What vs. How: It’s All About Intention - Legally Bold

What vs. How: It’s All About Intention


"We all know how to do something, or we know someone that knows someone who can show us how. So the only unknown that matters is our intention."  - Toya Gavin

As the protests on and offline unfolded this week, I had two conversations that really stuck with me, and I'd like to share those conversations with you.  

Wanting Peace vs. Keeping THE Peace

The first conversation I had with one of my very best friends. We were talking about policing at protests and the claim that they are keeping THE peace

What my friend very astutely pointed out is that there is a difference between wanting peace and keeping THE peace. 

Wanting peace is about wanting people to have the freedom to be whoever they wish without oppression.

Wanting peace is about respect. 

Keeping The peace is about silencing people's concerns about injustice through force. In keeping THE peace, officers protect the status quo and suppress certain voices while propping up others. 

So when police officers show up to a protest in military-style armor and drive into crowds with SUVs, they are, in fact, keeping THE peace. They are silencing the voices of protestors crying out for real peace, change, and an end to police brutality.    

Sympathy vs. Systematic Change

The second conversation I had was with a white, female business coach, and colleague. She reached out to me to say how sad she was about the state of affairs in our country, and she wanted to check in to see how I was doing. She also expressed how lost she felt and wanted to know what she could do to support me. 

Although her message was well-meaning, earnest, and appreciated, upon further reflection, I realized that what she was really doing was expressing her sympathy. 

You express sympathy at a funeral because someone else (a friend or a colleague) has lost their family member. You feel genuinely sorry for their loss and the pain they feel because of that loss. But you also feel a little useless because you didn't lose someone, they did. It's their pain and grief, not yours. So you're not quite sure how to help.

Racism in America, however, is a two-way street. People of color receive the effect, but the systems and institutions of oppression are upheld by the white majority, including the liberal, well-meaning ones.  

So what black people need from the white majority right now isn't sympathy. The pain and grief of this system belong to all of us. So what we all need is real change.

What vs. How: It's All About Intention 

Although these two conversations may only seem connected because they relate to the current uprising in our country, they really illustrate the difference between two questions that come up whenever we try to create real change in our lives or communities. Those questions are: what do I do and how do I do it?  

What Do I Do

The question, what do I do, is all about intention and commitment. An intention directs your energy. It makes you work toward a future goal and sends your attention and purpose from the present moment into a future time when your goal will be accomplished.  

If I intend to lose 10 lbs by Labor Day. Then this intention will change my behavior, mood, awareness, and motivation. Because I am committed to this future intention, I will begin to order my steps today to reach that goal.

How Do I Do It

In today's world, the question, how do I do it, is a form of resistance. In the foreword to the book War of Art, Robert McKee explains resistance like this:

Resistance is that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long term course of action that might do for us or others something that's actually good.

Resistance is that little voice in the back of your mind that says, "You sure you want to do that?" "What if you do it wrong?" and "What if it doesn't work?" Resistance stops us from going after the real desires of our heart and distracts us with to-do lists that may be urgent, but are not important. 

The reason why how is a form of resistance is because most people have access to the internet. You can learn how to do anything from changing careers to solving a differential equation by watching YouTube. So lamenting over the details of how to do something is really just a delay tactic that keeps you from doing your work.

In the context of my white colleague's how question, there are reading lists, google docs, and social media posts every day about what being anti-racist means, what she can do, and how she can spend her time, energy, and money. 

She knows how to start if she wants to support the cause. The question she must answer is if she is really committed to the intention. Is she willing to do what it takes to dismantle systematic racism in this country in her lifetime?

In the context of policing, it is clear that the police are committed to keeping THE peace. They are silencing voices with force. They are maintaining the status quo with everything they've got. 

If they were committed to peace instead, then a quick Google search would tell any officer that a sound de-escalation strategy begins with an intention to preserve the sanctity of human life, not with tear gas and patty wagons.

The point of this what vs. how distinction extends to anything you want in life. We all know how or know someone who knows someone who can show us how

But It is our intention that matters.  

Are you committed to ordering your steps and taking consistent action today to get to your goal in the future? Are you committed to a long term course of action that might do something good for you or someone else?

If so, eventually, you will get there. We will all get there.