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.