Make peace with your past and you’ll take control of your future.
I’m not proud of everything I’ve done.
When I look back at my life there’s a lot of things I would do differently. There were mistakes I made. Girls I should have kissed, girls I shouldn’t have kissed. Deals I let pass me by, deals I shouldn’t have done.
(Girls I shouldn’t have done deals with.)
And for a long time, I would cringe when I’d think about the silly things I’d done. I was embarrassed. They were like that person you’re trying to avoid showing up at a party. I’d just shuffle around and pretend they weren’t there until the memory went away.
But the reality is that in every situation, I was trying to do the best I could do. I was trying to make a good decision.
(I mean, who ever consciously makes a bad decision?)
And so if I’m honest, the ‘bad’ decisions I made came through me, but there were also bigger forces at play.
Take that hair cut I got in 1987. I regret that now. But how much of it was ‘my’ fault? I was responding to the cultural norms of the time. I was vain because I was a blender of hormones on high-speed. I was insecure because I was a product of a society that attaches personal value to attractiveness and sex-appeal. The hair-dresser was hot.
And really I was just a kid. I still hadn’t learnt what it means to be human, and to consciously navigate all the emotional and hormonal drives that come with having a body.
I still had my training wheels on.
And so I don’t blame that kid. He was just doing the best he could as best as he could understand it.
And I think that as I’ve learnt the ability to accept and laugh along with (not at!) myself and all past versions of myself, I’ve learnt to have more compassion for others.
If I’m not judging myself, then I’m not really geared up to judge others.
Everyone is just doing the best they can, as best as they understand it.
We tend to have structures in society – like the legal system for example – that imagines humans to be perfectly rational beings operating with a single ethical value system, and unencumbered by their personal histories.
And so if people do something wrong, it’s because they’ve chosen, with a clear mind, to do something wrong.
When is that ever true?
I mean, show me someone who isn’t a product of their experiences, their culture, their exposure to music videos in the early 80s.
I’m not saying we don’t need systems that define the limits of acceptable behaviour; I’m just saying that people are the way they are for a reason.
I am the way I am for a reason.
So if you’ve made mistakes in the past, don’t worry about it. Laugh it off. You were doing the best you could, even if the best you could do at the time was a confusion of selfishness, vanity and a lack of foresight.
That’s ok. Offer yourself a bit of compassion.
But now I can imagine what the regulars here are thinking. Hang on, Jon. What about your ideas of radical responsibility? The idea that our lives are always what we create?
What room is there for personal agency if we’re just leaves in the winds of culture, history and Molly Meldrum’s CountDown?
Two points here. The first is that I believe everyone has free-will – even if it exists only as a puny and undeveloped muscle. No matter what your background, in the here and now, you have a capacity for choice.
If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the voice of your highest self.
The second point is that personal responsibility is like a muscle, and muscles develop through use.
When I was 17 my hormones had the upper hand. I hunted soccer balls during the day, and girls at night. I was kind of wild.
But overtime, you learn how to master your drives (the hormones also settle down a bit which helps). The more you engage with it, the more you are able to separate yourself from the forces that push you this way and that, and you take the reins into your own hands.
Eventually, I think, you come to a point where your history and the world around you have no influence over you. Nor do your emotional and hormonal reactions.
In this space, I think, you are completely free.
You are not driven by your emotions and hormones. You are not a slave to your past, but the master of your future.
(Did I just make this sound like a Marvel comic? I have been watching a bit lately…)
I think very few of us ever achieve a state of ‘complete’ freedom, but I also think it is a spectrum. The more you practice ‘self-control’ the better able you are to act from a place of clear consciousness.
And the decisions you make will then be more in line with drives of your higher-self – drives that are aligned with love, compassion, generosity… all the good things.
And in that sense, they will be better decisions.
But like any skill, it’s something that comes with practice.
And the one point I would make is that if you’re going to master your history, then you need to face it. You need to square up and own it.
And I think that begins by coming to terms with all of it – even the bits that make you cringe and shrink.
You need to go back and find compassion for that moron doing doughnuts in the car park. Understand him. Accept him. Forgive him.
When you realise that the past is not your fault, the future becomes your responsibility.
Go Team Avengers!
Do we need to make peace with our past to take control of our future?