Impact vs. Intent

The Inclusive Dubuque Network recently created a poster with a message of being welcoming and inclusive of everyone in our community in the hopes that we would see these posters in storefronts, businesses, homes, and more. We thought we’d use a quote that business leaders would recognize in order to make them feel more comfortable displaying the poster. The quote we chose was by Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.” It was a nice way of saying what we hope for our community.

This was our intent.

I’ve written before about intent versus impact. In essence, regardless of why we do something, we need to do our best to imagine where our intent will land and what the impact might be. The reality is that regardless of why we do something, it is the impact on others that matters. Knowing where our intent will land is no easy task, as you can imagine. After all, how can we know how everyone will be impacted by our actions when responses are ultimately the result of differing life experiences and what we know or don’t know? If our intentions land in a way that is harmful for some, what might be an appropriate response? And conversely, what is an appropriate response if someone’s intent impacts us in a negative or harmful way?

It turns out that Henry Ford was anti-semitic and helped fund Hitler’s regime.

Supporting Henry Ford’s ideology was not our intent, AND using a quote from a racist to support inclusion was harmful to all of us, not just our Jewish friends. Our response was to immediately acknowledge the harm we caused, educate ourselves, and more importantly, change the quote.

These conversations are so risky and difficult, both on the side of those with good intentions and on those negatively impacted. Yet to run from the risk, as difficult as it all might be, cuts us off from the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and from each other. What can we learn about ourselves in our response to realizing we have harmed others and in our response to those who have harmed us? I hope you’ll join me on this never-ending, difficult and amazing journey of self-discovery. What a ride!

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