"But I didn't mean it; it's not my fault." My kids seem to think these are magic words, words that have the power to negate the consequences of any misconceived action they incorrectly choose to take. I've explained again and again that just because we don't intend to hurt someone doesn't mean that they don't bleed. I've pointed out that whether they meant to break the fan with the lacrosse ball, the fan is still broken. We still put people in jail for manslaughter, even if it's involuntary. And while good intentions definitely count against the degree of culpability, they fall into the same category as remorse after the fact: nice to have and relevant toward calculating the probability of future misdeeds, but immaterial to the outcome at hand. Why am I thinking about my personal parenting challenges in this moment? Well, I'm still engrossed in the Black Dagger Brotherhood (I'm listening to it on Audible and each book is about 15 hours of blissed-out pleasure, so you'll be hearing about JR Ward's amazing vampire warriors for some time to come, as there are 13 books so far). The second book in the series, Lover Eternal, focuses on Rhage (all the Brothers have cool names, and many nouns and proper nouns in Ms. Ward's world come with an extra "h," just so we know it’s an original language—sort of). So, Rhage is a Brother with a scary alter ego. As punishment for past transgressions, he has been cursed to shift into a mindless, dragon-like beast when he loses control. Can you imagine? I would spend considerable time in my dragon form if I shifted every time I lost control of my anger. But that was the point of the curse--to teach Rhage about control and to teach him about restraint. When we meet him, he is a hundred years into a two-century curse. He's learned to control himself to some extent, and he's achieved a measure of humility, which was another objective of the deity who cursed him in the first place.
Rhage is like my kids. As he's explaining the circumstances that led to his being cursed, he told his prospective mate, "I'd always told myself because I meant no harm, anything that happened wasn't my fault. But then I realized that carelessness was a different form of cruelty." Gross negligence and willful disregard for the safety and lives of others is a crime in our society. This applies to people’s emotional safety and the lives of our spirits as well. Carelessness with others’ feelings is also another form of cruelty.
Over time, Rhage came to realize that intentions weren't nearly as important as actions. When in his beast form, Rhage was an indiscriminate killing machine; an animal with no particular ill intent toward anyone or anything specifically, but deadly and destructive nonetheless. He began understand that even without an intent to harm, his Brothers would be just as dead if his beast got close enough to kill. Actions speak louder than words, after all, and certainly louder than our intentions, which exist only as thoughts in our minds.
We are judged by what we do, not by what we want to do or don’t want to do. There are no thought police out there (Fox News doesn't count). No one really knows what goes on in our heads, and therefore the why of what we do is not nearly as important as the what. I'm sure we can all think of examples where we did great wrong while trying to do right. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath because they understand how much damage can be done in the name of trying to heal. How many times have we gone to the doctor only to find that the cure was worse than the disease? Personally, I have too much experience with that particular party. I'm regretting the invitation next time, thank you very much.
In Lover Eternal, Rhage originally believes himself guilty only of accepting what is offered, a misdemeanor at best, in his own mind. At first, he doesn't understand the nature of his sins. He thinks that if it is on the table, he has the right to pick it up—regardless of whether what is offered rightly belongs to another, or if it is forbidden. Frankly, I don't understand his confusion; he should ask Eve about accepting everything that's offered. Didn't work out so well for her either. In truth, we have a responsibility for discernment. We have an obligation to do our due diligence, lest we transgress without intent or even understanding. For me, if I'm going to break the rules, I want to know what they are so I can make a conscious choice about it. I have no interest in mindlessly wandering into the line of fire. I only want to go if I've planned ahead and worn my Kevlar and maybe learned some evasive maneuvers so I can go to dangerous or forbidden places undetected and unscathed.
I can't think of anything worse than hurting someone by accident. That feels maximally awful. I don't want to hurt anyone on purpose, either, but being an accidental bitch is so not in my wheelhouse (if I'm going there, it needs to be with malice aforethought, thank you very much). Because there are those out there who wouldn't even tell me that I've hurt them (this drives me nuts, I might add), and so I live in fear, like Rhage, that I will inadvertently damage those I care about, which would be devastating.
So, first, do no harm. These are words to live by. Second, don't hide behind an innocent intent when the consequences of our actions are deleterious. We need to own our deeds, whether we intended them or not. Which leads to the admonition to do what we mean and mean what we do. We must take action mindfully and with consideration of foreseeable outcomes. And in this way, we can, like Rhage, cage the beast, and live in love. I intend to do that.