.

And then I need to reflect and empathize to the best of my ability so I don’t do it again.

But when we’re dealing with the ways in which our identities intersect with those around us – and, in turn, the ways our privileges and our experiences of marginalization and oppression intersect – this lesson becomes something much larger and more profound.

This becomes a lesson of justice.

What we need to realize is that when it comes to people’s lives and identities, the impact of our actions can be profound and wide-reaching.

And that’s far more important than the question of our intent.

We need to ask ourselves what might be or might have been the impact of our actions or words.

And we need to step back and listen when we are being told that the impact of our actions is out of step with our intents or our perceptions of self.

Identity Privilege and Intent

For people of identity privilege, this is where listening becomes vitally important, for our privilege can often shield us from understanding the impact of our actions.

After all, as a person of privilege, I can never fully understand the ways in which oppressive acts or language impact those around me. What I surely can do is listen with every intent to understand, and I can work to change my behavior.

Because what we need to understand is that making the conversation about intent is inherently a privileged action.

The reason?

It ensures that you and your identity (and intent) stay at the center of any conversation and action while the impact of your action or words on those around you is marginalized.

So if someone ever tells you to “check your privilege,” what they may very well mean is: “Stop centering your experience and identity in the conversation by making this about the intent of your actions instead of their impact.”

That is: Not everything is about you.

“What They Did” vs. “What They Are”

The incredible Ill Doctrine puts it well when he explains the difference between the “What They Did” conversation and the “What They Are” conversation, which you can watch here.

In essence, the “intent” conversation is one about “what they are.”

Because if someone intended their action to be hurtful and racist/sexist/transphobic/pickyourpoison, then they must inherently beracist/sexist/transphobic/pickyourpoison.

On the other hand, the “impact” conversation is one about “what they did.”

For you, it takes the person who said or did the hurtful thing out of the center and places the person who was hurt in the center. It ensures that the conversation is about how “what they did” hurts other people and further marginalizes or oppresses people.

And it’s important for people to understand the difference.

Just because you did something sexist doesn’t mean that you are sexist. Just because you said something racist doesn’t mean that you are racist.

When your actions are called into question, it’s important to recognize that that’sall that is being called into question – your actions, not your overall character.

Listen. Reflect. Apologize. Do Better.

It doesn’t matter whether we, deep down, believe ourselves to be __________-ist or whether we intended our actions to be hurtful or _________-ist.


If the impact of our actions is the furthering of oppression, then that’s all that matters.

So we need to listen, reflect, apologize, and work to do better in the future.

What does that look like?

Well, to start, we can actually apologize.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of hearing the ““I am sorry your face got in the way of my Frisbee! I never intended to hit you” apologies.

Whether it’s Paula Deen weeping on TV or Alec Baldwin asking us to simply trust that he’s not a “homophobe,” those are not apologies.

That’s why I was incredibly inspired and relieved to see a major organization do it well when Kickstarter apologized and took full responsibility for their role in funding a creepy, rapey seduction guide.

They apologized earnestly and accepted the role they played in something really terrible. hey pledged to never allow projects like this one to be funded in the future. And then they donated $25,000 to RAINN.

At the interpersonal level, we can take a cue from Kickstarter.

When we are told that the impact of our action, inaction, or words is hurtful and furthers oppression, we can start by apologizing without any caveats.

From there, we can spend the time to reflect in hopes of gaining at least some understanding (however marginal) of the harmful impact.

And we can do our best to move forward by acting more accountably.



Originally appeared at Everyday Feminism

Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Jamie is a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog. He blogs weekly at Change from Within. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamieRead his articles here and book him for speaking engagements here.

Photo: Eka Shoniya/Flickr

About Everyday Feminism

Everyday Feminism supports people dealing with everyday violence, dominance, and silencing due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, class, and more. Through our online magazine and upcoming online school for applied feminism, we help people apply feminism to their real lives in order to work through issues, stand up for themselves, and live their truth. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter!


  1. erin maynard says:

    Can’t agree here. I actually use a variant of this argument all the time: accidentally stepping on someone’s foot versus stomping on it on purpose. Yeah, either way it hurts. But ontent matters. This idea that someone, somewhere must be assigned blame for everything wrong that happens is why we have such a entitled and litigatious society. Intent absolutely matters. That’s why things are called accidents, not on-purposements.

  2. Essentially, a well written example of emotional intelligence. From interpersonal conflict resolution to understanding the lives of others and how they navigate social constructs, Mr. Utt show how listening and empathizing can affect personal, social, and global understanding and change.

    Our words and how we use them say much about who we are. What do your words say about you?

  3. WillJaye says:

    To say “intentions don’t matter” is to say that, “whenever somebody is offended, somebody else did something wrong”. People sometimes get offended over imaginary slights. People sometimes read malice into innocent statements. And there are people who seem to actively seek out reasons to be offended. Every expression of offense isn’t deserving of an apology. And demanding apologies for every offense strips other people of their integrity and their ability to speak their minds and hearts.

  4. Todd Clary says:

    This is patent idiocy and an obvious product of more political correctness run amok. Equivocating the intent of my words to physically hitting someone in the face with a frisbee? Really? That’s the best the writer can do?

    If I say something — anything — to anyone, and they take particular offense to it they get to bring up to me directly. I might say “I’m sorry you took offense to that,” or “No, that isn’t what I meant. What I mean was x, y, and z.” And then that’s the end of it.

    There is nothing admirable in allowing someone else’s sensitivities to hijack your intentions to reverse-reengineer them to bolster their emotions. So, if I apologize, I’ll do so once. And that’s the end of it. If you need to continue your shrill vitriol because I’m not caving in to your aches and pains, you get to do that. But you’re going to do it long distance because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what’s upsetting you this time.

    Then I’d go back to playing frisbee.

    • Mostly_123 says:

      Agreed. I think you hit the nail on the head there Todd- the errant notion that it is somehow right and proper for some to hijack another’s intentions, for the sake of their own agenda or emotional gratification; the article argues for acquiescence, under the guise of understanding & consideration.

      • Roopesh Shenoy says:

        I think these comments don’t understand the context of the article – Intentions absolutely DO NOT matter when you have said something stupid (racist or sexist for e.g.). And there are plenty of such situations where people resort to “I am sorry you got offended..” when a “I’m sorry, I was wrong, let me do what I can to fix this” is much more appropriate.

        On the other hand, it is pretty self-evident when the person who was offended is unreasonable – this article is not speaking about those situations.

        • Mostly_123 says:

          Ah, yes- but who’s to say what is or isn’t “unreasonable”? That’s the key.
          While I do agree than many people do say ‘I’m sorry you got offended’ (which is not really an apology or request for pardon at all) when they should be saying ‘I’m sorry for what I did, and I’d like to make it better’ and that’s not something that should be forgotten.  

          However, the underlying point of contention though is, according to the article here, that anyone and everyone BUT ourselves is to judge what is ‘unreasonable’ and that’s what I think is so insidious about it: There’s the implicit notion that a ‘wronged’ person simply cannot be wrong, and that simply by the virtue of being the most offended person in the room, one is therefore the rightest, most legitimate, and most entitled person in the room. That, I believe, is errant; as is the notion that one should simply & unequivocally abrogate their right to evaluate and judge their own actions, in favor of just flatly differing it to the most slighted person in the room. Pure acquiescence is not the same as real dialogue and mutual accommodation; but some people want to dress that up as though it was. It can always be made to sound very liberal, very reasonable, and very innocuous, but in the end, it’s still just a blanket call for acquiescence, nothing more. And frankly, it cannot be and should not be open-ended, unconditional, and unqualified.

          Michelle Goldberg wrote an interesting article that touched a bit on this and how it pertained to feminism’s perspectives and idiosyncrasies back in January.


    • If my intentions don’t matter, do I?

  5. wellokaythen says:

    Let’s apply the article’s logic to the article itself.

    When I read this article, I felt invaded. I felt sad. I felt hurt. This article caused me pain and sadness. The author of the article caused pain and sadness inside me. I want the author to know that whether she intended those effects or not, I felt them keenly. I want the author to see that her words have consequences to other people. Saying you did not mean to offend me is no excuse

    Now, however the author responds to this will be exactly the way that I will respond to people who say that I have offended them. So, be careful how you reply, because everyone is supposed to be responsible for everyone else’s feelings.

  6. It’s currently a crime to cross state lines with the intent to have sexual contact with a minor. Just the intention to do so. So, you’re suggesting that we overturn that law? No harm done, no effect on the minor, intention matters very little, so no reason to have that law.

    Maybe intention only matters when it’s a bad intention?

  7. Great! And to take it a step further…what is the mechanism or shadow we have to do the actions or say the words that co-create the impact? When I unintentionally impact another, I am saying something by my actions….’I don’t care about you.’ ‘I’m privileged and you are not.’ ‘I don’t see you.’ It’s saying something about my own state of awareness or lack of. It’s my duty to look at self and not just apologize for my actions or words that created the impact….but to own the truth of where it came from.

    • But, one can’t have it both ways. If intention does not matter, only effects, then there’s no reason to waste time analyzing a man’s motivations. You can’t say that good intentions make no difference AND nail a man for having bad intentions like a sense of entitlement, defending his privilege, apathy, etc. If intentions don’t matter, then it doesn’t matter whether I really care about someone else or not. The goal seems to be to make other people feel like you care about them, whether I actually care about them or not?

  8. Going around apologizing for things when in your opinion you’ve done nothing wrong is not the way to go imo….plenty of articles on here about always being the one to say sorry and becoming the other person’s doormat. If two people are constantly stepping on each others’ toes, perhaps they need to learn a better way to communicate, or perhaps they need to get the hell out of Dodge. Just cos someone got hurt doesn’t mean it’s your fault cos you said something. Yes…..accept they are hurt…care for them, allow them to process their hurt but apologize for something you honestly feel you didn’t do wrong? No ways. Of course, if I reflect on what I said or did and I was careLESS….then yes I will apologize.

  9. While I generally agree wholeheartedly that it’s actions that count more than intentions, there are a lot of common misunderstandings.

    For instance, if I look at friend and say “nice pants” innocently complimenting his pants, he may take it sarcastically, if he is feeling insecure in his choice of pants.

    Modern psychology tells us that we are responsible for our own feelings for a reason. Everything we feel is an interpretation of our environment, through our own lenses, colored by our own experiences. So while what I said to my friend was intended as a compliment, it was taken as an insult. His hurt feelings are a misinterpretation of my communication and are therefor his responsibility. My intent was pure, my actions were pure, therefor no apology is necessary.

  10. Mr Supertypo says:

    I dont know about this, reading this article to me it seem the bloggist sees everything in black and white.
    If you step on my feet intentionally or not I will step on yours, eye for an eye, vendetta! Welcome to the zebra world.

    I disagree intent matter. Is there intention to hurt you or it was a incident? we are 7 billion people on this planet….I dont believe everybody who walks into you on the street does that with purpose. Do you believe this? to me it sound more like a mental desise…..a hint of insanity. My two cents, take it or leave it.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Seeing things as either/or is what a zealot does. Just because one matters more, that means only one of them matters? That’s a little screwy.

      • Mr Supertypo says:

        yes its true, I read the article and wrote my mind, now I saw your commentarie I can see we share a similar opinion. Zealot? yes I agree, and I find that kinda disturbing…

        • It’s the classic “I see the hand of _____ at work in everything.”

          Fill in the blank with whatever bogeyman you want: patriarchy, God, demons, evolutionary biology, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, privilege, etc.

    • wellokaythen says:

      That may be a bit unfair. There’s a little bit of nuance, because there’s actually a double standard at work. Men get no credit for good intentions, but get full blame for having bad intentions. It’s black and white, but like a chessboard. Not a big chessboard. More like a 2×2 chessboard.

  11. It’s fascinating how this article and discussion only deals with negative outcomes like injuries. If you really believed that effects matter and intentions don’t, then you’d have to apply the same argument to POSITIVE outcomes as well.

    If you like something someone says, then you have to assume that person was trying to please you. If you benefit from a situation, then you have to assume that someone wanted you to benefit. If there’s no difference between intended and unintended outcomes, then you should be grateful for anyone who unintentionally helps you, because that’s the same as someone who intentionally helps you.

    If a man does something that accidentally helps feminism, then you have to see that the same way as a man who consciously does something to promote feminism.

    Somehow intention doesn’t matter when a man does something bad, but it matters a lot when he does something good?

    In any event, I’m glad to see an article like this. Now I can feel better about ignoring all that New Age-y advice about “setting my intention” and “manifest your intentions” and all that other rubbish, because it doesn’t matter. This is refreshingly good old-fashioned amoral realpolitick: the ends justify the means, it’s all about the effects.

  12. wellokaythen says:

    Obviously intention does matter. Intent should not be used as an excuse for bad behavior, and it should not be used to ignore effects of behavior, but it does have a place.

    If intent does not matter, and the only thing that matters are the effects, then that means you have to treat everyone who offends you as someone who *intended* to offend you. Every hurt was intended to hurt you. There are no accidents and no unintended consequences. Everything offensive is directly and overtly offensive. There are no coincidences. That driver who rear-ended you must have done that on purpose, because the only thing that matters is effects, not intention.

    That’s a symptom of a personality disorder.

    Or, it’s evidence of someone who never developed a “theory of mind” about other people.

  13. Quoting “elissa” above:
    “Intent matters far too much to allow it to take a back seat to impact. Tribal conflicts and long standing feuds survive and flourish on the story telling of “impact” to pride and ego. Genocides have been rationalized based on imagined “impact” – taking of land, jobs, wealth, culture etc
    On the flip side and in full agreement that intent is not the final arbiter to all that is good and proper. Uncovering the real intent behind an action can be daunting at times and lead in several directions.”

    This is where things can get very “sticky” (distorted) as in, “Yes, but I wonder what you REALLY meant by (fill in the blank)” that’s where intention IS important to consider. The simplest statement/action no matter how innocently intended can be distorted into anything one wants to believe it to be depending upon a whole range of past trauma imagined, misremembered, distorted, real or not.
    If I am seen as one who is not to be trusted then ANYTHING I do or say will be taken with negative intent… intent to injure. That’s why we have “categories” of offense in any society which include “accidental” vs “intentional” harm. One is not the same as the other. The response to one being much different than the other.
    I think the comment above, about the “tribal conflicts” is central……if I assume your “intent” is always to harm then I will not ever consider “intent”. My feelings about you will be based on my belief. You may be a kind, caring person and I may distort anything you do in order to fit what I believe to be your REAL intent.

    We visited some people at Hopi last year and later heard that they were offended because we didn’t immediately sit at their table and eat something…..our “intent” was certainly not to offend. We just were not aware of the custom. When does understanding and forgiveness play a role in human interaction if everything is based upon a kind of never ending circle of; “You (intentionally….this is assumed) hurt my feelings and then didn’t apologize so now things are even worse………!”? What if that “assumption” was that the original intent was NOT to harm?
    Different assumption=different outcome.

  14. I read the article and the “comments” which followed and agree with both…..apologies are good and caring responses no matter what………AND intentions DO matter. I have been in relationships with women (and men) where what was important to them was DRAMA….so everything, no matter if intentional or not, had to be dealt with as though it were intentional. “My feelings got hurt when you……(fill in the blank)…..! life became one apology after another until one was apologizing for the simple act of living in the world. Anything can be taken to extreems. In the end loving is the central response……both ways.

  15. To be sure intent and impact are unpredictable in their correlation. One does have a responsibility for ones’s impact, but to what extent? One can surely imagine a version of this “philosophy” put into practice with an insurmountable workload as a result no?

  16. Wow – overthinking it much?? If you get hit in the face by a rogue frisbee, yea that is TOTALLY different than if someone throws it directly at you. Sure, it hurts either way, but it’s missing that crucial edge – the “I was just ASSAULTED” edge…

  17. The point about privilege is an interesting one. I would say in many respects the one who is being offended is the one in the privileged position, because they get to be the one to have the final “moral” say on the outcome of the incident. The buck stops where they say “I’m offended”, and many people will abuse that and maybe even get high on the little power rush that gives them.
    Imagine for instance a religious fundamentalist who is “offended” by the way a woman dresses in a short skirt. Should she be apologising to him for the impact of her clothing choices, clearly regardless of the fact that she never intended to offend anyone?

  18. What about the apology part? I am uncomfortable with the concept of apologizing. It ties in with this conversation to the degree that apologizing somehow lessens the impact. Aren’t apologies just another way of trying to take away the intent? Id rather hear “I recognize that what I said was hurtful/inappropriate etc..”

  19. I’m finding this conversation interesting. Recently I was accused of being very hurtful to someone, however her demands of an apology were out of line. She was feeling hurt because of things I DID NOT do, rather than things I did. For example, I did not respond to good news she shared with me in the way she wanted me to respond. I frequently find this person difficult to be with. Is my lack of interest in her good news an intention?. Her accusations of my being hurtful are based on her own desire to have people react to her in a very specific way that she has apparently pre-determined. In this particular case, there really were no intentions on my part that I can think of. Yet, this person was hurt by my not giving her the full range of emotion about her news that she had expected. Truthfully, I was simply avoiding being pulled into her drama. Maybe sometimes there is just no avoiding someone else’s hurt. Maybe sometimes, you just have to put yourself first. No apologies.

  20. I couldn’t disagree more. Intention absolutely does matter. It doesn’t change the facts, doesn’t change what happened, or change the impact, however it does matter.

    When a person buys you a gift, should we be more concerned with the impact of said gift ? or the thought behind it?

    When someone actively commits an assault against me (physical, verbal, or otherwise) I’m more upset that they’re TRYING to hurt me, rather what they’re actually doing.

    Intention Matters. It may not change anything, but it matters.

  21. John Anderson says:

    Let’s turn it on it’s head and see if the argument still holds. Does effort matter or should we only be concerned with results? Effort = intent and results = impact. What if someone has a disability? Should we give them longer to take a test or finish a task? Should they get paid the same if they don’t produce as much if their effort is the same?

  22. Chuchundra says:

    And, you know, some people just walk right into the path of that Frisbee. Maybe they’re oblivious, just not paying attention, or maybe it’s something else. I’ll still apologize, because politeness, but I’m not gonna feel real bad about it.

    And sometimes, it’s that same person who always seems to walk into the Frisbee path. So maybe when they come around, we’re just going to stop with the Frisbee until you leave or just find somewhere else to play.

  23. Intent matters far too much to allow it to take a back seat to impact. Tribal conflicts and long standing feuds survive and flourish on the story telling of “impact” to pride and ego. Genocides have been rationalized based on imagined “impact” – taking of land, jobs, wealth, culture etc

    On the flip side and in full agreement that intent is not the final arbiter to all that is good and proper. Uncovering the real intent behind an action can be daunting at times and lead in several directions.

    Impact is often manufactured by the politics of the day, making it an unreliable and intent is often hidden under layers of social dress, making it hard to tease apart – each can be played and manipulated – a misdiagnosed/manufactured intent and an exaggerated impact has historically been the weapon of in/out group dynamics that leads to strife, wars and atrocities.

  24. The big problem with this that I see is that it enables troublemakers, people who get their own way by manufacturing drama. It can also be used as a way of silencing criticism or disagreement. One might even say that was the intent behind it, which is perhaps another reason why “intent doesn’t matter”.

  25. MCaulfield says:

    Simply brilliant.

  26. And one more thing:

    “Check YOUR privilege”, followed by “this isn’t about you!”

    If it isn’t about them, why tell them to check THEIR privilege in the first place?

  27. It depends on the evaluation being made of the person. If that involves a projection of intent, then actually yes, that person’s statement of intent is entirely relevant. They know their intentions best – others do not.

    Accusing someone of misogyny for example means you claim they hate women. That is not something you can you know. You do not know their intent, and you cannot infer it on the basis of a disagreement on one particular issue, say.

    In my experience, the whole “intent isn’t magic” meme is a smokescreen for those who want to impute bad intentions onto people they disagree with. And ultimately yes – there is a HUGE difference between someone who goes around throwing frisbees who accidentally whacks the occasional person in the face with one, and someone who goes around intentionally throwing frisbees into people’s faces. Assuming that someone is in the latter camp based on one incidence of frisbee meeting face is faulty logic, and is only going to aggravate people. I’ll take a thousand well-intentioned people over those with malign intent any day.

  28. EnterNight says:

    Perhaps it wasn’t the *intent* of the article, but what this says to me is “Your actions will all have consequences, and you’ll just have to deal with it. But please don’t let that stop you from doing things, you’ll just be punished for stuff you totally didn’t mean to do. Just take your lumps like a good little sheep now.”

    Sorry, but if this is a real value system, it’s probably better to be a shut-in and just never leave the house–though even then, you’re probably still pissing someone off, so no matter what, you lose.

    But at least then, you won’t have to step on the toes of someone whose eyes flash with indignant rage at you as though they haven’t done the same thing themselves a few hundred times. You won’t have to risk innocently throwing proverbial Frisbees into the air, only to accidentally hit people who have trouble with the concept of “accident” despite the fact that they’ve probably made a few hundred thousand mistakes themselves, and yet still somehow cling to some notion that they have a “right” to be indignant at you.

    No one has an inherent “right” to rage when someone hurts us. What we have is a survival instinct to maim or kill the person/animal that just harmed us. There’s nothing “right” about this–it’s just pure reptilian brain logic same as fight-or-flight. It came about not because that’s how humans are “meant” to act, but because early primates that acted on that rage–whether it was right or wrong after the fact–had a better chance of surviving to pass on their genes than the primates who didn’t.

    We’re no more entitled to lash out and/or hold a grudge than the person who apologizes to us is entitled to our forgiveness. Rage should always be reconsidered and de-escalated as quickly as possible, and forgiveness should never be taken for granted.

  29. Gint Aras says:

    Can I go out on a limb to suggest that some of these people who claim they never intended anything actually did intend something. Perhaps they did not intend to come across as racist, or they did not intend to hurt someone, not with malice. But they still intended to express a strong point of view, one they must be aware is strong. They lack the mindfulness necessary to see their larger intentions, sure. But that does not mean they are free of bad intentions.

    You don’t get away with it by saying you didn’t mean it. And just because you say you didn’t mean it doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth. I had a guy ask me on a train once, “I don’t mean anything when I say this, but are you Jewish?” I’m not. No. Why? “Well, your beard is kind of Jewish. I don’t mean anything when I say this. Just, you look kinda Jewish.”

    This is a person with the intentions of an asshole.

  30. The most insightful part of this article IMO is:

    “And we need to step back and listen when we are being told that the impact of our actions is out of step with our intents or our perceptions of self.”

    I strongly believe that intent is extremely important. However, if someone claims that they did not intend to be hurtful/sexist/racist/homophobic/pickyourpoison and yet it keeps happening. Then it’s a cop out or a lie. If I say something that causes someone pain and my intention is not to do that, then I am going to change what I’m doing so that it doesn’t happen again. If I don’t change what I’m doing, then my intent is not what I am saying it is.

    Intent matters, it matters because when someone tells you that you’ve had an impact that was not your intent it’s time to take a good look at yourself. That’s when you learn.

    The awesome part of this blog is that some people need it. Some people have been resting on their “intent” and need to have it pulled out from under them. They didn’t take the hint and examine the times when their intent did not match their impact so it’s time to take it to the next step.

  31. Mostly_123 says:

    “When we are told that the impact of our action, inaction, or words is hurtful and furthers oppression, we can start by apologizing without any caveats.”

    I think it’s important to avoid talking in absolutes, especially when you’re dealing with generalities and potentialities – sometimes those caveats ARE necessary and well founded. It’s direly important to evaluate the source, its credibility, and criteria. Blindly assuming ‘a’ knows better than ‘b’ is no better or more valid than blindly assuming ‘b’ knows better than ‘a.’   

    It’s foolish and dangerously short-sighted to assume that one can always judge one’s own actions fairly and impartially, without bias. But it’s equally foolish and irresponsible to assume that because of that, then one simply CANNOT (or should not try to) do it all. A lot of people say ‘reflect on what you did’ when what they really want or mean is ‘see it from my point of view, and you’ll realize I’m right’ – that’s all well and good. But sometimes, upon reflection, that other point of view IS wrong (if there even is an actual, quantifiable ‘right’ or ‘wrong’). To assume that one can never be right because of personal bias or ‘privilege’ is just as bad as assuming one can never be wrong because of it: It just transfers the responsibility (and the power) from one party to another. One should rightly then be very cautious and discerning about when, how, and who they differ their better judgment to. 

  32. Throwing a Frisbee in someone’s face is different when it is done by accident. If it is deliberate, then it is assault.

    Intent plays a crucial role in prosecuting people for crimes. Murder if it was deliberate, manslaughter if the intent was to injure, rather than to kill.

    Intent really does matter. Once someone has accidentally caused offense once, then they know that it is offensive, and they don’t have the excuse of ignorance next time.

    • John Anderson says:

      @ Mike

      Lack of criminal intent doesn’t necessarily mean lack of responsibility. When we accidentally injure someone it may be a civil matter were we would be required to make amends. In that sense he’s right. Where he goes wrong is when he starts discussing privilege. It makes it appear that those without or with less privilege have no or reduced responsibility for the harm that they caused. A Frisbee doesn’t hit any less hard because it was thrown at a white man.

  33. Joanna Schroeder says:

    I think intention does matter, but it only matters in individual relationships – and even then it only matters if the person is willing to apologize and move forward in a different way, as you said, Jamie.

    We can’t have an all-or-nothing unforgiving society, and I don’t think you’re calling for that. Instead, we need to be willing to forgive those who are truly sorry and interested in helping solve the problem with themselves and society.

  34. John Anderson says:

    Let me give you s different scenarios. Your at a park with your young children. A woman walks up to you and mentions that your children are beautiful and she begins to make inquiries like how old are they, what school they go to, etc. Scenario 2 is a woman waiting at a bus stop. A man approaches and compliments her on her beauty and begins to ask her what bus she waiting for, where she is going, etc.

    Why would many people view scenario 1 as innocent and scenario 2 as street harassment? Both actions are similar. In each a person feels entitled to complimenting the appearance of and getting information from someone who hasn’t indicated consent. Some parents feel unease when a stranger takes an interest in their child. Could the difference be our assumptions of their intent?

    Does the difference lie in the need to be satisfies because in the first the need is maternal and the second it’s sexual? That would mean that sex would need to be dirty and wrong. Doesn’t sound reasonable. Is it the genders of the people intruding? That would be sexist. If people put aside their assumptions, they’d probably see a little of both in why they create a distinction between the two. They’d probably see how this changes their perception of the intruding person’s intent.

    So why are some forms of street harassment OK and others not?

    • Thought provoking point. The answer comes back to privilege, as the author mentions. In your scenario the woman who compliments someone’s children for being beautiful and the man who feels he has the right to comment on a woman’s beauty both have privilege. But today society is challenging the latter’s while the former’s is not being challenged (at least for women – a man who complimented children would be called a pervert).

      • John Anderson says:

        @ Dave

        I suppose it could be viewed that way. I remember two instances. One involved a niece and the other a nephew. I was with my niece. She was about 2 years old. She was a few feet in front of me. A woman walks up to me. My niece turns around, raises her arms, and says “Up, up, up”. I picked her up. All she knew was that this giant stranger was walking towards her. The other time I was holding my nephew. He was facing forward. A woman walked up, waved, and said hi. He immediately turned around and hugged me. She moved around to get in his line of sight to say hi again. He turned his head. She wasn’t getting that she was scaring him.

        Sometimes the person you impact can’t tell you that you’re impacting them. Sometimes you need to go with body language. Sometimes someone else needs to tell you that you’re impacting someone. Other times you should use common sense and agreed upon social norms. I’ll give you two other real life examples.

        A friend visited a friend of his in Ireland. His friends name is Michael, but they called him Mick for short. He was going to meet his friend at a bar. When he saw his friend enter, he yelled out, “Hey Mick!” The entire bar got quiet and they looked at him. He never considered that it could also be construed as a racial slur. His friend had no problem with it, but the bystanders were impacted.

        At an former job, they hired a third generation, Hispanic man. He was so Americanized that he didn’t even know how to speak Spanish. Sometimes my boss would ask him to puck up lunch for her. Sometimes it was at Taco Bell. He never had a problem with it. He quit and they hired a first generation Hispanic man. My boss asked him to do the same thing. Another employee told her that he was embarrassed to go to Taco Bell because that wasn’t real Mexican food (He’s not the only person who’s told me that). She apologized and never asked him to go there again.

        Should he have been embarrassed to go to Taco Bell? Is there an objective standard of offense or is everything based on everyone else’s (except the person doing the action) subjective opinion? As a non-black person, can I take personal offense at the use of the N word or does my personal experiences prohibit that? What if it was used by a black person? Does his life experience over ride my lack of it and he gets to use it even if it upsets me?


  1. […] write my own post about intent or intentions in relation to actions. But, then I came across this post on The Good Men Project‘s website. I think this author has a way better handle on words and […]

  2. […] You might also like Intent Vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter  […]

  3. […] (From Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter) […]

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