When most people say that someone “meant well”, they’re usually sugar-coating that the person didn’t perform well. It’s the most common way to express that you know the person didn’t mean any harm, but also did not quite achieve the goal. There are a lot of times when this is fine. When a child makes lemonade for the first time, it will taste slightly…not quite right. No big deal. The child meant well, and isn’t expected to be a mixologist. If I’m saying the words “meant well”, I’m probably HIGHLIGHTING the aspect that they didn’t “do” well. Bless their hearts.
I make every attempt to celebrate the effort that people make towards accomplishing a task. Enrolled in an online course? Go, you! Making a small change towards a new you? Outstanding! However, there are times when it isn’t the thought that counts, it’s absolutely the results that do. Disagree? OK. Let’s find a mechanic with a “close enough for government work” mentality to work on your car. That spinster who refers to every child as “it” – do you want her watching your children?
Intent is a powerful thing, but it is important to you and you alone. Intent doesn’t cross from your world into another’s. Actions have results that do enter into another’s world, while intents only take up space in your mind.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen!”
Does that undo what actually happened? Does your intent smooth over the complications that were created? You didn’t mean to burn the house down when you left your scented candle burning while you ran to the store. Does that repair the house? You didn’t mean to wreck your car checking that text. Does that restore the vehicles and treat the wounded?
“It’s not like I wanted that to happen!”
Well, when you chose the action, you chose the consequence…so, you kinda did. When you chose to leave a fire unattended, you chose that keeping the fire contained didn’t matter as much as the task you replaced it to do. When you chose to check a text message while driving, you chose to divert your attention from the road. While there are not ALWAYS negative consequences for these things, there are ALWAYS risks for these things to happen. Choosing the risk is choosing the consequences.
People seem to think that “I didn’t mean for that to happen” as an absolute defense that should totally absolve them of any responsibility for the results of their actions. Sorry, the real world doesn’t work that way. You may not have gotten the result you were hoping for, but you got the result of the action you chose. You might have hoped the candle continued burning with no change, but that’s not what happened this time. You might have expected to check a text without your drive being interrupted, but this was the time that diverting your eyes happened at the worst time.
Your choice = Your fault.
The most reliable examples of a person “meaning well” turning into epic fails happen when parenting is involved.
As parents, “meaning well” isn’t an option. Not doing well is a fail that impacts other people’s lives. When parents don’t do well, new people are created who go on to perpetuate toxic cycles or create new ones. Those kids go on to become people who spend their entire adulthood trying to cope with what happened, likely creating another generation to do the same. Rather than teaching children to change tires on a car, many people are teaching their children how to upcharge fundraiser items and skim the top.
Generally, parents all want the same thing – for our children to suffer as little as possible. While we say we want this for them, we really want that for us. It is far easier for us when things are going well for our children. Our lives are simpler when our children are healthy and happy. For those of us who love our kids, the pain we feel when they are hurting is far more intense than the pain the child feels. This is because we are empathizing with our child, feeling his/her pain, as well as feeling our own pain of being a parent whose child is hurting. A part of the biggest challenge parents face is the need to be willing to let our kids endure a little discomfort, especially if there is no real threat, despite the pain that causes us.
Nobody expects their child to shoot them for not getting the right car for their 16th birthday, nor for their child to kill them over insurance money, but that has been a result of meaning well for their children. Even the parents whose child ran away and became a tattoo artist after the parents refused to let the kid go to art school meant well.
It’s ok to mean well when it’s just your life. It’s not ideal – it’s best that you actually do well for yourself – but not actively harming anyone else is a good first step. It’s best to avoid meaning well as a primary motivating factor behind doing something for someone else. You will only get the credit for helping if it is actually productive. You open yourself up to make the situation worse if you do not succeed. This sets you up to only feel bad, yourself, be it because you either feel responsible or will be ostracized for refusing to take responsibility because you meant well.
The most common way to mean well for friends, but not do well, is to overpromise. Promise to be available, promise to be there, promise to help this friend and that friend…promises for everyone! Being helpful and available is a great trait in a friend, but spreading yourself too thin or trying to help with something you just can’t will put you in some stressful situations that can’t be fixed. This goes beyond double-booking your schedule into you just doing too much for too long with no rest. The quality of your ability to help will diminish, making you feel worse about your efforts. Resentments will build.
The best way to do well, if you mean well, is to do well by yourself. By taking proper care of yourself, you will better be able to do well for the people in your life. Know your limits, know your boundaries, and feel free to respect the boundaries of others. A lot of “meant well” events would never have happened had someone just minded their own business in the first place ;).
Journaling prompts: Do you mean well? Does that turn into good things? If not, why is that? Did a lack of regard for boundaries play a part?