Goals versus Desires
Graduating from college was one of the scariest days of my life. I had a Psychology degree and could do nothing with it without going on to graduate school and I had made no plans to do so. The week of my graduation, someone told me about a woman who needed a nanny while she started a crisis pregnancy center in my university town, Kirksville, MO. I interviewed with her, then climbed into my packed car and moved back home near Chicago.
A few days later, I received a call that she wanted to hire me. I then packed my car again and moved back to Kirksville. Oh, to be young again.
As the time for opening the crisis pregnancy center drew near, I decided I would interview for the Director position. I interviewed and was hired.
One of my most memorable experiences as Director was our Walk for Life, the fundraiser for the center. Everything about the walk felt life affirming. I had babysat for many of the families who participated and the children were running around me and playing. I noticed there was a small group gathering across the street with signs. They were protesters from my alma mater. The protesters walked the two miles along with us but on the opposite side of the street.
After the walk, one of our Board members invited the protesters to have some donuts and coffee with us. The protesters hesitated but eventually came to intermingle. I had several conversations and emphasized that the center supported women who lacked a support system. We hoped to become a support system so they feel they actually have a choice.
After the event, we had a positive write-up in the liberal newspaper and a woman called from the protesting group to see if we could do a joint fundraiser. My approach as Director was to find common ground and work together on that common ground. It is not truly a choice if a woman feels the only choice is abortion. The group that protested us seemed to understand that and wished to help make it a true choice.
Before I was able to see this collaboration materialize, Rob asked me to marry him and we were married soon afterward. We then moved to Ohio so my time as Director was brief, but memorable.
One of my roles at the center was to conduct training for staff. While crisis pregnancy centers are often portrayed as places that use hyperbolic language and deception in order to convince women not to have an abortion, our center did not take that approach. There were volunteers who would have certainly taken that approach, but our training helped them examine and manage this rhetoric.
One important distinction that I spent a lot of time reinforcing was the difference between desires and goals. In this context, desires are things you may desperately want to happen but are not within your control. Goals are those things that are within your control.
So, a person who believes that the unborn child is a person, deserving a right to live, may desire that the woman not choose abortion . . . but it is a desire, not a goal. That woman has autonomy and sovereignty over that decision. The goal, on the other hand, of those working in our center was to maximize the amount of support we could give to women in this situation. We focused our energies on filling our rooms with clothes, diapers, breast pumps, nursing bras, baby equipment. We ensured that any woman who walked into our center would know that we would work hard for them to not have the extra expenses if she could not afford them and that as fellow mothers (most of the people working at the center were mothers . . . and I had been a nanny so that counts, right?), we understood how scary it was to become a mother and we would be there to talk about these fears.
(My experience in religious spaces, unfortunately, has been that things become more extreme when you have people who are required by their religion to see other people as entirely corrupt without their version of religion. And unfortunately, enough Christians tend to believe a version of this that it can easily become radicalized. For this reason, I would not financially support crisis pregnancy centers today because of the radical religious factions that seem to eventually overtake these centers.)
My reason for sharing about my experience with crisis pregnancy centers is that the distinction between desires and goals was cemented in my mind because of my work with women facing difficult decisions where their sovereignty, their child’s sovereignty and my desire to help collided. It became a central part of who I am and how I treat people.
This distinction can be applied in so many different ways . . ..
In discussions on difficult issues, my goal is to be as clear as possible and when I am not clear, I try again to be more clear. My desire is to be understood but that requires the other person to be willing and able to understand and I am not in control of that so that can’t be my goal. When the other person demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to understand me . . . I understand there is a difference between desiring to be understood and making it my goal to be understood. One gives freedom to the other person even to misunderstand me; one seeks to control.
When helping my kids with career options . . . particularly when we were considering vocal performance . . . we knew that my daughter would not be in control of whether she “made” it because “making it” requires the cooperation of so many other people. What was within her control was to work hard on her skills. When she was having a difficult time carrying out goals to build the necessary skills when college decisions were being made, and commitments to spending thousands of dollars on honing those skills were being made . . . it became clear that that was not where she wanted to make and reach goals at the time, and she decided to go a different direction where achievement of goals was easier.
The distinction between desires and goals is about protecting other people’s autonomy while at the same time, ensuring that you are exercising your autonomy to its maximal capacity. It is in that space where mutually healthy decisions and personal progress is made and feels most like freedom.
Do you have an issue or decision where this distinction may help to clarify confusion and/or tendencies to control others?