Intent and Impact

Imagine that you are running late for class. In a rush, you make it to the location of your classroom and make a mad dash to the elevator. On your vigorous trek to the elevator, you accidentally run into an individual, pouring your freshly purchased cup of coffee all over his spotless shirt. Understandably so, the individual is upset and uses rather colorful language to express as much. You respond with, “But I really did not mean to. I was just in a hurry because I am late for class.” You continue to explain your intentions, and all the individual demands instead is an apology.  You grow increasingly frustrated at the individual’s seeming unwillingness to understand your plight and refuse to apologize.

Considering the above scenario, which matters most: your intentions or the impact of the spilled coffee?

This scenario demonstrates the age-old debate between intent vs impact. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, our actions or words can have significant impact on others that can be hurtful.

Emphasizing impact over intent is especially important when considering intersecting social identities and how we talk about these identities with one another. If sharing a joke among friends or using certain popular terminology results in offending someone, then it becomes more important to attend to the offense, reflect, empathize, and apologize.