There are certain words and phrases that should be omitted from the English language. All the swear words and degrading terms we use for people daily are on that list. A lot of the idiotic slang we’ve come up with? Yeah, that too.
Another one that we always use that rarely see as offensive are three magical words:
“I meant to.”
Where in English are these actually useful? Commonly used in situations where we’re trying to explain the difference between what we intended to do and what we actually did. It’s the foundation of many an excuse made and tale spun.
But do we even need those three words?
There are two very distinct sides to this argument — intent meaning everything vs. actuality meaning everything.
Intent Means Everything
I brought this topic forward to a panel of my friends, and one brought up the idea that one’s intentions can’t be simply brushed aside. In legal cases, intent can mark the difference between premeditated murder and an accident. Or perhaps the difference between forgetfulness and malicious negligence.
Intent is a key part of our decision-making process, and if we forget that, we assume that everything is black and white in a world that’s decidedly grey.
So when we say “I meant to”, it shows that we intended to do the thing that we were supposed to — not that we’re trying to make light of not accomplishing what it is that we were supposed to do. It is not an act to try and avoid the punishment — simply an acknowledgement that the alternate outcome was one that we weren’t trying to reach.
Actuality IS Everything
On the other hand, the truth of the matter is that the thing that needed to be done wasn’t done, and in some cases, that can be a serious issue. It’s cause and effect — what if someone was relying on you to do something in order to accomplish another goal? What if the thing you were asked to do was something of an urgent nature? Or even worse — what if your actions affected the outcome of a life-or-death situation?
While we many have intended for things to go one way, the reality of the outcomes that have happened are the ones that we have to live with.
Our lives are the sum of our experiences, and every action we take has a direct effect upon what our lives are to become. I may have intended to become an artist, but life didn’t turn out that way. I may have intended to be rich and famous at a young age, but life hasn’t turned out that way. (Yet, anyway.) No — our lives are often a far cry from the ones we intended to have — and so are our actions and their outcomes.
But let’s keep it real — are the words “I meant to” even necessary in a conversation? If someone asks how things turned out the way they did they’re not wondering what it is you’d hoped to do — usually they know that, especially if they asked you to do it (if it was a surprise, I guess that’s another kind of issue entirely); what they want to know is what happened. Skirt and dodge around the truth as much as you want — eventually you’ll have to fess up.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we gave the truth without the fluff as our regular behaviour?
Communication is always the key.
So whether you think one’s intentions are important or not, they’re there. They’re part of who we are, and let’s face it — not everyone is out to get you.
Intentions aren’t everything, but they do mould who we are and how they’re perceived by others.
So maybe “I meant to” isn’t so bad after all.
–Casey E. Palmer