Intention and Concern – Why Re-Interpret Stories and Not Change Mindsets

by Augusto Cuginotti

Let’s make a new distinction together. We’ll look at ourselves as human beings acting in the world and ask what is behind our individual and collective actions.

I’ll compare two ways of looking at human action and relate them to two words: intention and concern. But first, let’s look at both their meaning in the dictionary:

Intention: something that you want and plan to do.

Concern: something that involves or affects you or is important to you.

The word “concern” can also mean “to cause worry to someone”, but we are using it in the previous sense: something that involves or affects you, something that invites acting in the world.


Intention as an Action before Action

From the Newtonian perspective of cause-effect to Freudian’s unconscious drives, it is commonplace to consider there is an intention behind an action.

For people who look at the world with these eyes, every action results from an event before it. It is like we have a little human (our conscience?) behind the wheel, in this case, within our minds, that acts deciding the action we’ll perform.

The problem with imagining there is the act of choosing before acting is that we are forced to explore the first “act of choosing” itself. What is the intention of setting up another intention to finally act in the world? What makes/influences us to choose how we choose how to act?

If there is an action before the action, it makes sense there is an action before that too. And before that, and before that.

We can create another entity, the unconscious mind, to outsource “how to act” to unconscious drives we are unaware of.

But we can also scrap the idea that there is a decision – that happens in our minds – before we act. I want to sustain that there is no action before action. Agreeing with Nietzsche on this, the deed is everything:

“. . . there is no being behind doing, effecting, becoming; “the doer” is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals



The Deed is Everything

We are acting on the premise that human beings just act, and then we create stories that allow the act to appear coherent for us and others, i.e., we tell a story to explain it.

Of course, the story we tell might be different and compete with other accounts, so the meaning of an action is interpretative. And different interpretations do not mean relativism: some interpretations are well-founded while others are not.

The interpretation we offer for a given action takes into account three things:

  1. Our concerns – what is affecting or influencing us that we are called to address, but it is not only centred on us.
  2. Socio-historical explanations. Past explanations constrain and enable the possibilities of action. We use them to create coherence and reduce complexity, making things “make sense” over time.
  3. Personal intention. Here lies our understanding of intent – an intention is a planned explanation for future acts. It is a powerful human ability, but the more complex the action, the more likely we’ll need to adapt that interpretation after the event occurs.


Re-Interpretative Stories vs Changing Mindsets

From this distinction, we look at interpretative stories people make regarding their actions rather than exploring what drives them to act the way they do.

Change is to look at interpretations, invite for re-interpretation, and not enforce a different inner drive in people.


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