Intent is not magic: an introductory text

The place to ask questions about the basic values of Atheism Plus, feminism and social justice.

Intent is not magic: an introductory text

Postby Ginny » Sun Sep 23, 2012 8:30 pm

We've had several threads recently where the "intent is not magic" trope has come up. Since some people seem to have trouble either reading or understanding the blog post which coined the phrase, I'm going to elaborate it here. If I've missed any points, others can feel free to jump in.

When a well-meaning, generally conscientious person accidentally says or does something that's hurtful to an oppressed group, and the oppressed group reacts with appropriate anger, the well-meaning person is faced with a cognitive dissonance. They think of themselves as a good person, good people don't hurt oppressed people, but the oppressed people are acting like they've been hurt. There are several paths out of this cognitive dissonance: one is to decide that the oppressed people are way overreacting: they can't have really been that hurt, or maybe they are but what you're saying is so important to say that it justifies the hurt. Another, which often overlaps with that, is to insist that what you meant is all-important: if you weren't trying to hurt them, you're clearly not a bad person, so they shouldn't be yelling at you.

People in this situation behave as if they're in a court of law, scrambling to present their innocent intentions and justifications. Meanwhile, what's going on on the other side of the exchange? The person who's been hurt is still hurt, and on top of that hurt they see you doing what society does all the time: prioritizing your own comfort over their pain. So all the good intentions and justifications in the world only make it worse. Kassiane's analogy was great: it's like you've accidentally slammed someone's hand in a car door, and then you stand there explaining that you didn't mean to do it, while their hand is still caught in the door.

There's another way out of that cognitive dissonance, which is to accept that good people sometimes do hurt oppressed people: what good people do next is to apologize, and try to learn more so they can avoid hurting more people in the future. Sometimes the person you've hurt isn't the one to teach you, and it's not their responsibility. Nor is soothing your feelings around having been (directly or indirectly) called a bad person. Apologize for their sake, and then give them the space to process their feelings without having to reassure you. Go find someone else who can help you understand what went wrong and how not to do it again.
User avatar
Ginny
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 374
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:37 pm

Re: Intent is not magic: an introductory text

Postby simpleflower » Sun Oct 07, 2012 7:53 pm

Thanks for this Ginny: it's an excellent post! C=
User avatar
simpleflower
 
Posts: 1402
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:59 pm

Re: Intent is not magic: an introductory text

Postby ceepolk » Sun Oct 07, 2012 10:40 pm

short version:

when you truly didn't intend any harm and you say or do something that shocks, hurts, angers, or scares the person you were interacting with, which takes the higher priority in your reaction:

    Their shock, hurt, anger, or fear
    Your innocence?
User avatar
ceepolk
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 4702
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:35 am

Re: Intent is not magic: an introductory text

Postby irkthepurists » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:54 pm

What about when people do over-react, or take unreasonable umbrage at something they shouldn't?

For example, I've sometimes found myself pissing off ghost-believers who use the 'I know what I saw' fallacy. No matter how politely I point out that personal conviction is not in itself evidence, they usually infer something highly offensive in what I'm saying. As a result, I've started biting my tongue because it's just not worth the bother. In such cases, is it me who's at fault?
irkthepurists
 
Posts: 525
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:18 am

Re: Intent is not magic: an introductory text

Postby ceepolk » Mon Oct 08, 2012 12:22 am

irkthepurists wrote:What about when people do over-react, or take unreasonable umbrage at something they shouldn't?

For example, I've sometimes found myself pissing off ghost-believers who use the 'I know what I saw' fallacy. No matter how politely I point out that personal conviction is not in itself evidence, they usually infer something highly offensive in what I'm saying. As a result, I've started biting my tongue because it's just not worth the bother. In such cases, is it me who's at fault?


that's a variant. I tend to just wave my hands.

"I saw a ghost."

"Did it frighten you?"

"No it was the spirit of my dead grandmother."

"Oh, well at least it didn't scare you, that's good."

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

"No."

mostly because I don't really care if they believe in ghosts or not.
User avatar
ceepolk
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 4702
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:35 am


Return to Information and answers

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests