Friday, April 27, 2012

The Road to Hell-- or Not.

You know the saying-
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

(not a painting of the road to hell)

The idea is that it's not what you think about doing that counts, it's what you actually do.

This theory purports that when I thought about dropping by and visiting the elderly couple down the street this week-- but didn't because my life has been insane and I've barely had time to go to the bathroom-- I may just as well never have thought of it.  Or worse-- I'm paving my way to the land of fire and brimstone for not following through.

Sorry.  I don't buy that.

I think our intentions make us who we are.  It's not what we do.  It's what we want to do that counts.

Wishful thinking from an overworked single mom who has a tendency toward procrastination?  Maybe. But hear me out.

(Apologies up front for using a personal example. It's what I know.)
My ex was great at doing things that looked good.  He read scriptures with me and the kids every day. He went to church each week. He had a good job. He did volunteer work for people who needed help.

And I confused this with him Being A Good Person.  Being good does not equal acting good.  Being good means doing good things for the right reasons.

I was confused for years about how he could do so many good things, but feel mean and... icky.  (technical term)  If doing good doesn't make you good, what does?

After a lot of time pondering, I decided it's the motivation that counts.  Not the actions.

Anyone can feed the homeless.  But why are they doing it?  Because they love their fellow humans? Or because they want to look good?  Big difference.  Anyone can work on their neighbor's yard, but are they doing it to get on their good side so they can seduce their wife or child?  Or are they genuinely wanting to help, with no thought of getting anything in return?   Anyone can DO just about anything.

It's not the action that determines who we are.  It's the intention.

In Morocco, where I went to high school, there are whited sepulchers on the hills outside Rabat.  They are beautiful.  My dad (who is a beyond-amazing artist) painted a picture of one of them shining in the setting sun.  I didn't think much about it till recently.  It's pretty.  What else is there?

How about decaying human remains?  Ugh!  Apply enough whitewash and almost anything can look good.  Go to church each week, let people know you read scriptures daily, make sure your wife and children don't do anything as scandalous as drink a Coke or pierce their ears!  Because you want to look good.  Layer on the whitewash and hope no one looks inside.


I think the road to heaven is paved with good intentions.

If you have good intentions, you're going to do good things.  Because you're honestly a good person.  on the inside.  Where it counts.

If you have good intentions you'll love people, and help them, and smile at them because you hope they are having a good day-- not because you want to con them into letting down their defenses.

Having good intentions doesn't turn you into a Super Hero.  (Darn it all)  It doesn't mean you can actually DO all those good things you want to do.  But the intentions will leak out when you're not looking. They'll leak into the way you speak to a child.  The glances you give your spouse.  The things you laugh at.  Your thoughts, and words and actions will all be saturated with your intentions.

We all have tons of things we haven't gotten to yet that we wish we could do.  But look below the whitewash.  Scrub away the whitewash!  What are your intentions?
Am I paving my road with good intentions? 

Note: The painting above is by my dad, R. Kent Crookston.  I was hoping to find the Moroccan sepulcher painting and link to it, but it's apparently not online.  If I can get a photo of it, I'll post it. You can click my dad's name to see a gallery of his oil paintings.   =)


Polly said...

I have always struggled with this. I hear kids at work say, "I didn't MEAN to (insert bad behavior here), I didn't MEAN to hurt anyone." But they did. I had to really work hard to understand the difference between true intentions and false ones, or, in the case of the kids at work, misunderstood ones. It has taken a great deal of work, but I finally get it.

Cindy Watson said...

And if you "didn't mean to" and you find out you did, you apologize and try to rectify the situation if you really didn't mean to.

Rebecca =) said...

Polly- often they didn't MEAN to go out of their way to be nice, either. It is tricky- because what people say and what's true don't always line up. But if you're really trying to be nice, you're on the right path. If you are thinking only of yourself you might not be setting out to hurt people, but you will.

Cindy- yes! We do make mistakes. Even when we have the best intentions ever. And sometimes we hurt people on accident. But you can tell if someone had the best intentions and accidentally stepped on your toes during the dance, or if they were completely ignoring your feelings as they wiped their muddy boots on you. The first person is horrified at having hurt you. The second hardly notices and gets offended if you point it out. Even though they may claim they were dancing with you. It diesn't feel the same -- at all.

Unknown said...

I recently found a quote and posted it on my refrigerator: The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention. --Jacques-Joseph Duguet

This isn't exactly what you are talking about, but reminds me to make that quick phone call to a friend who was recently in the hospital, or take a small plate of cookies over to the neighbor, or send a quick text to my dad to let him know I am thinking abut him. My intentions are good, and even if I am doing just a small thing to let people know I care, it is better than nothing.

You are right that many people are doing things just for show. But how can we know the difference?

Rebecca =) said...

How *CAN* we know the difference?

This is a huge question. Thank you for asking. It's one I've spent a lot of time pondering. I think I've found some answers. But only some.

Blog post on this question coming soon. And I hope we'll get lots of feedback form other readers about how they can tell if someone is only *doing* nice things, or if they are genuinely and nice person.

Rebecca =)

Unknown said...

Found this quote and it made me think of your blog post:

We would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of the motives that produced them.

 - Francois de la Rochefoucauld