Good Intentions Don't Heal My Pain

I spent a lot of time this week replying to your messages of support. These messages are the jet fuel that propel this blog forward, even if they are very draining to receive and respond to. I actually haven’t gotten around to them all yet. It seems like last week's post hit a nerve for a lot of people.

Not all of the messages were helpful though. I blocked some people recently based on their "support." It’s super condescending to shove platitudes in my face like “this too shall pass” or “cling to Jesus" or to defend my family's good intentions, and it is not appreciated. I know these people mean well, but intentions are good for shit when I’m suffering and struggling this much. I don’t have the time or energy to explain to all of them individually what they did wrong, but I might try that moving forward instead of just blocking them.

There are legal implications for intent, eg. degrees of murder, but meaning well doesn't undo the harm caused. I live by the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let me illustrate.

  • I intend to lose weight, but I just keep eating instant noodles and drinking fizzy sugar water before bed. Why do I still weigh the current year in pounds divided by 10? (201.6 lbs.) Why is it rising?

  • I meant to get an A+ in all my classes, but I spent all my time on YouTube instead. Why would the school fail me when I had good intentions? (This didn't really happen, but it was in my dream last night for some reason.)

  • I mean to stop binge drinking (not yet, but let's pretend), but the thought of it made me drink 5 shots last night. Why am I hungover when my intentions were to stop?

I haven’t found the right analogy yet for why intentions are meaningless. Sometimes intentions are worse than useless because they justify harmful behaviour. Ask the parents in Lethbridge who recently "failed to provide the necessaries of life" for their 19-month-old son when they used naturopathic remedies to treat his meningitis, and they had good intentions. It’s the thought that counts, right? No harm, no foul.

In my family’s case, intentions are used as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for the harm they caused. Instead of owning up to their faults, they can always say “I didn’t mean to hurt you because I meant well,” and the sad part is that it convinces some people. No matter who is involved, one thing we want is for our offenders to take ownership of their actions. That’s the privilege and cost of being an adult. In honour of this weekend’s gathering of comic book fans at the Calgary Expo, one might say that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

If you expect me to swallow my family’s good intentions, would you accept if I hurt and abused you with good intentions? I want to make you stronger, tougher, ready for the harsh realities of this world. The ends justify the means, right? Maybe I’ll lock you in a room so there are no distractions to making you a stronger person. And since you keep trying to run away, I’ll handcuff you to a metal bed frame. Don’t worry if it seems psychotic because I mean well, right?

Good intentions are a license to kill. Let’s ground this discussion in specifics since the hypotheticals can take us to weird places like that previous paragraph.

My dad always wanted me to be a doctor. He even incepted the idea so I thought it was my own pursuit. He disapproved when I wanted to switch to engineering because medicine is more important to him. I had to ask my mom if it was okay if I didn’t want to be a doctor. He meant well, right? Or perhaps he was actually manipulating me so I would bring him more honour. He wanted to brag about me to his friends, and being an engineer is too lowly. Never mind my intrinsic motivation, at least I can be comforted in the fact that this struggle was based in his good intentions. He didn’t harm me at all. I didn’t spend six months in grade 12 lying in bed awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what backlash I would get from my dad if I explored different career options. Never mind that when I was 14, I told him I wanted to pursue drama and film studies, and he outright shot me down. I had already filmed a couple weddings, produced some films and skits for school and church, and I had a pretty good talent for it. I still have plans of just making funny YouTube videos with my friends one day. I don’t know what kind of income I would have relative to now, but that was my choice to make, good or bad consequences. He had the power to influence me, and he used it selfishly. Some engineers now aren’t working, so my conventional option wasn’t even all that safe. Some of you are thinking that I should be grateful to my family since I turned out so well, but I did so in spite of them. With all factors being held constant, if I turned out the way my parents wanted me to, I would only be as good as Chris. My dad even disapproved of him wanting to be a family doctor because he wouldn't be a specialist, which would have brought my dad more glory. I’m told some operating rooms are too expensive to...operate...right now, so if I became a surgeon, I might not be working now either. My father tried to replace my dreams with his own, as all great parents do. I’ll be sure to banish any hopes my own children have in favour of my own. My will be done.

Or maybe we can use a fresh hurt, one you’ve all been privy to. Apparently my family could have contacted me at any time over these past five months after I excommunicated them. What they should have done was apologize to me immediately back in December, assuming they were actually interested in having me back as part of their family. Instead, they waited until a special occasion when I was vulnerable, contacting me all at the same time five months after the fact. I gave them a lot of evidence about what they needed to apologize for, which is more than you get in some disagreements. I think Beyoncé already made up with Jay-Z for cheating on her, but she also doesn’t make it a secret in her new Lemonade album what he did wrong. Yes, I cut them off, but they could have momentarily bypassed all that with an apology. I wouldn’t have resumed a relationship with them even if they apologized, but I would have unshunned them long enough to let them do so. You might be thinking "Hey Jon, maybe they were trying to do that on your birthday. Aren't you a liar, hypocrite, and idiot?" Well, you're right about those last three things, but I think if they really wanted to make things right with me, they wouldn't do it the way they did. I don’t think they want me back as a member of the family, but I think they just miss how I propped them up like a pedestal and handled all their IT-related needs. And my birthday was merely reminding them of their guilt, not how much they liked talking to me. But hey, they had good intentions in waiting so long to reach out to me.

Swinging back to the folks who sent me unhelpful messages, let me try to explain what bothered me about what they said. I blocked these people because their continued communications drain me. I like when my Christian friends say they'll pray for me, but saying "cling to Jesus" isn't helpful. I'm currently working on myself, getting professional help, taking a week of vacation to manage my life stress, recovering from 20 years of bullshit. I can't get through this without Jesus, so it's like telling a patient in a hospital bed to seek medical attention. Get out of my face. I don't need your advice. If you can't handle my drama, then don't read my blog. I have plenty of friends I like to help, but when I can't handle their problems, I set a boundary to protect myself. Don't try to solve my problems. If you choose to follow along, be real and empathize. Put yourself in my shoes and find a similar emotion or situation in your own life. Level with me and say "hey dude, that sucks." Don't put yourself above me and say "Ya, I have it all together because I have Jesus, so you should follow my example." If you're going to make a public comment, then I'll have to respond to you publicly (albeit this is a bit indirect). Like I said earlier, I could deal with these people individually, but that would be a waste of energy because they're not the people I need to be dealing with. I have a lot of childhood stuff to work through, so please don't jump in front of my vehicle with your great ideas when I'm driving down memory lane.

Intentions are not very useful to people who are suffering. People can love in a toxic way, and intentions can be used as an excuse for people when they’re being irresponsible. When you hurt someone, the right response is “sorry,” not “I meant well.” I know I forced people to choose sides in this family conflict, but if you come to me with that weak shit, defending my family because they had good intentions, I’m taking you down. In the mean time, there are many more positive messages of support that I can lean on, so I'll be focusing on those to get me back on my feet.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le