One of the things I've been thinking about is the connection between the choices we make and what follows.
At its simplest I think we all know that terrible feeling that comes with knowing that something bad happened because of something we did. If only I hadn't....gone outside to get the newspaper in the rain in my slippers...I would never have broken my wrist...how could I have been so stupid?!
The if only game is made so much more terrible because we know both the pain or loss of what followed and how (often) the choice we made was so poorly considered. We can beat ourselves up endlessly and irrationally over the smallest dumb things we did, and mourn deeply for some imagined, better outcome.
In my mind cause and effect is a simple linear matter and if I make all the right choices I can blithely skip from one branch of time to the next, avoiding all those adverse events my lack of thought may bring about.
And this basic premise does often hold true. We teach it to kids all the time as a fundamental building block of making sense of the world. Eat your dinner and you will grow and be strong. Get enough sleep and you won't be tired and cranky. Do as you are told and you will be praised, be naughty and you will punished.
There are good and bad choices, and (implicitly) good and/or smart people make better choices and have better outcomes.
So the what if game is also full of guilt, shame and self doubt.
How could I have been so thoughtless to have said that to that person?
Why did I agree to do that thing?
Why did I choose that over the other?
What is wrong with me that I let myself get into this situation?
And very big bad things happening can really shake our confidence in our decision making capacity, the very notion of our ability to choose. It can become debilitating and fill our minds with the consequences of every bad choice we can possibly make.
I don't know how you get past that. Time and a certain amount of denial I guess. The same mechanisms that allow us to jump from our own guilt and shame to judgement of other people's poor choices. As though we've never done the same. As though making mistakes cancels out any entitlement to sympathy, compassion or (most ironic at all) empathy.
As though we've never wanted to be forgiven and understood in all our imperfections.
Overlaid on this is another complicating factor quite aside from the spectre of ourselves as stupid, foolish or bad, and that's the shadow of doubt that our choices actually make a difference anyway. In the absence of a parallel universe to act as a control case, how can we know?
Would my life have been any different, or better, or worse, if I'd said or done differently, would that chain of events cascaded into being even if what I see as the catalyst for it had never happened? Is this story about my choices just a thin veil over the true reality that the only change I can possibly effect in my life is a change I can't even know, let alone control?
Surely it's a mix. Smart choices, considered choices must mitigate at least some of the risks, but they aren't the full story. While I try and regain my trust in the world, my own body, to do the things I expect of it, while I try to integrate lessons learned and try very hard to see more than just danger and risk awaiting me at every corner I will also be trying not to judge myself or others too harshly for succumbing to our inescapable humanity.
I will also be heeding the many wise tweets of my friendly philosopher Alain De Botton (go follow him! He's ace!) such as
At a certain point a sense of humour shifts from being a pleasant social gambit to being the centre piece of a survival strategy.
21/06/12 4:04 AM