Recently, I’ve seen a lot of apologies posted on social media by celebrities and other influencers. Many of these people have made mistakes in the past, evidence of those mistakes resurfaced, and they felt pressured to apologize to clear their name and prove that they’ve become better people. And don’t get me wrong- I think it is incredibly important for people to take responsibility for themselves and apologize to those that they’ve hurt. But as I’ve read more and more of these apology posts, I’ve noticed something: although these people say they’re sorry for their actions, they tend to focus more on the fact that their intentions were pure. And this upset me, because the focus of an apology should not be if you “meant” to hurt people or not; it should be taking responsibility for the impact that your actions had and validating the feelings of the people you upset.
At the end of the day, even if you have great intentions, your actions can still end up hurting other people. You are responsible for the impact you have on others, regardless of whether that impact is what you intended it to be. And when you hurt someone, even if you actually meant to help them or do something nice, you need to take responsibility for the pain you have caused.
Think about it in terms of a car accident: if you’re driving and you accidentally rear end another car, you are still responsible for the accident regardless of whether you wanted to cause it. You likely had no malicious intentions and didn’t plan to hit that car or harm the people in it. However, although it was an accident, your actions still caused a crash and you are responsible for the damage. Even if you are a wonderful person who would never hurt anyone on purpose, you don’t get to flee the scene and not be held responsible for the accident just because you didn’t mean for it to happen.
In short, having good intentions doesn’t automatically make you a good person. Wanting to do good things is the first step, but actually doing them is what matters. Sending a text or posting a picture or saying something to someone with the intent of making them happy is great, but if they receive those actions the wrong way and become embarrassed or upset, you haven’t actually done something nice for them. This doesn’t mean you weren’t trying or aren’t a good friend; it just means your intentions and actions weren’t lined up. That’s not to say that your intentions aren’t important- but it’s necessary to look at the whole picture, and intentions are only a piece of it.
This concept is not something that only applies to celebrities who posted offensive tweets in 2015 and are just now apologizing. We all have intentions, we all commit actions, and those actions all have consequences. Whether those consequences impact 10,000 people or one individual doesn’t matter. We all behave in ways that affect the people around us, and it is up to us to not only want to treat people well, but to make sure that our actions are received as helpful and not damaging.
We can’t control how other people choose to act, but we are responsible for our own behavior. We have the power to make sure our good intentions lead to positive actions. So, if you’re ever in a position where you want to support someone but you don’t know how, just ask. Ask them what actions would be helpful to them. Take the power of your good intentions and combine this with an awareness of other people’s needs to make an impact that is beneficial. And if you are ever in a situation where despite good intentions, you have made someone upset (no one is perfect and we’ve all been there), take responsibility for your actions, apologize, and ask what you can do differently in the future. It’s okay to mention that you didn’t mean any harm, but don’t use this as an excuse to diffuse the blame.
It’s a important to want to do good, but wanting to do something good isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if your intentions were good if you end up hurting someone, because at the end of the day, they’ve still been hurt by your actions, and you still need to take responsibility for that.
Good people aren’t perfect; good people are mindful. They are mindful of the intentions behind their actions, and they are also mindful of the impact those actions have. Good people make mistakes, and they take responsibility for those mistakes and learn from them. Good people don’t just have good intentions- they make good impacts.