“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”
As a precursor to Black History Month — and my intention to cover music of black origin in blog posts throughout October — many of us know this song was written in 1964 for iconic artist Nina Simone. Referred to as the High Priestess of Soul. (Also made famous in 1965 as a cover version by UK R&B group The Animals).
Written by Horace Ott, Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus (apparently because of a falling out between Ott and his girlfriend Gloria), it is a pleading, thumping gospelesque song that perfectly captures the 1960s. Yet the subtext of the song also talks to the growing Civil Rights movement in the USA. Not just about romance, but about acts, deeds and characteristics that others take umbrage at, misconstrue, demonise and vilify.
I guess whatever your intentions are in how you live, what you stand for and what you project to the world, others may not see it that way. They may misunderstand you and vilify you.
Being misunderstood happens. We shortcut to a suggestion and others push back because you missed some vital context. Your idea is awesome in your head but “on paper”, it’s left people feeling confused and a little unnerved.
Being misunderstood can also grow by no deed, act or projection of your own doing. Viral contempt can spread by one person’s vilification of another and their circle buying into their vilification. True or otherwise. It sticks. Whatever your intentions were that brought that vilification into being.
Intentions then lead to sometimes great outcomes, sometimes sinister gains and sometimes darned misunderstanding.
I’m sure many people had good intentions at the voting booth. And then the consequence of their actions (a scandalised MP; a biased and sleazy parliament)you only put a tick by the least bad perhaps?
Vote Green I say, we need a more viable alternative and a focus on the planet and communities, not the profiteering and self-serving privileged.
I’m sure many felt restricted by the EU and expressed that in their intentions and voted to leave. And now, businesses are experiencing the mire of our self-inflicted bureaucracy and delay, loss of clientele and workers, and more. Whatever the shortages — HGV drivers, food pickers, hospitality workers, care professionals — the intention to be free from something that time and again was argued as not interfering, has led to a raft of more issues than ever existed in the previous membership. You could say the Remain campaign’s intentions weren’t as strongly articulated as Leave’s.
And our intentions at work. We perhaps never intended to endure lengthy and costly commutes to work, nor miss out on our social cohesion with colleagues, but our intentions to be safe during a pandemic and continue to work resulted in either continued presence or the dispersal to working from anywhere.
And now, our intentions are to have some social cohesion but not always, or even dispense with that and intend to work more remotely as our norm, there’s vilification on either side of that all-in/partially-in/all-out debate for desk-based knowledge workers. And all the time, our intentions to support those who still turn up because the work presents them with no choice, we’re vilified for being inconsiderate to them. When our intentions are not of that sort. We’re merely trying to work out what’s best for us and those we most closely work with.
And on social networks, especially Twitter, we only have to express a thought or opinion on something with the intent to sense-check, help, declare support or challenge a view and we’re vilified. Whatever our intentions.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
What we believe in, stand for, shout about, endorse. Our intentions are to show the choices we’ve made and to promote understanding of better, more inclusive, more open, fairer, purposeful, good outcomes.
Marcus Rashford’s intentions on feeding children who find themselves in families experiencing hardship have been supported and sadly are also vilified.
Sometimes by the politicians, he is trying to influence, to create state support for those with no choice in the hardships they face in life. But not just political figures, others who are perhaps more likely in situations similar to his own upbringing. Who see a highly-paid footballer, using his status and vilifying him for a missed penalty kick. The reaction to his mural defacing after the Euro2020 final was heartwarming.
There is a saying The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We all get that. Meaning that intentions alone are not enough and indeed, good intentions can turn out to be awful when enacted upon. We see a lot of those in the world, with no need to list them here.
Nina Simone’s intentions were always to play the piano. Aged just 3 she started. And enrolled in schools to play classical music, the real name of Simone is Eunice Waymon. She only changed her name when her intention to earn some money, saw her play in supper clubs with jazz tributes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Born to a Methodist ministerial family, this was “the devil’s music”, so the name change was to hide her performing persona from her family.
Her intentions were good — playing, earning, living — but she had to create an alter ego in order to do so.
Simone’s fusing of jazz, gospel, R&B, folk and classical led to recording deals and popularity on the Black Music and national charts including her recording of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
And in the hotbed of 1960s social movements, Nina became associated with the Civil Rights movement. Adopting Afrocentric dress as a homage to her heritage and recording and releasing protest songs, socio-political lyricised recordings and standing in protest lines and sharing uncomfortable truths in interviews. Mississippi Goddam was one of her strongest songs, with the intention of bringing to attention the struggle for equality which Simone claims harmed her career and gave record company executives the excuse to underpromote and impact on her sales.
She allied herself to Malcolm X’s Black Revolutionary stance (despite playing at the Selma March organised by peaceful protesting Dr Martin Luther King Jnr) which she claimed exasperated her marginalisation so she moved to Barbados. Her intention was to continue to record and perform still, but that she could no longer support and pay taxes to a government engaged in the Vietnam War. She was later prosecuted for that withdrawal of taxes and effectively had to exile herself in the Caribbean state.
She later moved to Europe and her performing career thrived in the Netherlands and France, eventually settling there before her death in 2003 of breast cancer.
Nina’s intentions were to stand up. Shine a spotlight on injustice. Use her presence to — in her words — feel more alive then than I feel now because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people.
Heroic intentions through power musical articulations. Yet vilified.
Simone’s intentions did lead to her own road to hell. Yet nonetheless, she endured, gave the musical world too many moments to even list — Simone is one of the few artists whose Best of compilations could run to several volumes — and influencing many who followed her.
Our recollections of people like Nina Simone give us a sense of something to write about, just as I have here. We deify such efforts in movies, and documentaries and appreciate her stance some years after it probably really mattered. Which makes Simone’s intentions all the more laudable. Because at the time, she was the recipient of oppressing, damaging and hurtful behaviours from others.
Of course, there is the statement “will you appear on the right side of history?” and Simone does. It’s incomprehensible to think of it in any other way.
Black, female, stepping into a secular world, fusing music that normally is unfused, making political stances, unconventional, creative, real and eventually somewhat nomadic.
Where did Nina Simone belong? What was her intention to belong to?
- She belonged to a fight. Against injustice. To anti-oppression.
- She belonged not to the Carolinas where she was born, or even the Church her parents were Minsters of.
- She belonged not to the record labels nor the genres the industry tried to force her into.
- She belonged not to the government she believed oppressed people like her unfairly and unlawfully and also entered into a war that was equally unfair and unjust.
Eunice Waymon’s intent was to belong to Nina Simone’s impact on the world through music. Through the creation of a performing name, a stage to share classical musical heritage with the social issues of the mid-20th Century, Simone became the icon she is to this day. Her intentions were not to become the mogul, street-fighter, and certainly not the victim of life’s circumstances.
That leads me to a little connection to the work of today and people’s intentions. It’s been said many times by the more humanist commentators on the world of work
“People don’t intend to come to work and spoil it, make mistakes and do wrong/bad things.”
Yet the management of them seems to set out an intention to distrust, secure wriggle-free compliance with instructions and suppress creative tendencies and even positive deviance.
With many management indoctrinations, it’s starting from the point of having to get the best from people by coercion or fear of punishment and retribution.
Intentions to perform and support and create are at the heart of the self-managed systems of work that the team @ People and Transformational HR Ltd. and I believe in. We all take a stand on this — not to engage in any form of oppressive management. But channel free will and intent to perform so that it happens. And allow for deviance and afford some bumps in the carpet as a natural part of our learning, discovery and occasional off-days.
- Our intentions to help with our wellness and energy are manifested in our 4-Day Operating Week.
- Our intentions to put back to the planet are manifested in our Carbon Positive status for the year.
- Our intentions to be fair and just on reward are manifested in our Living Wage status.
- And our intentions to be a soulful business venture, and meet the highest standards of social and environmental impact are manifested in our BCorporation application.
- We have intentions to enhance the working prospects of carers and particularly Mums.
- We have intentions to bring to greater understanding the power of difference.
- We have intentions to disrupt executive education and enlightening ways to be and do work.
We’re not Nina Simone, and we’re not big enough to be noticed in that way. But — and there may even be vilification about some of our intentions — we are steadfast and take inspiration from people who in history, have stood firm in their beliefs, values and purpose.
In Nina’s performance of Ott, Benjamin and Marcus’s words and rhythm was ironically apt.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
During her life, people did misunderstand her. Or chose to marginalise her because they understood but refused to admit to it.
So it took time. But not many people would misunderstand you now Eunice.
We know your intentions were good. They still are. And still needed.