In my early 20s I used to babysit for a family who had four children under six. [Insert multiple exclamation points and utter parental exhaustion here. How did they survive!?!?]
The parents were (and are) dear friends of mine, and mentors. I’d known them since I was a rather lost and confused teenager, and our age-gap fell perfectly into that in-between state: they were not old enough to be my parents, but old enough to seem all-knowing while still fun and relevant.
As a teenager I looked up to them in every way and, in many respects, I still do.
One night, as they were preparing to go out and I was helping to tuck all the kids in and brush all the teeth and read all the bedtime stories, I witnessed their father breaking up some sort of disagreement between the children.
“I didn’t mean to do it!” cried one child, over some small crime I can’t remember.
“That's good,” their father said, “but you should mean not to do it.”
I don’t know about those children, but that was a lesson in intent that I have never forgotten.
It is one thing to be blameless on intention. To be going about your own life, and not deliberately causing harm. But to swap those two words around is a whole other level: to deliberately not cause harm is a conscious act in intentional kindness that is so much more powerful.
Last week, not far from my house, a young man was killed while cycling to work. And the person who caused his death did nothing more dastardly than open their parked-car door without looking. The cyclist was thrown into the path of an oncoming truck. Death was instant.
In my compassion for the family of that cyclist, I also feel devastated for the person in the parked car. That person is probably a good person. A kind person. Someone who loves their family, and hugs their Nanna, and sometimes buys lattes for their friends at work. All they wanted that morning was to get out of their car.
But they will carry the burden and consequences of the cyclist's death forever.
People all over the news this week are talking about penalties for opening car doors in cycling lanes. They want stronger legal consequences because otherwise how will the rest of us learn, and remember? I'm going to stop here because this is getting too heavy and too sad but the whole horrible incident reminded me of my friend's advice to his small children, all those years ago.
Dear friends, let's consciously do good. Every time.
Too often, we stop at intent. We like to say it's the thought that counts, but we let the lack of thought go without remark.
Mean to do it. Mean not to do it. But don't ignore it.
Folks, let's mean it!
Image credit: Joshua Earle Photography, licensed under Creative Commons