It was the mid 1990’s. The band Toad The Wet Sprocket released a song that had been recorded a few years earlier and not released because it seemed too much like an obvious pop single as part of the Friends soundtrack and it became their last major hit, earning them a top ten on the AAA charts as well as top 20’s on Adult Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Alternative, Mainstream Rock, and Mainstream Top 40, although it was never released as a commercial single so it was ineligible to chart on the Hot 100 at the time. The song, written by Glen Phillips, laments the state of a the narrator who struggles to see that he isn’t blind, who relies on his good intentions despite being deeply troubled in his thinking and not being the most observant person. If it is an obvious popular song, as it proved to be, it is popular not because of a lack of quality but because the idea of seeking to rely on one’s good intentions when dealing with a world in which our competence is seriously up for debate is a very relatable problem.
Indeed, there is a systematic problem when it comes to our good intentions. The difficulty is that we know our intentions. We know the gulf that exists between what we wanted to say and do and the way it came out and the way it was judged by others. We recognize that it is unjust for others to judge us by their misinterpretation of our words and deeds when we know what we were aiming at. All of that is well and good as far as it goes. Encouraging others to recognize the gap between the way that they view us and the way that we view ourselves is a worthwhile experience for all sides, not least because it lets us all know how we can misinterpret things based on our own thinking and experiences and not know or be able to relate to how someone else sees the world. But we know our own intentions instinctively because we are privileged to have an insider’s perspective on our own thinking and behavior that we do not have when it comes to judging others. In order to understand the intentions of others, we generally need those intentions communicated to us. And it is not easy for us to trust what we hear from others, or for others to trust us enough to tell us their motivations and intentions, lest we insult them or exploit them accordingly. And so we judge others by our interpretations of their words and deeds and demand to be judged for our good intentions. It is no wonder that our judgments are frequently skewed, regardless of how we end up biased.
Throughout the day today my social media feeds have been infested by well-meaning but not very bright people who have posted black pictures of various kinds as a way of virtue signalling their sympathy with the black community over the death of George Floyd. As I have made my own feelings about this matter rather plain , I am hostile both to acts of abuse by authorities as well as the spirit of lawlessness and rebellion that seeks to exploit those acts of abuse as a way of attacking the respect towards order and authority that is proper and fitting. A great many people think that by posting a black square on their social media pages that they are signalling to others that they are the sort of people whose views are progressive and who are not racist unlike those other bad white people. All such acts do are convince me that appeasing violent leftist terrorists is more important than simply letting people express their own frustrations peacefully and going about one’s ordinary business otherwise untroubled with compassion in your heart but without the need to feel that one has to add anything to a discourse that one is not properly a part of. It is a shame that people desire to have other people view them as just to such an extent that it leads to active irritation and annoyance of other people, and counterproductive repercussions in only increasing the division one might wish to overcome.
Ultimately, good intentions don’t count for much. Our opinions, in the final analysis, mean little, except the extent to which they serve to shape the lives we live as other people respond to those opinions with disagreement, agreement, polite silence, or violent responses. The opinions of others matter little either. Our judgment of the motives and intentions of others is of little value, seeing as we are judging on things that we do not happen to know very much about. Our own intentions and motives are typically complicated and difficult for ourselves to understand, and yet we try to put the best face on them anyway. It is hard enough to help others out when we have intentions to help. When our desire is to help ourselves and avoid the feeling of being judged and condemned, it is even harder to do something that will ultimately be of use. Perhaps silence would be best, but as someone who finds it impossible to be silent, I cannot blame others for feeling the need to speak out. One needs to do so in a better way than through empty symbols, though.
 See, for example: