I’ve seen a lot of instances in social media that make me wonder whether or not the intent of a post, a comment, or an action matters anymore. So, I thought up an equation (don’t judge, I’m not a Mathematician):
|-x| > p, where p = actual intent and x = inferred intent
x < p < - x
In my mind, your actual intent (p) – regardless of “good” or “bad” – will always have less value than the negative inferred intent (– x). In addition, any positive inferred intent (x) will have less value than the actual intent (p).
The unfortunate truth is that offense is taken, not given. Someone could say or do something that in your opinion is “evil” or “wrong,” but is that true? Where is the line for intent? To me, it feels like a very dangerous rabbit hole to go digging into, but it has unfortunately infected my life in a very real way so I need to talk about it.
Let me tell you about a core part of my character.
I love complimenting people indiscriminately: man, woman, child, elder, black, white, family, friend, complete stranger – I don’t care. People are people. I compliment their appearance because (1) maybe I find a connection with what they’re wearing and want a reason to open a friendly conversation, (2) maybe I notice something about the way they look such as hair/clothes that is different from their day-to-day and want to recognize their effort, (3) maybe I noticed an improvement on their behavior and want to enforce that, or (4) maybe I just felt like being nice: sharing positive energy or happy thoughts.
I’ve done this my entire life… no expectations, no ulterior motives. My intent has always been to be positive and help others, even if I’m feeling my worst.
However, it was recently inferred by someone that because I gave a man a compliment on his clothes, he and I were having an affair. What didn’t matter in this situation was my intent. I would never have an affair with anyone except Tim (who I’ve been with forever and is my other half), and why should they care anyway? Don’t they have their own lives to focus on? So, now I wonder: “did they say this because they were bored? Because they’re not happy?”
People have become so self-focused, that they don’t consider what an accusation like this does to someone else.
I’m now in a constant state of fear and depression.
I also feel sick at my stomach, dirty and ashamed for something I didn’t do and would never do.
I’m hiding from people and conversations.
I’m struggling to figure out where I went wrong…
Why is kindness twisted and thrown back with such viciousness?
I’m now forced to change my core character and personality so that I don’t “rock-the-boat” of society. I understand the importance of behaving a certain way in different situations, but I have always given compliments innocently and with no expectations that a compliment would ever be returned. It has solely been for the benefit of others… but now… that’s not socially acceptable anymore.
I have always tried to do the right thing, and to be better today than the previous day, but this… this breaks me. If the intent of those people who accused me of having an affair was to break me, then they succeeded. Gone is that happy, selfless lady. In her place is someone who is fearful of society and the power that it holds, a dictatorship in its own right.
I will survive, but inside… I am lost…
As I reflect on my situation, I wonder how many other people have been silenced? How many people have had their kindness ripped apart into inferred intent and assumptions? I am not the only one who feels this way, I know this, so why are we silent? Why are we afraid to continue being kind?
How do we continue to give when the world wants us to be like them – to take?
I don’t have the answer.
I might never have the answer.
But I’ve received advice on how to move forward:
Option 1. Some have told me to keep my head down and just do nothing.
Option 2. Some have told me to give compliments when the recipient has earned kindness and therefore is deserving of that kindness.
Option 3. But only one wants me to fight back, to change the system.
Let time heal the wounds and look for another way.
I don’t want to become as lifeless and empty as the first option, I won’t withhold kindness until it’s earned like the second option, and I don’t have the righteousness to fight for the third option. What I’m left with is waiting.
Time will become my best friend as I try to figure out how to prevent negative intent from ruling my life. I don’t know if it’s possible when there is a mob mentality out there trying to ruin people… But I’m not going to give up.
Proving intent though… that’s a different story.