An intention to harm?

Oct 31




Helen Whitten

Posted In


An intention to harm?

“I didn’t mean to hurt you” we say when we inadvertently do or say something that offends or hurts another person.  And, if we are lucky, the friend, colleague or family member will know us well enough to accept that there was no ill intention meant in our words, even if the impact of those words was somewhat hurtful.

But in today’s world there seems to be little forgiveness allowed for an occasional mistake or slip of the tongue, or even a different opinion.  Judgement rains down hard on anyone who questions current liberal dogma.  A suggestion that carrying out surgery on young children who may be uncertain of their gender could be potentially be both dangerous and damaging leads to the accusation of “transphobe”.  Expressing a concern that England is a small place and that the potential of a population of 70million in a few years’ time needs to be addressed by planning for over-crowding of transport and under-capacity of infrastructure leads to the accusation of “racist” even if no word of ethnic make-up of that population was spoken.  Any query about the workings of the EU bureaucracy, the corruption that exists within Eastern European countries or the anti-LGBT rights expressed in Poland is met with an accusation of being an ignorant ‘Leave’ voter even if the person didn’t vote Leave.  You aren’t allowed to question.  If you do, you are a traitor in the eyes of the ‘woke’ brigade, where political correctness silences debate.

Even President Obama has made a speech about the dangers of this woke culture, censorious judgement of calling others out on this, that or the other opinion that does not fit into the current trend of attitude.  And, in this Stasi-like atmosphere, intentions are disregarded.  Yet there is a huge difference between someone who deliberately intends to incite racism or prejudice versus someone who happens inadvertently to say something that offends.  But in today’s world it is only the impact that matters, not the intention.  And that impact is subjective and personal and there are certainly those who seek to be offended.

We can all be offended by the opinion of others if we allow ourselves to be.  But our response to any situation or comment is our choice and we can surely take the time to delve a little deeper and discover the true feelings and motives behind what someone is saying. 

Judgement is given because of the ‘impact’ that a statement is perceived to have made and too often people – especially on social media – are not interested to explore and investigate what someone really meant.  It’s the heavy hand of censure that is administered like an assassin’s axe.  The accusation of ‘racist, transphobe, Islamophobe, Nazi, white supremacist, nationalist’ etc. being issued as a weapon to silence or shame that person into changing their opinion, or at least not expressing an honest opinion.  “If you’re not with me, you’re against me, and you’re a bad person”, is the charge.  The battle of ‘goodies versus baddies’, when the reality is many good people simply having different viewpoints.

It’s just so divisive and many writers, including myself, are nervous of putting our heads above the parapet for fear of saying something that someone will find offensive.  We see female politicians and others resigning under this vicious onslaught.  Apparently, this fear of speaking up is also happening in schools as pupils are nervous of asking or answering a question in case they don’t apply the current verbiage, only to be castigated by another member of their class.  Should a writer dare to say something biological but apparently radical such as women don’t have penises or men with penises aren’t really women, they get no-platformed and harangued by the crowd.  Someone choosing, for fun, to dress up in another nationality’s costume is accused of offending that nation through ‘cultural appropriation’.  It seems one can’t have a joke or a party without someone choosing to be offended. 

And so I worry about Greta Thunberg and her venom and hatred of the older generation.  Of course, my and other generations have made mistakes but it was for certain that we did not intend to threaten the wellbeing of the world.  The intention was to enhance people’s lives through better science, heating, transport, medicine.  The unintended consequences of these marvellous developments are thoroughly unfortunate.  But there was no conscious intention to upset the planet.  The goal, and indeed the result, of these inventions and advances has been to enhance people’s lives and health beyond measure over recent decades.  But we are now realising there was an unintended cost.

But the intention doesn’t matter, it seems.  Those who invented and enjoyed the technical and scientific advances of recent times are evil folk who have to be blamed.  Hatred has become the language of accusation.  This is a poisonous energy in the world.  Not only does it divide but it also incapacitates.  If everyone thinks the world is dying why not give up and adopt a helpless-hopeless position?  This helps no-one, neither the individual nor the globe.  Encouragement to find solutions could surely galvanise a more positive motivation to live sustainably and create innovation.  But we can’t speak up for optimism, however rational or scientific, because we will be categorised as a climate-change-denier.

For me it is those who are absolutist in their certainty about the future, whether it is about climate change or Brexit, that are the ones to be worried about.  None of us can truly predict what the future holds as who’s to say that we won’t find brilliant solutions to our current and future problems?  But if one says that life has improved over the last fifty  years, that we have reduced pollution in London even since the diesel congestion charge, one is immediately considered to be someone who doesn’t at the same time recognise that the environment, life, culture and society will always require adaptation.  As they always have.  Both apply – that things have got better AND that they still need work.

The language of woke, supposedly liberal, views is filtering into our everyday world of life and work.  Many years ago, when tendering to offer some professional coaching and training to a local Council, I was asked not only what ethnic background I came from but also whether I was heterosexual or lesbian.  What business is it of a potential employer to ask about my sexual inclinations?  I don’t see this box-ticking political correctness as an advance.  Nowadays apparently such tendering or recruitment forms can ask you to identify yourself within several different versions of whether you are a man or woman, what sort of man or woman you are, or are you ‘none of the above’?!  We are living in an age that is denying the benefits of knowledge about biology, science and, in the anti-vaccine campaigns, medicine.  These people can’t know how many children died of measles, polio or whooping cough.  In thinking that everyone is oppressed they can’t know that in my lifetime those who were gay were criminals, those who were black were segregated, those who were women were not allowed to work or take out a mortgage.  Actually we have come a long way and are probably the least oppressed of any generation that has lived. 

When people do or say something we don’t agree with they are often coming from an intention to improve the world in some way, just as we are.  It may not be our way but it is always worth digging deeper into people’s motivations to discover what lies behind their view or their action.  Don’t judge people on your own subjective perspective.  Start a conversation. There may be something you don’t know or understand.  Ask them why they support Trump, why they voted Leave, why they think men who identify as women one day and not the next (and vice-versa) do so.  You will learn something for sure.

With a potentially divisive time coming up with our UK election, consider this.  Most Conservative, Labour, LibDem or other politicians are aiming for a better health service, better education, safer and happier society.  Despite cynicism about our politicians I honestly don’t believe that their intentions are to worsen our lives.  But each party will come at these goals from different perspectives.  If we don’t listen to the intention we don’t get the story and we block off the ability to gain from other people’s ideas.

There is so much more to be achieved in this world from sharing and collaborating on the problems we face than on silencing the group who disagree with us.  We don’t have to be offended by someone who inadvertently says something that may upset us.  They may come from ignorance or even from light-heartedness.  We can be curious, and we can, without pointing accusatory fingers, share some thoughts from both perspectives.  It could even start an interesting friendship.


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