The Horsehair Plaster Debate

Which is more important, intention or action? Should the two be separated? And where does horsehair plaster fit in?[pullquote] Is the road to hell paved with good intentions and horsehair plaster?[/pullquote]

Allow me to set the stage. My husband and I had hired a carpenter-friend to turn two small rooms into one. The job involved tearing out horsehair plaster, the bane of everyone who’s ever remodeled a nineteenth century building. To complicate things  the rooms were on the second floor in a space with two tiny windows, both with fans in them. We had cut out the dividing wall, gotten most of the dreaded stuff off the other walls, and were in the process of hauling debris out of the space. Because we couldn’t shovel it out the windows, we were forced to shovel the dusty mess into garbage cans, haul them down a flight of stairs that was barely wide enough, through a corner of the kitchen, onto the back deck, and down another short flight of steps to the waiting dumpster. We needed all the distractions we could get.

While my husband worked a ‘real’ job to pay for the remodeling project, the friend and I worked well together. He made the messes and I cleaned them up. Some days our mouths worked as fast as our hands. That day we had discussed a variety of subjects and started on a debate about intentions versus actions.

I lamented that many of us nowadays lived as if intentions were all that mattered. Despite the saying—the road to hell is paved with good intentions—no one seemed to care whether or not it was true. My Amish background had certainly taught me it was true because the Amish have the attitude that neither words nor intention hold much value, both are ignored or dismissed; actions are all that matter.

In my usual intense manner, I jumped in with both feet, “Well, to me, words and intentions are completely worthless without follow-up action and if you’re going to separate one from the other, stick with the actions instead of words and intentions. I’m not sure about the whole heaven/hell idea but I do know that neither words nor intentions will ever be enough for me.”

My friend, equally forceful, took the opposing side, “Well, I think intentions are sometimes enough, or at the very least, they ought to count for something.”

“Maybe,” I countered, “but to me, intentions are every bit as bad as empty words. They are in exactly the same category as not following up words with actions and we just agreed that is in the hypocrite category. In fact, neither of us would be here doing this nasty, dirty job if words and intentions had been enough.”

“Well, there is that,” my friend chuckled, then went on. “But if there’d been no intention we would not be here dealing with this nasty, dirty mess ‘cuz you can’t have much of anything without intention. And besides, I’m talking about metaphysical stuff not tangible things like plaster and lathe strips.”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean too. I’m talking about a general attitude toward life, if you intend to do something then follow it up with action or change your intention. If you just intend to do something but never actually do it, that’s worse than if you’d never intended it in the first place.”

“Well, maybe. But I still think intentions ought to count for something,” he reiterated.

“Yeah, okay, it might,” I said reluctantly. “I can see how it’s sorta silly to try and separate the two anyway.”

But then something occurred to me. “How ‘bout I just intend to pay you? How much will that count for?”

With eyes gleaming above his blackened dust mask, he said, “Ha ha. Okay, I concede the point,” as he stomped down the stairs with another loaded garbage can. After upending the thing into the dumpster, he came back up the steps with a lingering grin, “You know, I’ve decided I’m very glad you disagree with me.”

I smiled too. We both knew we’d acted on the intention of distracting ourselves. In the end, the combination of intention and action succeeded as well as in the distraction process as the remodeling project and the master bedroom suite my husband and I now enjoy.

But what do you think? Ought intention to count for something? If so, why? Or are you like the Amish and believe that action is all that matters?


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