Choices: Looking Back

Posted by: Mike

In reviewing our lives, whether we are 35, 46, or 75 (I am excluding those who are younger, as I expect that they might need to be in some kind of Z-Generation category—whatever that might be!), I expect that most of us cringe periodically in remembering some, yes even many, of the choices that we have made during our adult lives. “How could I have done that!” we say to ourselves. Or—”That doesn’t make any sense! Why did I do that or decide to do that?” What a difference a day—no, ten or twenty years—makes. Our choices over the years have radically altered our paths in life; and our poor choices have at times led to lasting negative consequences. Unless we can obliterate these memories, they remain somewhat of a predicament for some of us, periodically gnawing at our consciences and our souls. So, what can we do about such a predicament? We recognize that we’ve made some rather bad decisions affecting our lives over the years, likely some that have profoundly affected our future, and thus our present lives; and what can we do about them? Well—obviously—nothing about the actual decisions! But stewing in these reflections can be distinctly unpleasant!

Can we find anything redemptive in awareness of our past bad decisions and consequent actions? It seems to me that recognition and understanding themselves have their redemptive aspects. At least, “Now I can see what happened more clearly than in the past.” That in itself is an accomplishment, and positive; “Perhaps I can have learned something from my errors and will be less likely to repeat the fault.” As a society we like to think that we will learn from our society’s mistakes; but if you take even a superficial look at events in the broader human scene, learning from the past is not something that humans seem to be very good at. And as individuals, we seem to be as woefully inadequate as societies in learning from our individual past mistakes.

Typical of human self-centeredness, I neglected something very important in the first paragraph above that might be telling! I conveniently forgot to leave out the aspect of the other lives that my bad decisions may have affected. It’s a not uncommon narcissistic perspective. “It’s all about ME.” But the reality is that because we’re so closely connected with others our bad decisions have at times-probably often-also affected others that we were intimately connected with: family, friends, acquaintances, and possibly many others that we connected with in a variety of ways over the years.

AA suggests that when we, in making an honest appraisal of our lives, discover that we have injured others, it is our responsibility to attempt to make amends, unless of course, that effort might lead to further injury. It’s a challenging demand. Most of us would rather try to ignore or forget the past rather than bring it up to those whom we might have affected negatively; and in many cases people that we have affected negatively in the past are likely long out of our lives, not available; what can we do?

The idea of being “devastatingly honest” to ourselves comes to mind. And, secondarily, being unerringly honest with others in the future would seem to me to be an indirect way of making amends to those whose paths we have affected negatively. There is also another redemptive focus that we can take at this point. That is, to look at the decisions and actions that we have taken that have positively affected not only our lives, but also the lives of others. There are few among us who have not, on a daily basis, made an effort to be understanding and sympathetic, to have offered a kind word, generous suggestion, or helpful hand to others in need. It’s important not to look for the big things, but rather to consider our behavior from day to day. Does it reflect general kindliness to others and a willingness to go out of our way to be thoughtful and considerate? Awareness of such positive behaviors will go a long way toward smoothing out the residual pain of our past deficiencies of judgment and action.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Choices: Looking Back

  1. David

    Interesting…

    How about a topic on false-humility, seems related? Be interesting to hear what you think.

  2. mhz1936

    I suspect that we find false humility in rather specific setting. I don’t frequent any settings where I find it present, so can’t have much to say about it. It sounds like you have something to say that might be important about it. Please feel free to elaborate, and I’ll set it up as an entry from an outside contributor (See – I can play that game)! In fact, I’d be happy to set you up on your own blog! It’s easy!

  3. Barbara

    I see you are wrestling with past decisions. Well, wrestle and regret no more. I think you were absolutely right to marry Linda.

  4. David

    Getting to know this tool all too well I see.

    I have to say, that every circle has a problem with false-humility, secular or otherwise. It’s just the nature of our beasts. It’s a way to hide our pride, and it’s a natural instinct.

  5. mhz1936

    Mama Mia! For Barbara: Did I say anything about marriage? No. Altho, let me think about it….And thanks for taking to time to read my blog. I appreciate that. It’s a little daunting, however, to put myself out there in print….
    for David: what do you mean “every circle.” I assume you mean every group. You speak a lot in metaphors. There may not be anything wrong with that (but I tend to not like it so much for some kinds of writing); however, I think that often, when using metaphors we may need to clearly explain what we are talking about. Given that, being clearly concrete might be better than using the metaphor. I guess I am for explicity and concreteness in speaking and writing in general, as metaphors are somewhat like fractals, in that meaning can be elaborated to no end. And as every listener/reader has his/her own associations and elaborations to a metaphor. the meaning for each person is going to be somewhat different. We actually have that when we are being explicit and concrete, but there is somewhat less chance for different perceptions and associations when we are being concrete. The truth is, of course, that we all have distinct and somewhat unique frames of reference through which we interpret existence and experience, and, in a sense, we’re never talking about exactly the same thing!
    Re the use of metaphor, however; metaphor is the language of poetry and of the unexpressable. When we use metaphor, both we and the listener have our world expanded, as the associational process (cognitive/affective) is opened up: we have access to the mysterious, the mystical, the depths of feeling, the inexpressable; language can explain only so much; with metaphor we are reaching out to that which cannot be put into words but for which we have only a “felt meaning” (cf Carl Rogers).
    So I am contradicting myself somewhat. There is obviously a place and a need for metaphor, not only in poetry, but in our day to day conversation and interactions.
    M.

  6. David

    Every single word is a metaphor which points toward an archetype. All words are just pointers, or references. We should use the language/pointers that our audience understands. You understood circles, because that’s a common word used to reference groups of people or distinct communities.

    These pointers and references (metaphors) do point to something concrete. They references something absolute. If they don’t, then they are meaningless and shouldn’t be used. Then they are just babble.

    To go on a tangent…That’s all memories are: collections, arrays, organizations, or communities of pointers which reference absolutes or archetypal concrete truths. Yes, we all have distinct frames of references, but the fundamental bits on which we look or from which we draw our words from are probabably very similar since the bits that we are referencing are fundamentally the same.

  7. David

    Honestly, I’m not sure if we should do much looking back. (Back to the topic.) Ironically, I think it’s the looking back that causes us to repeat our past problems, not the other way around. People have a tendency to cycle failures in their minds (1) those things that failed us and (2) those things that we failed in.

    In regards to those things that failed us (1). By dwelling on those things, we can begin harboring contempt. Contempt can consume the individual and breeds anger within the person. This is how an ‘angry’ person comes to be. We all know what ‘angry’ people are like. Angry people can look like angry persons outwardly. But angry people can also look as innocent as doves, yet can sting in hidden and powerful ways. We don’t want to become these people. They are bad news. They are vipers. The way to diffuse this tendency for us to become angry people, by forgiving everyone and all of those who hurt us in the past. And praise the Lord for making this possible!

    In regards to things that we failed in (2), this could be related to our pride, to people, or to both. If we failed in say, a business venture, then this is something we should just let go. Easier said than done, yet it is pride that keeps us from letting it go. If the failure is related to people, then we should do our best to ask for forgiveness. If that person is inaccessible, then it is through only prayer that we can gain forgiveness. Much of the time, we feel that we have failed someone, but it is actually our vanity at work, i.e., pride. And we haven’t failed them at all. We actually are just wishing that we wouldn’t have been a certain way, because it revealed our true person. Vanity is one of the most difficult thing for men and woman alike to heal from. It goes back to your Narcissism comment, except that I would say that vanity is self-destructive. The way to heal our vanity is to do what your heart feels like (in Christian terms: the Holy Spirit), rather than what we think other think we should do. Then we begin becoming who we were meant to be, i.e., the archetypal you. And ironically, then we begin failing others less and less.

    The problem can be in looking forward. When we look forward and expect things to be a certain, or particular way, we find that when and if that particular way manifests itself, it is not how we thought it would be.

    The best thing may be just to live daily with hopes for the best, asking for forgiveness for our past failures, forgiving others so we don’t hold debts over others into the future, and doing the daily tasks that are placed before us. And those daily tasks, might be as simple as taking a walk in the park.

  8. Mike Zelenka

    Wow! Too much to comment on now: I agree with some and disagree with some.
    When do you go for your doctorate in philosophy/semantics? I disagree with the contempt issue. I do think it is a common occurrence in the here and now for many people; I expect people who are free from contempt are those few who are truly compassionate and understanding.
    Maybe we’d better to this blog jointly – kind of a give and take; comment and response; might be interesting; and the comments might be very challenging.
    Think about it!
    I have an entry almost completed on “Salvation”; it is likely to stir up a significant response – from YOU!
    D
    Dad

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