Intent Is Everything
Alas, sloth has taken hold of me once more!
Today is a day I feel like doing absolutely nothing at all. Just lazing about and watching movies. I’m sure every person on the planet has days like this, but I regret to say that I feel it far too often for my own liking.
I also feel quite hungry. If I had some cash in hand and was next to a burger joint, without hesitation I would stuff myself full of delicious food.
I feel very “seven-deadly-sins-ish” today, I suppose.
Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Envy, Wrath.
Honestly, the only one of those I can attest to NOT feeling that much recently is greed. But then again, it’s hard to be greedy when you are at a point of having very little to begin with.
Not that I’m saying I’m a particularly bad person. Everyone, if being honest with themselves, would find that they tend to feel many of these seven deadly sins every single day, to some extent or another.
I’ve always found it so fascinating that in Christianity, one is punished not just for one’s actions, but one’s malicious feelings. Something I’ve always tended to agree with.
I have a motto, one I used to use a lot: “Intent is everything”.
Allow me to explain.
Imagine these situations:
A person (let’s call him “John”) is very angry at another person (we’ll call him “Jack”) and comes after him with a knife. John realizes before doing anything harmful, however, that he is clearly going too far, and stops.
Alright, situation two:
John is angry at Jack, and comes after him with a knife. In the heat of passion, John stabs Jack to death.
If I was to ask, “in which of these scenarios is John guilty”, you would probably answer “both” because you knew it was a loaded question, you smarty-pants. BUT the answer I was driving you towards was “the second situation”.
Clearly, if both these situations were to play out, the second situation would be one where John was sentenced “guilty” for murder, because he did, in fact, kill someone; whereas in the first situation he would probably be innocent of murder, only guilty of assault or some such crime. Obviously, the prison sentence for murder is a lot longer than one for a simple assault. In fact, if Jack wasn’t hurt in the first scenario, then I have doubts it would even make it to court. One threat is a little flimsy to send someone to jail for, considering you cannot know whether this person would actually have gone through with what they were threatening to do.
This is where I applied my statement “intent is everything”.
Regardless of what actually happened, in both scenarios John came after Jack with the intent to kill him. He wanted Jack to feel pain because of something Jack had done. This intention, when you boil it down, was the cause of the murder that happened in the second situation. John’s action was merely a result of his intent. Therefore, should he not be held accountable for that, instead of his actions?
Cause and Effect.
John’s anger and intent was the cause, and (in the second scenario) the effect was murder. So, to sum up, he was in fact guilty in both situations because even though he did not physically commit murder in the first scenario, he still wanted to. If you throw a lit match towards a pool of gasoline, and someone swats it away in mid-air, no one would deny that you tried to light it, even though it didn’t actually happen. The same principle applies here.
One more thing I should mention about this “intent is everything” statement:
You’ll notice I didn’t mention what it was that made John so angry he came after Jack with a knife. I could have said “Jack was having an affair with John’s wife” or “Jack had just stolen several thousand dollars from John” or even “Jack had just brutally assaulted John, beating him and breaking several bones”. But that would have given John a rationalization for murder. Let us say that that last example was the thing that made John angry. Jack had brutally beat John. Most people, upon reading that, would have considered the stabbing “fair payback”. An eye for an eye, as it were. Hell, you could even argue in a court that it was “self-defense” to stab Jack.
But the reason John is angry isn’t the problem, it’s the fact that he is angry. He wanted to murder Jack, and THAT was the wrong part. Not that Jack didn’t deserve it. But John was no person to deal out death and punishment.
Most of us (me included) want a reason for John to be excused for his anger and murderous intent because, well, let’s be honest, we ALL feel like that at some point. But that doesn’t mean all of us are innocent.
It means we are all guilty.
Rationalizing anger is easy.
Dealing with guilt is the hard part.
Not that I think we should change the judicial system or anything as extreme as that. It is near impossible for us as humans to uncover someone’s intentions. Until we gain the ability to read minds, I’m afraid we are stuck with the rule of law based almost entirely on action.
And so, I come back again to the seven deadly sins. It doesn’t really matter whether you are religious or not, I think all of us can agree that nothing good can really come from any of those seven feelings.
Yes, we humans can be ugly creatures at times.
Just remember, the seeds of every crime are planted in the mind, not the body. All we can hope to do is attempt to understand one another. I firmly believe that if we just tried to gain some perspective on why other people felt the way they did we’d all be better off, and we would get less caught up in the heat of passion that leads to things like murder.
Brendon “feels like he’s preaching too much” Regier
P.S. The painting I used for this post is called “The Seven Deadly Sins And The Four Last Things”, by Hieronymus Bosch. I can’t say I know all that much about art, but I do enjoy it, and this painting was of particular interest to this post.