Sunday, April 6, 2014

Intent vs. Impact

Something that is always brought up when talking about Social Justice is this idea of Intent vs. Impact.  This is the idea and explanation that interactions could be interpreted in different ways.  The meaning behind whatever you say or do is the intent, and the way people take whatever is said or done is the impact.  This is so important in the realms of Social Justice because language and action, and the way they translate to others are so important.

Language is so powerful--identities, discrimination, and triggers depend on language.  It is also the medium that is used to create community and solidarity with other people and is essential to your being.  If you form words in the wrong way, or with the wrong tone, the impact that you might create could be hurtful.  Actions also influence the way you influence people.  Even if you intend to do something nice for someone, or maybe you intend to have no influence, you still might create a negative impact on the person.

However, I have been learning that intent vs. impact has recently been an excuse for people who are saying problematic things.  They think that if they trigger someone, it is safe for them to just say that the impact was wrong, and that their intention was actually supposed to be positive.  This makes it seem as if micro aggressions are okay.

"You are too pretty to be a lesbian"  is one that I have heard a lot.  Their intention could have been to compliment me on my appearance.  However, the impact was that they were assuming that lesbians are not pretty.  Or that men (heterosexual men) are missing out on being able to date a "pretty girl."

This logic plays into how you might interact with people in terms of Social Justice. In validating what their opinions are, people might insist that the way they have impacted you is wrong.  This is so problematic because it reminds me of victim blaming.  Its like saying that the person who is hurt should be able to adjust their emotions because the intention was not to hurt you.  The person who created the impact should have better communicated their intent so that it could be interpreted the way that it was supposed to be.

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