When I was a kid – my family was sitting at my grandmother’s table for dinner. My brother and I sat on the side of the table against the wall, the ends were held by my paternal grandfather and my dad and the end closest to the kitchen was my maternal grandmother and grandpa. My mother sat across from us.
My brother and I would set the table and the hot food would arrive, salad and rolls would be passed around the table, and my mother would bring out the beverages for each place setting. This night, we were having fried chicken.
I distinctly remember my brother taking the two chicken legs and I took the two smallest pieces and passed the plate to my grandpa. My mother was giving us one of her looks. I froze. She then said that my brother and I had just taken the four pieces with the most meat and needed to put something back. My brother and I blushed, feeling terrible, put a piece each back on the platter. The moment passed and everything seemed to be ok, and I still, to this day, remember being so confused. I was trying to be polite and took the small pieces and I had messed up somehow. I didn’t mean to take too much chicken.
I get this. And I also did take too much chicken.
Intent vs. Impact comes up a lot in our social justice work. I challenge myself to remember this lesson when I am frustrated with the other side. Maybe, they really didn’t mean to do something AND the impact of that lack of intention still really exists. In my case, I just had to return a piece of chicken. Maybe, an apology sounds or feels good. Maybe it is really just holding the moment – understood or not – and reflecting on other’s experience of your own actions.
It doesn’t matter if intention is clarified when impact isn’t heard.
Jessica Pettitt is the “diversity educator” your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn! As she travels around the country, you can catch up with Jessica on: