I want to start this post by saying that these are my thoughts on the subject of impact and intent. They are not an attempt to tell anyone what to do but merely me sharing my beliefs on this subject and whilst I have mentioned Submissy (because she inspired me to write this) it is not aimed at anyone is particular
CW: Discusses murder v manslaughter and road traffic accidents that involve people coming to harm.
This morning I left this long comment on a post by Submissy about intent and impact. I have since had further thoughts on this matter but rather than swamp her comments with them I decided to try to post them here.
I want to start by saying that I absolutely respect what Missy has written and I am actually grateful that she has written on this subject because she has made me think a lot more about it and cement some of my thoughts and beliefs around this complex subject. I believe that it is vital that we have these conversations and try to find common ground and understand each other.
This is the comment I left…
I agree with PS words hurt and people know that. Taking responsibility for the hurt you have caused someone regardless of why you have done it is so damn important in my opinion.
If someone says… “what you said/did/wrote harmed me”
and the reply is…. Oh I didn’t mean it. Or… Oh but I didn’t say THAT…. or Sorry, but I didn’t mean to because
I feel like the person getting that reply is going to say. “Oh OK, sure, but you did really upset me/hurt my feelings/make me feel scared”
and then they get back again another version of “Oh yes sorry about that but..”
I think that the person who was upset/hurt can easily feel like that is not really acknowledged because it is constantly being couched in qualifiers.
Also my understanding of restorative justice, especially in the criminal justice system but also in school etc is not really for perpetrators to get to justify what they have done but for victims to speak about how what has happened to them made them feel. It is meant to get perpetrators to understand that their actions cause harm, and often impacts them beyond the initial crime, making them fearful, experiencing self loathing, sadness etc. So that they can start to see how their actions have a wider impact than just that someone is physical hurt by their punch, or sad that they lost the thing that was stolen etc but that the damage is much more than just superficial. That the persons actions have much deeper consequences.
“Restorative practice supports people to recognise that all of their activities affect others and that people are responsible for their choices and actions and can be held accountable for them. It enables people to reflect on how they interact with each other and consider how best to prevent harm and conflict.” ~ What is Restorative Justice?
and more… this is about in schools which seems quite relevant if we are not talking about crime
“Restorative approaches enable those who have been harmed to convey the impact of the harm to those responsible, and for those responsible to acknowledge this impact and take steps to put it right.” ~ Restorative Practice in Schools
Restorative justice is not an opportunity for the person who caused harm to try to mitigate or justify what they did. Yes those conversations might be had but not to allow them to lessen or take away the impact on the victim. Literally every page on the restorative Justice website talks about impact.
I absolutely agree that we should all talk more and try to understand one another. To really LISTEN to one another but particularly to people who have been harmed and try really hard to understand why they may feel the way they do. Empathy is so important but you can’t really empathize if you don’t listen.
Also that often people who feel harmed don’t necessarily react as their best self in those circumstances. They feel angry, scared, upset, etc. And so may well not come across as polite or understanding. It was a common response to people of colour when they faced discrimination to be told they were too angry, they came across as aggressive etc. There is a long history of people harmed being told their feelings/responses were over the top. Same with women who have spoken out about being sexually assaulted.
Facing up that you have done something wrong is fucking HARD. I think it is something we all struggle with because no one wants to upset the people around them whether they be friends, partners or people we know in a wider community. Knowing you have done that is a really uncomfortable feeling. In fact it is your indicator that you know that wasn’t your intent. Because if it was your intent you would likely shrug your shoulders and think…I don’t really care, fuck em, I think they are dicks, they deserve it etc. When that is not your reaction then you care about the impact you have had and you hate/dislike what you have done. It is very easy to try to justify your way out of that by focusing on YOUR intent rather than your impact. I also think if you can’t acknowledge or understand the impact you have had on someone then really your intent is fairly irrelevant.
I think a conversation about intent and really understanding what that might have been can really only happen when a person understand/acknowledges the impact first but as with restorative justice the focus is very much on impact and feelings surrounded what happened, giving ‘victims’ a voice and getting those who have made a mistake to really understand that.
Thank you for writing this piece though, you have really helped me to cement my thoughts on this subject and do some research on restorative justice so I could understand it better.
I also wanted to pick up on the point about murder v manslaughter. Yes we look at intentions in those situations. If you set out in your car to track down person X and run them down deliberately then your intention was to harm them. We deal with that more harshly than if you set out in your car and got distracted by your phone and had an accident but we still look a great deal at the impact of those persons actions.
In the first scenario we understand that intent changes the situation but in the second it becomes less clear. If, whilst looking at your phone you mount the curb, and hit the traffic lights it would be assessed that the impact of what you did, whilst a problem was not life changing to someone. Maybe you might get off with a fine. If however you mount the curb and hit 6 people, killing 2 and giving others life changing injuries we deem the impact of what you did to be much more severe. Impact absolutely matters in this situation and it is impact that at the end of the day decides the consequences that person must face.
On my walk this morning I briefly spoke to Michael about my thoughts on impact and intention and I realised that our relationship for me speaks strongly to this subject.
Michael and I have had many conversations about what has happened between us and oftentimes I have searched to understand why he made the decisions he made. No matter how often we have this conversation and no matter what explanation he offers me we always end up back with me saying (and I am paraphrasing here) Yes but what you did hurt me. We have both come to realise that even though I know his intentions were not malicious they were hugely harmful to me and to our relationship. Understanding the why doesn’t change that. In fact in some ways it has made it even harder. We have both realised that no amount of explaining on his part will make me understand the why in a way that mitigates the impact. As he said to me himself, you won’t ever understand because you wouldn’t do it. And he is absolutely right and me constantly seeking to understand is only continuing to harm us both. Despite everything that has happened between us and the mistakes we have both made and decisions he took I still care about Michael and wish the best for him. The impact of what he did is something we both have to live with. It has changed both our lives.
Every day I am moving closer to a place of forgiveness. As time goes by and I sit with things that becomes easier and easier. Eventually I will get there and I hope, I believe that will be one of the biggest steps towards us truly both being able to move on and also cement our friendship. But it takes time and patience and understanding and even when I get there it won’t diminish the impact of what has happened on either of us but it will and is allowing us to move forward and develop a relationship that is positive and healthy for us both.
I think Missy summed it up well when she said
“Accountability is important, but I think you can only truly hold yourself accountable and resolve things when you are able to understand and empathise with the way that the other person is thinking and feeling”
For Michael to really hold himself accountable and try to resolve things it was really important for him to understand and fully accept the impact of the decisions he made. His intentions might not have been to cause harm but that is exactly what they did. Me understanding his intentions gives me some small insight into his thoughts processes but it does very little to change how I feel about it and as a result it has caused the nature of our relationship to change forever. The impact is huge regardless of his intentions. He remains my friend and I remain his and the fact that he is comfortable with me writing this and supports me in doing so is one of the reasons why we are still friends because he is not constantly telling me…. but this or but that…. he is accepting his actions and taking on the burden of them and supporting me as best he can with the impact they have had on me. I have massive respect and admiration for him being able to do that.
I don’t think the relationship between impact and intent is clear cut. Like so many things it is a grey murky area and totally depends on the people involved and that situation that has happened but I do know that if we look at the wider world impact actually nearly always overshadows intent. It does not mean it is completely irrelevant but really at the end of the day knowing why someone ‘hurt’ you doesn’t mean you are a not still hurt.
It is why with young children we teach them to apologise properly to their peers or siblings when they make a mistake. When little Jackie accidentally bashes little Jane on the head with a shoe that they threw across the room we don’t say to Jane, oh stop crying Jackie didn’t mean it and now you are making them feel bad. We say explain to Jackie why throwing shoes across the room is a bad idea and how they have hurt someone in the process and that they need to say sorry and see if there is anything they can do to make them feel better.
Yes I know, a very simplified example and yet for me it is often when we really pair things back to the simplest of thoughts and ideas that we or this case I can see things a bit more clearly.
I want to make it absolutely clear I am not trying to tell anyone what to do here or calling anyone out. This post is about my thoughts around the subject of intentions and impact and what I believe to be the case for me and a glimpse into how I have come to these conclusions. As I said I absolutely respect Missy’s piece and I am glad she wrote it because it has caused me to think a lot more about this subject and having these complicated and complex conversations is really important in my opinion. We don’t all have to agree but hopefully we can disagree (if we do) respectfully.
As a wise woman said to me recently we are all just trying to navigate this world by our own internal stars and I thanked her for reminding me of that because I truly believe in the inherent goodness of most people (unless they prove me wrong) and that most people are just trying to do their best and find their way by what they believe to be right and wrong. I believe that for the most part people do not set out with the intention of hurting others, it’s such a horrible feeling for us when we do it so why would we seek that out? But the truth is we all make mistakes and often hurt people when we do, saying sorry and not asking that person to make you feel better is in my opinion the way to deal with that situation.