Recently, I have assisted several couples who have broken relationships try to communicate with one another. One person will outline the way they have been hurt to see if they can bring about change. But often times, I am hearing from the offender that they didn’t ‘intend’ to hurt the offended. This is said with an assumption that because they didn’t ‘intend’ it, it doesn’t count and the offended person should adjust and not be hurt. There is no apology, no recognition of the hurt caused, no effort to understand the offended, and ultimately no hope for change. So I’d like to discuss this issue of intent.
There certainly are times that we can hurt others and be unaware of how our actions will affect another person. We can even intend good, but instead we cause harm because of the other person’s emotional history, values, perspective, dreams, etc. I think of something as simple as hugging someone at church can be intended for good. But if the person has experienced abuse it may trigger something in them toward fear and hurt. At best, we are simply unaware of their fear.
At the worst, we have been told how our actions have hurt another and we don’t care. We simply want to do what we want to do. Or perhaps we don’t believe the other person that a hug could possibly be triggering and we hug them regardless. Just because we don’t ‘intend’ harm, doesn’t mean we don’t harm. Thoughtlessness and carelessness comes to mind here. There may be no thought of the impact of our words or actions; and frankly we don’t care anyway.
Leviticus 5 & 6 speaks to intent when offering restitution. In Chapter 5 vs. 15-16 it deals with a person who ‘acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally’, he shall make restitution paying back in full and adding one-fifth to it. In Chapter 6 vs. 2-5 it deals with a person who lies, steals, deceives, extorts intentionally, then says he shall make restitution in full and add one-fifth more. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is intentional or unintentional, the restitution is the same.
When someone tells us that we have hurt them,
- Make excuses
- Tell them their feelings are wrong because they don’t match our intent
- Explain why we did what we did
- Justify our actions
To the offended person, these actions guarantee we will hurt them again and reconciliation of the relationship must stay broken if they are to remain safe.
Let me suggest a healthy response when someone tells us that we have hurt them.
- Say, “I am so sorry I hurt you.”
- Listen for how they interpreted our words or behaviors.
- Validate their interpretation is legitimate.
- Develop a plan so as to not hurt them again.
- Stick to the plan.
When we do this we don’t have to tell them we didn’t intend to hurt them. By taking these steps it becomes obvious that we didn’t intend to hurt them in the first place and reconciliation of the relationship can happen.
Regardless of intent, when someone tells us we have hurt them, we own it and we find ways to understand their perspective and change our behavior so we don’t hurt them again.