“He who wants to do good knocks at the gate: he who loves finds the door open.” —Rabindranath Tagore
The difference between desire and intention is complex.
We can desire an outcome, yet our actions might not drive it forth because our intentions fail to match. Our true intentions can have deeply subconscious roots, and they may be misdirected, still in development, or in conflict with some other factor.
Desire to do good, to create good, to spread good…is a wonderful starting point. But when the desire is paired with love, a path appears.
I was once asked what love is. I said, “Always choosing what is better for the other.”
It sounds like a weighty, martyr-like commitment, but I like my definition. Because I don’t see it as always a weighty, martyr-like commitment. It’s not confined to sacrifice, and it certainly doesn’t always feel like a duty.
“Choosing what is better” involves imagining what will bring someone else joy. Or health. Or peace. It might be as simple and temporary as picking an ice cream flavor at the store. Or as complex and lasting as signing off on terminating their life. What we imagine is based on careful study, arising from a keen desire to learn. If our learnings (interpretations) fall short, we might be mistaken in our imagination. The resulting choices can then be tragic, as Edmond Rostand dramatizes in Cyrano de Bergerac or as O. Henry more mildly depicts in The Gift of the Magi.
But if we do all of our work with love—whether that is designing, writing, teaching, studying, waiting tables, delivering parcels, or operating in the ER—if we carry the intention to choose well for another, how might the world change? What if corporations and start-ups, school districts and governments, freelancers and executives all did this? All based on a keen desire to learn?
Yes, people may call this a part of “design thinking” and “empathic design” and “human-centered design” and tack these words on their whiteboards with bright sticky notes. That’s a wonderful starting point. I fully support that.
But what I believe the key is…once you immerse in intending to choose what is better for the other, you might realize that the sticky notes aren’t necessary. Because you know the words by heart. Your posture subconsciously shifts, and you find doors wide open where you had struggled to see them before.
Carry that posture into every component of your daily life, actively amplify it, and you may find that you are ultimately also choosing what is better for yourself, and for everyone your work and existence touches.
If the subject interests you, I recommend The Invention of Desire, by Jessica Helfand. It is a book about recognizing our shared humanity and translating that into our attitudes and actions. The chapters open with paintings of cellular microscopy that speak volumes with their anonymity. They show the connective tissues that bind our species.