Ends & Beginnings
For the past few years I’ve made yearly reflections my end-of-the-year habit. I just sit on a pillow in the middle of my room and think about how things went. I’ve yet to do it this year, but I will later this evening. This year has been an interesting one. I’ve made the biggest mistake I ever have throughout the course of my life. It directly hurt someone and I think about it every day. That mistake was closer to the beginning of 2019, but it has never left my mind. It is a wrong that I will never be able to right. With that said, it has a become a pivotal moment in my life and has led to me making deliberate attempts to do more good. This is the pro to the overall con. I feel that I have become more empathetic towards people who make life changing mistakes (depending on the severity of whatever they did of course). This has also forced me to look deeper into how I view myself and how my negative self-perception allowed me to justify shitty behavior.
Failures & Mistakes
I’ve struggled with self-hate since I was about nine or ten years old. I remember a time when my mother caught me writing bad things about myself in the borders of my school planner.
What’s strange about it is that it felt like it was all correct. I wrote things like “you’re fat” and “you are dumb”. These felt like fact at the time and cemented some feelings of inferiority and paved the way to a few toxic friendships. Now, those friendships were in the minority among all of the incredibly good ones, but it served as a basis for later self-loathing and some suicidal thoughts that I dealt with in college. The point of this is not to provide a sob story or anything like that. This is context. So, how did I process this failure?
Well, immediately after the mistake, I felt extremely guilty. I felt that I did not deserve any of the things that were evenly remotely good that had already occurred in my life. I felt that all further good things that would come my way could never be earned. I was permanently locked out of those things because I hurt someone else by making a selfish action. That went against everything I believed to be true and just and philosophical correct. After a few weeks of that guilt swirling around my head and the self-hatred I already had swelling to a point of bursting, it dawned on me that I only felt slightly more hatred for myself than I did on a regular basis. This realization made me take a step back and think about what it means to make a mistake. I only told two or three friends about those feelings and I’m grateful for their ears because they helped me process those demons. Ultimately what came of this was me realizing that though we have the ability to do wrong and some of us will in fact do wrong, it is our decision to either continue down that path, give up all paths entirely, or to move forward and attempt to do right in light of the guilt, the self-hatred, and the consequences we must endure based on how our moral failings.
Truth & Reconciliation
We will all make mistakes. Everyone will screw up and hurt others. This is not a blanket justification for those actions. This does not serve as an absolution for those who have done wrong. Each of our actions carry a different weight. The action I took held great weight. With that being understood, I am now charged with the knowledge of comprehending the weight of doing great wrong. If I were to make a mistake similar to the previous one, then I feel the weight of that action is multiplied because I already have the wisdom and understanding of how deeply it can affect others.
A surprising good that came from this mistake is that I developed more self-love. Immediately after making the mistake I felt that I should forfeit all of the good things in my life. As a result, I reported it and waited anxiously for what would happen. I was terrified , but I also felt that whatever came of it was absolutely deserved and that I had to face it with that mindset. For a short while I even felt that I should’ve ended my life. That was not the way. It seems to me that a more meaningful action would be to reconcile those feelings and then move towards better behavior while also sharing with others what you have learned in order to lower the chances of others making the same mistake. Before being able to reconcile those feelings I had to first acknowledge what they said about myself and what they said about my values, my habits, my identity, and my future. This wasn’t easy. Facing down deep failure isn’t easy for anyone, but it must be done. I felt that because I hurt someone else, I did not deserve the luxury to shirk away from being responsible for that action. I still feel that way. Whatever turmoil I dealt with did not equate to that of the affected’s.
After reflecting on who I was as a person, I then had to accept that I was the one who made the mistake and that I will have to live with it forever. . . as does the affected. I did not develop more love for myself immediately following that reflection, but I did speak with friends about these thoughts. They helped me see that taking care of ourselves puts us in better positions to take care of others. With the feeling of wanting to do more good being new and present, it then became a logical step to decide to stop being so hard on myself (even when it is totally deserved). It does more good to be gentle to yourself while viewing your actions and behaviors through a critical lens. This seems to put things into perspective, but in a way that allows for their to be understanding as opposed pure, unchanging judgment. One allows for us to change our behaviors so we can do better in the future. The other ultimately leaves us on a path of worse action due to us being seemingly bereft of any way off of that negative path.
That mindset is this: If I am a “bad” person, then I can only perform “bad” actions.
The counter mindset is this: I have done a bad thing. This does not necessarily make me a bad person. Now that I realize that I have done wrong, I will do right in the future.
For me, the biggest take away from this year would be the concept of hope. I find it at the core of the philosophies that I deeply align myself with (Taoism, Stoicism, Buddhism). In the throes of life everyone will struggle. No one can escape suffering. At some point we will all face events that will sap us of our will to continue. These are all temporary events, but the experience of these events is relative. It can often feel like days are being stretched into eons when you are in a depressive spell. I do not dismiss any of the struggles that you face in your life. Though, I will urge you, as I urge myself, to fight as hard as you can to remain hopeful. Hope for better days is what helps us continue to fight. It is what aids in overcoming doom. Please, with all of your might, never let go of the hope that things will get better and that you yourself can change. It seems that we are only as stuck as we convince ourselves within our minds. I’m going to leave this with a quote from Phillips Brooks (most commonly heard by JFK). Happy New Year!
O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle.“Going up to Jerusalem”, Twenty Sermons (1886), p. 330 – Phillips Brooks
P.S. Yes, there was a Halo reference in there.