This is the time of year when a lot of people engage in resolutions – promises they make to themselves that they hope will, in some way large or small, improve their lives.
Some promise to eat better, to lose weight, to read more, spend less time on the computer, pay better attention to their family/kids, drive less, exercise more, quit smoking (or some other bad habit), go back to school, find a new (more satisfying job), save money, reduce stress, eliminate debt, practice piano/guitar/tennis/chess more, take an epic vacation, volunteer more, dry out, get organized, clean out the basement/garage/attic… there’s as many resolutions as there all people.
You know me, though. My resolutions aren’t going to be on that list because, frankly, none of those things are challenging. All those things require is simple will power. I’ve seen the world, I’ve studied history, and I know that the vast majority of people have no will power. Sure, some folks do, no doubt about that, but those folks tend to be at the extremes – Josef Stalin and Mahatma Gandhi had amazing amounts of will power. What I’m saying is that if Stalin wanted to quit smoking, he would have. If Gandhi wanted to … well, I was going to say lose weight, but that seems kind of tasteless. Too soon, I guess.
Here’s my resolution for 2015, then:
I resolve to eliminate guilt, regret and forgiveness from my life.
Wait – what?
OK, most people can understand why eliminating guilt and regret from one’s life would be beneficial, but that’s pretty selfish – totally focused inward. But forgiveness? That’s something you do that helps other people, right? Forgiveness is something that eases the minds of others, and that can’t be a bad thing – or can it?
Let’s start with guilt and regret.
Guilt is the most destructive psychic force in the universe. It leads to more bad decisions and poor behavior than anything else – more than avarice, lust and all the other so-called deadly sins wrapped up together in a nice little package. Many of our lives are wrapped up in guilt cycles, though, and I’m not going to allow myself to suffer from guilt any more.
Guilt comes from thinking you’ve done something wrong, so the solution is simple: Determine if you’ve done something wrong. If you have, apologize, correct it, and vow not to do it again – then don’t do it again! If you have not, refuse to apologize, refuse to accept responsibility for it, and vow not to do whatever it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t help repair the damage done by whatever it is, but it does mean that you understand it’s not your fault, nor is it your responsibility.
Guilt comes from making bad decisions. Eliminating guilt is only possible if you make good decisions, which means you must decide deliberately in everything you do, every day. Choosing a path to follow in a deliberate fashion means that you are steering your life with purpose and determination.
Does that mean every decision will turn out to be a good one? Of course not! I fully realize and accept that I will make mistakes in the coming years of my life. By refusing to feel guilty for the outcomes (or consequences, as we refer to negative outcomes), I am empowering myself to objectively analyze my decisions and decision-making processes. This will allow me to identify errors in judgment and alter my life in a positive direction.
Guilt clouds judgment. I refuse to be clouded. I refuse to feel guilty. If I make a good decision, then yay. If I make a bad decision, guilt will only prevent me from identifying the reasons behind that decision, and furthermore, guilt will prevent me from changing my behavior.
Guilt, then, is an emotion that promotes suffering in the present. If I’m constantly in a state of suffering, I cannot grow or move forward. I refuse to feel guilt.
(Having said that, it’s often difficult to control emotions. This will, I recognize, require work on my part. You know, will power. There, see? Everything comes down to will power!)
Now let’s move on to regret. Regret is just sublimated guilt over decisions made in the past that you’re convinced have conspired to make your life miserable. More suffering in the present, but this time the suffering is precipitated by wishing you’d done something different in the past.
Regret often comes from feeling like you missed an opportunity at some point in your timeline, and if you’d only made a different decision in 1990, your life would be filled with joy in 2015. If you hadn’t broken up with that girl, you think, you’d be happier now and have better kids.
The problem with that line of reasoning is that you could also be miserable now and have two kids in prison. There is no way for you to know what your life would be like now based on a fork in the road you took 25 years ago. Regretting that decision prevents you from living in the present and making good choices now.
The underlying cause of your happiness isn’t your decisions, it’s you. If you’re miserable, it’s because you’re miserable, not because your life has been a series of bad choices. Apples and oranges. I know plenty of people who I think make poor choices, yet they seem perfectly happy. I know plenty of people who make great choices, yet they remain the most miserable human beings on Earth. It’s not your decisions that make you happy, it’s your decision to be happy that does so. Just as you can choose joy and happiness, you can choose suffering and misery.
Regret, then, allows you to focus on the past and engage in a cycle of “what if” thinking. You cannot improve the present if you are constantly focused on the past, and since regret is focusing on the past, I refuse to feel regret over my past decisions. I will accept them for what they are and analyze their effect on my present, thus improving my decision-making abilities now, when it truly matters.
This brings us to forgiveness.
I have never been a fan of forgiveness, and this is something I’m quite open about. The chances are high, if you know me well, that you’ve heard my anti-forgiveness rant at least once. It’s time to codify it, because I think it plays into this resolution to eliminate guilt and regret.
Forgiveness does one thing, and one thing only: It assuages (or relieves) the guilt of another person. I hereby affirm or avow that doing such a thing is not my responsibility!
If I’m not engaging in guilt on my part, why the hell should I engage in guilt on your part? If I can abandon guilt, then so can you. If you can’t abandon your feelings of guilt, that is your problem, not mine.
You do something that wrongs me. Ignore my feelings for the time being and deal with your own. You feel guilty about it? Identify the bad decision, engage in analysis of your decision-making process and vow to make better decisions. Give up the guilt and work to avoid regret about the choices you’ve made.
Asking me to forgive you absolves you of the responsibility to examine your decision-making processes. You get to feel better about making a bad choice, while now I’m left to feel miserable about the shitty thing you did to me. Forgiveness shifts the responsibility to the victim, and we already have too many victims in this world.
Instead of asking for forgiveness, acknowledge that you’ve made a bad choice that harmed other people and STOP DOING THAT. Instead of offering forgiveness, acknowledge that you’ve been wronged and work on not hating the person who has wronged you.
By refusing to forgive, you’re helping to short-circuit the guilt/regret cycle. You’re forcing the person making bad decisions to reflect on those decisions, rather than letting them feel better after hurting you.
My resolution for 2015, then, is to give up guilt, regret and forgiveness.
To eliminate guilt, I will make more thoughtful decisions.
To eliminate regret, I will live in the present.
To eliminate forgiveness, I will hold people – including and especially myself – accountable for their actions and refuse to be responsible for making them feel better about their poor choices.