Conventionally, good intentions are understood to be Good. We as individuals and as communities and societies exercise good intentions all the time, but as we’re seeing again and again in this contemporary world of endless distraction with connection (yes, I am blogging this…) how we deal with all the cries and crises of need and stories of war and discontent from all corners of the world demands greater and greater scrutiny.
We all want to give to so many, and so many of us do individually and as a society. There are obvious conditions by which we should understand our “ethical and moral responsibility” to be engaged locally and internationally, but I am going to attempt to argue for and against certain kinds of engagement that do and do not make sense to me or for the people we have good intentions towards.
Fundamentally, no matter what our good intentions are, no matter how full hearted the activity, there are after-affects to our actions. I give money to a beggar here on the streets of New York, wishing him well, a good meal, something, and later that afternoon he’s bobbing and sinking into oblivion on heroin or whatever. Maybe that high is a good thing, or it most likely isn’t; but it is strikingly NOT what I intended for the man. We encounter this culture of misunderstood intention all the time in our daily lives whether we’re really noticing it or not. We cannot expect good intentions to be received constructively as we would wish. My issue is with intention is always how much damage am I likely doing with the effort I’m trying to make. I’m not going to argue against good-hearted intention entirely, just some.
I think war is the most obvious good intended societal mistake we make all the time. We buy into the concept that responding to another’s threat to our national interest in oil or other natural resources with violence is a reasonable good intention for the benefit of our fellows. We will kill anyone in the name of our “national interest” which is postured every time as Good. There is very little consideration of the opponent as having their own personal societal intentions for the benefit of their fellows. In fact, we completely alienate our opponents from our minds and hearts in order to make the pulling of the trigger easier. If we were to think of the lives lost in a meaningful way we would be struck with hesitation. This hesitation is meaningful and could be a guide for alternative intention.
I imagine all the time what the world would have looked like had we responded creatively to September 11th’s attack on the World Trade Center instead of with war. War is misconstrued as good intention. It is idealized as honorable when in fact the only honor is in the individual soldier’s misplaced belief in that ideal, so much so that he or she stakes their life in defense of that belief. In itself, giving one’s life for another is the most selfless act, but we must lament the misguidance and abuse of so much of that selfless activity for the benefit of so few. Some 2300 people died in the attacks, and close to or more than a million people were killed in their names. And the resulting chaos of living beings all over the Middle East is incalculable because of our good intentions .We HAVE to look at war in this way primarily to understand the bastardization and abuse of the concept of Good Intention. We have enlightened no one with this activity. There is more discrimination, hatred, misunderstanding, and poverty of spirit and coin since September 11th entirely because of our Good Intention to respond with war as a reaction to the tragic loss of American lives. A million alternative responses could have been made to improve the lives here, there, and everywhere. Some of them might certainly have created suffering for others, because inevitably all good intentions leave something and somebody out. But I believe strongly almost nothing could have created more suffering than the choices we make and continue to make when we use the Good Intention of War. Iraq is no better off. Afghanistan is no better off. Libya will be no better off now that we’re bombing. America is far worse off than ever. Good intentions ruining the present day.
I feel differently about some Natural Disaster relief as a sign of Good Intention. Of course, relief when someone, when a nation like Japan or Indonesia, or Pakistan, or Chile, or New Orleans, is struck down by a wave or an earthquake, and we see the suffering and untold death of so many, if we can help with money or service….well, I think that’s terrifically good. We don’t know all the ways the money is being used, but we really have to have faith that every little bit helps provide service to the suffering, suffering, disoriented, displaced, people.
On the other hand, I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but if we had more faith in impermanence we certainly wouldn’t allow our fellows to rebuild nuclear plants on or near fault lines, rebuild houses next to volcanoes, or along the ocean, after being squashed or burned or swept away by tidal waves. We think as a society that we should replace what was lost, but that is a misplaced Good Intention. Here in America every year the same houses along the Georgia coast and florida get hit by hurricanes. Who let them rebuild there? New Orleans has been partly rebuilt without any viable infrastructure to prevent flooding from happening again. Why rebuild there in that way? Good Intentions. Many will say “that’s their home.” And I would say with good intention, “you can’t live there anymore. It’s just too dangerous dear friends.” Both Intentions are harmful. The first, and more common reaction to Natural Disaster Loss of property and belonging is to rebuild in exactly the same place. Again and again we see the failure of insight. Not just the individuals suffer if the buildings fall or burn or wash away again. These are communal losses. In my scenario, individuals would suffer with displacement, but the loss of lives, revenue, and suffering would be far less if the quakes, volcanoes, and Tsunamis happen again with no one living in those danger zones. But that will, guaranteed, not happen. We will help the Japanese rebuild along the ocean and beside the fault lines and inevitably we will look up to the heavens stupidly when it happens again. I pray not soon.
Spiritual Good Intentions are also chock full of problems. The desire to bring spiritual Liberation to beings is such a moving and glowing intention, but as is almost always the case, most people are ill-suited, not realized practitioners, to carry this off. As a result, most efforts manipulate people's hearts and minds wrongly, and they disorient them as a result and misrepresent the teachings of great masters, such as the Buddha Siddhartha, Jesus, Mohammad, or Moses all the time. We can see the fruits of their poorly designed good intentions throughout history in the people and cultures they have touched.
Tibetan Buddhists are always touted as compassionate, peace-loving, but even different schools due to ignorance created violence towards one another in the past thinking themselves more special. Tribal distinctions past from generation to generation maybe led to this as well... The Christians and their history is littered with violence and cruelty engendered by misunderstanding and ignorance, and these actions (so innumerable to mention, but the Inquisition and the whole history of Colonization will do as an example) did little or nothing to perpetuate the real teachings of Christ. The Muslims, too, so readily and rightfully blamed for their violent inclinations and misunderstood and ignorant commitments to the Koran cut their opponents and destroy in the name of Holy Good Intention. This kind of violence is a total bastardization of the scriptures. There's no Heaven for anyone in these activities.
Nothing could reap less than these acts of violence to perpetuate serenity in the hearts of men and women, and fundamentally violence in the name of Good Intention distances beings from their True God and Buddha Nature, doing the exact opposite of what was intended.
Israel is the same in the name of Good Intention. It's policies and intentions have led to the alienation of themselves from the world and misguides it's supporters who whole-heartedly wish for the well-being of Jews in the world into creating weapons and selling them to perpetuate violence and hatred which pulls Jews and non-Jews further and further from morality and human ethic.
Our President and Representatives claim to protect our Nation's Interests, but their ignorance and misunderstanding of the nature and dimension of Good Intentions leads this country to the brink of wholesale moral and ethical and economic bankruptcy. In the name of National Interest we are at War in three countries spending money we don't have, trying to secure leverage to protect our control of oil in the region, and to protect our people from some unknown threat of nuclear holocaust that currently does not exist. As a result, we are trillions of dollars in debt, incapable of viable reinvestment of money in clean energy opportunity that might really extricate us out of the Middle East, ruining our chances of viable investment in education for our youth who lag behind every meaningful industrialized nation's population, ruining our ability to bring peace of mind to the sick, poor and elderly because we're spending too much defending our national interest abroad,....the list goes on and on. and we see it again in the discussions of Deficit reduction. Instead of intelligently and imaginatively cutting military spending which literally doubles the cost of all other national expense we talk about cutting into entitlements for seniors and investment in new energy technology, cutting into arts education, etc etc... This is truly Idiotic.
I am a broken record...
Let us make Good Intentions count by refusing all kinds of violence, by refusing to accept short term thinking...let us embrace the nature of Impermanence. Let us have faith in the hearts and goodness of the Other. Let us support those ideas that constructively benefit the most people without violently hurting others or the earth and it's precious non-human beings. If we can't do these things, better to do nothing at all.