Intentions, Repentance, and Free Speech: Ruby Woo Day 1

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Let me tell you, folks, getting here feels like a major accomplishment. I don’t know what it all was, but this week has been a major struggle. I had anxiety and panic-type flares for lack of a better term. And I’m super tired from getting everything ready to leave, and then plane, uber, hotel, straight into a meeting with no buffer because I was the last to arrive tonight, so I’m sort of wide open with the help of an IPA from the hotel bar. But now I’m tucked in and in yoga pants and I’m decompressing.

The trip leaders/facilitators lead us through a community-building exercise that started with a community safety agreement, which was fabulous. We were asked to imagine a person that we felt comfortable confessing to when we had messed up/sinned. And then in a word or phrase we shared aspects of what we thought of when we thought of that person. This sparked conversation about what we wanted to see in community throughout the trip and got us to go deeper faster I guess for lack of a better term in the sense that we have a lot of intense ground to cover in a short time and we needed a framework to help us get there.

We talked about intention vs. impact and which do we hold or can we hold them both or do we center impact. This is important in a multi-racial space because white folks often like to center intention when they do something that causes harm as though saying, “well, I didn’t mean too…” is some kind of get out of jail free card. This dovetails with a discussion I was having earlier this week regarding people treating repentance as a get out of jail free card, much like some do with the concept of free speech as though that means there should be no consequences for anything people say, when in reality free speech means you don’t get jailed for what you say, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get fired from your job or experience other personal consequences.

In Christian tradition, true repentance should be about facing and even welcoming the consequences of one’s actions as a path to make things right again. Repentance was never meant to be a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

In the same way, some people–especially white folks in the context of talking about race–seem to think that as long as their intentions aren’t specifically harmful we should be granted a free pass on the harm that they caused. I’ve also personally experienced this with men thinking that if they didn’t intend harm, they should get a pass on the impact that they caused to women, and it doesn’t work like that either.

Intentions do matter. It’s ever so much worse if the intent is to actually cause harm and there’s not room for repentance or reconciliation in that case.

My main takeaway tonight was that if our intent is truly good, then we should welcome our neighbors telling us about the impact of our actions and be able to learn from that experience and change our actions, instead of centering our intentions in the conversation. By nature of someone telling you how they impacted them, they assumed good intentions, or they wouldn’t have bothered.

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