I have this one friend who likes to say that it doesn’t matter if someone else means to hurt you. Hurt is hurt. Intent doesn’t matter, they insist.
Having had a number of clearly malicious actors do hurtful things and then feebly insist after the fact that they didn’t mean to hurt me, I get it. It’s no good when folks weasel out of dubious acts after the fact, using intent as a cover.
But I have to say I’ve found other circumstances where intent is crucial. For example, the other day, my partner volunteered to bring a handbuilt pot I’d sculpted to the community kiln for me. They were going that way anyway. And it would be no trouble, they said.
I was delighted. I did have some reservations. “Hmm,” I said. “Are you sure you don’t want help getting that to the car?” It was large and precarious. And pottery is its most fragile when its in what’s known as the bone dry greenware stage — before the first bisque firing.
“Oh, it’s more stable than it looks,” my partner assured me. They left.
Two minutes later, I heard a knock on my door. “I’m so sorry,” my partner said. They’d broken my pot on the way to their vehicle, thwarted by a wayward door snapping back at the worst possible moment.
I was disappointed for sure. The pot had taken me hours to build. But in that moment, I could see how remorseful they were. Their face was crestfallen. It was an accident.
I took a deep breath and told them it was fine. They presented me with various shards, and I quickly sorted out what to do with them. My first instinct was to throw everything in the trash — but they pointed out that the broken pot had an interesting shape, and I agreed when I studied it. Part of the wall that had popped off was quite beautiful, so I went to grab a needle tool and carve my initials into it (so the kiln crew would know I was the artist).
I gathered the smaller shards and put them in a jar they found for me. I added some water to make slip (a kind of glue that I use to attach pieces when I build).
They were still apologizing when they left. I told them it was fine. Over and over again. Because it was.
They promised to take me to the pottery store and buy me some more clay to make it up to me, an offer which I appreciated.
After they left, I fed my cats and then sat down and built another pot since my spider plant still needed a new home (having been too successful and grown out of the plastic nursery pot). I used a different technique this time since I wasn’t keen to do the exact same thing as I did with the broken pot. But the finished result was superb.
They were still apologizing when they came back later.
“It was an accident,” I said. “I know you didn’t mean to do it.”
“But you worked so hard on that pot,” they said. “It took you hours.”
“Well, I was disappointed,” I admitted, “but it’s fine. It was an accident.”
It would have been different if they’d thrown the pot against the wall in anger, wanting to punish me. But that’s not what happened. It was a mistake. They get to be human. And so do I.
In any event, I’m excited to see how the broken pot turns out. I’m sure we’ll find a good use for it — and it’ll always remind me of this story.
Update: One of my Patreon supporters asked if they could see the pot, so I’ve posted it over there for my backers to see.