I don’t think this is the same as commitment phobia, but they’re definitely some shade of cousins. I have found myself thinking more about intentions–setting, holding, and changing them–in the last two years than ever before in my life. This is partly because of their relationship to boundaries, another neat new trick I’ve picked up recently. If boundaries dictate how far in something can come, intentions hold a similar function for outward motion and direction. However, the other reason I’ve been thinking about them is because they seem like the healthy halfway point between agenda and chaos.
“Wait, wait,” I can hear you thinking, “aren’t intentions and agendas the same thing?” All things are subject to interpretation of course, but my answer is no, I really don’t think they are. And in fact, the more I think about the two side-by-side, the more I’m convinced they are not the same thing. An analogy perhaps? Imagine a lovely weekend morning–warm, blue sky peeking in from the blinds, no alarm to slam you out of whatever sleep you were in, and a slightly less than half full bladder. You know you could get up and take care of it, but that would require surrendering perfect pillow and blanket formation. You decide to roll back over for half an hour. That’s intention. It doesn’t require you to ignore where you are now and take immediate action. It helps shape your purpose without cementing your purpose. Now imagine that your half hour turned into ninety minutes, your bladder is now 90% full, and your cat does a WWF style dive from the couch to your belly. “Godfuckingdamnit cat!!” You are up, seriously up, right then, no questions asked. Doesn’t matter if your lover wants a good morning kiss or your kid wants to know why peanut butter doesn’t come in more colors than brown, you bypass them all for the potty. That, to me, is agenda. A checklist that requires the application of force to be finished to your satisfaction. Checklists aren’t a problem if you’re going grocery shopping, but they become very unsatisfactory as a way of life.
It took me a LONG time to figure this out. I missed a lot of moments because I was busily figuring out in the back of my head how to advance an agenda–date me, be my friend, comprehend standard 8.2a! Only when I admitted that part of me liked agendas, nay, LOVED them, was I able to start to unravel the knot. Agendas allowed me to pretend I was in charge, confident, efficient. Agendas allowed me to start on actions quickly, quantifiable actions that no one could label as passive. Whereas, if I start the day with an intention to listen or an intention to be curious, I can do either of those things whether I’m doing the dishes or applying for jobs. Thus, it can take a little longer to get things started, but they are ultimately not coming from fear. Intentions give me the pace and the ability to welcome surprise that I desire, but are not as easily recognizable as good adulting to the outside world.
However, here’s where the problem shows up for me. It’s not the fear that the adult world won’t recognize me as one of their own–I’m getting less and less worried about that. Rather, it’s the fact that so many people seem to think that agenda and chaos are the only options. While I understand either/or thinking all too well, it’s frustrating as fuck to see in others, now that I’m moving away from it. I have the annoying earnestness of a new convert that can’t quite understand why people don’t yet “get it.” Why set out to win a race or bob around like a buoy in harbor when you can glide along the shore in your own time?
I see this more and more in students, to where sadly I can say it’s become a trend in the last five years. They’ll do what they’re asked or not, depending on their conditioning, but little to nothing more. And then, if that bob-along method of academics doesn’t get them what they want, there is genuine surprise. An intention to learn is becoming a foreign concept for many, while an intention to get a grade or get to the end of the day is alive and well. But it doesn’t stop there, or else maybe I could just write it off as teenage laziness. Although it could be said that it’s “just the way it is” with online communication, I marvel as man after man approaches me through online dating platforms with absolutely no intention of any kind–not to get to know me, not to try and date me, I don’t know, maybe it could be said their intention is to pass the time?? I am currently on the third month of an ongoing dialogue with a man who seems perfectly happy to trade a line or two every three to five days. Usually I would have deleted/blocked this person by now, but it has gained the fascination of a bloody car wreck on the side of the road. If you read the transcript, at first I start out in my usual way, trying to get to know this person who has said hello, asking questions of genuine interest, and not just, ‘so what do you do for a living’? But I’m now at the point where I’m genuinely curious about how lame and disconnected I can be before he gives up. I have answered ‘cool’ in 8 of my last 15 replies. Not ‘cool’ with a winky face or ‘cool’ and then a follow up question, just ‘cool’. One word. It occurred to me a few days ago that maybe he’s in prison and doesn’t get a lot of computer time. So this conversation is somewhere between an experiment and a public service. Cool.
Maybe we fear that an intention will look like an agenda? We will be perceived as pushy? Is the responsibility of engaging gently more complex than we can handle? Is the ‘whatever happens happens’ mentality really the more enlightened stance and I just haven’t gotten there yet? I still have my agenda-dominant days or moments, but increasingly they give me less and less pleasure. Can we have agenda and intention in the same moment? I don’t know, but I do know now that there are more than two ways to face outward. I suspect there are many more than two. I intend to discover them.