2013-01-08

Right And Wrong Ways To Turn Over A New Leaf

The general pattern of things among most people goes something like this...

When we're young, we possess a critical blend of stupidity and a sense of invincibility. This gets us into various kinds of trouble. Whether that trouble takes the form of recreational drug use or poor romantic choices, whether it takes the form of questionable professional decisions or bullying, broken laws or strained relationships with friends and family... Whatever form it takes, our youth is our youth precisely because we lack the wisdom that comes with age and experience.

As we get older, we learn our lessons. We learn that we can't push our bodies so hard (partying, bungee-jumping, whatever it happens to be) without its taking a large toll on us. We learn from experience which people have the potential to properly love and respect us in romance. We grow up a little and learn how to express ourselves more maturely when communicating with others. We acquire that great, ancient intangible good: wisdom.

When we finally have a little wisdom under our belts - and trust me, we can never get enough of this stuff - most of us realize that, in retrospect, youthful mistakes are not only unavoidable, but instrumental in shaping our lives and providing us with wisdom.

Mistakes are never good, but you should expect that they will happen. They will. The wisest people I know learn to value their youth both for the fun they had and the mistakes they made, and therefore the wisdom they acquired.

But Some People Want To Wipe It All Away
For some, youthful mistakes are something to be locked away, deep inside the darkest closet in the remotest corner of the house, never to be spoken of again.

I can understand this perspective if the youthful mistakes are things like murder, but very few of us make those kinds of mistakes. What are we to make of people who make mistakes that are largely harmless in the long run - the same kinds of mistakes we all make, which I have mentioned by name above - but who wish to lock these things up in safe and pretend they never happend? What are we to think of people who turn over a new leaf, seemingly learning from their past mistakes, but who then proceed as though the not-so-dastardly deeds never occurred, making no mention of them, no reference to any such past experience whatsoever?

What can be said of someone who values youth enough to learn from it, but not enough to acknowledge it ever again?

Some Examples
What am I talking about really?

I'm talking about the man (it could be a woman) who drinks heavily in his youth, eventually sobers up, foregoes alcohol, and then proceeds to act as though he has never swallowed a drop of alcohol in his life. He'll even counsel others about the horrors and sinfulness of drink, but always from the standpoint of abstinence, and never from the more human aspect of sharing his youthful mistakes so that others may learn.

I'm talking about the woman (it could be a man) who has an extensive dating history when she's young, who eventually develops a more rational sense of self-respect and decides to seek healthier romantic relationships. She'll tell her children to practice stoic abstinence, but always from the standpoint of a wholesome, holy mother who never once made a sexual mistake. Never does she utter a word of genuinely useful information to her children about her own experiences and what she came to realize, for then they would know the thing that she wishes not to acknowledge.

I'm talking about the woman who sells her youth to her ambition, signing-on early to a work-you-to-death job in which she earns a king's fortune before ultimately burning out, seeking a more laid-back job and investing some quality time in smelling the roses. She'll make a point to tell others not to waste their lives working so hard, but never acknowledges the fact that life is only so leisurely for her because she spent her 20s and 30s working like a dog, 80 hours per week.


Wisdom Demands Acknowledgement
For them, the past is the past, never to be referenced again, never to be brought back into focus here in the present. But I've said it before, no one should ever fear their mistakes.

Building a relationship between yesteryear's events and today's wisdom and satisfaction requires both the courage to openly acknowledge past mistakes with humility so that others can learn from them, but also a rather lengthy cognitive time-horizon. Simply stated, wise people are those who understand that some knowledge comes from the very indulgences we deny ourselves once having acquired that knowledge.

Can one experience true love without first suffering a broken heart? Perhaps, but what good to our true love is it pretending that a prior heartache never happened? Who can we save by cautioning against youthful relationships?

Can one recognize the value of temperance without first over-indulging? Certainly, but once having over-indulged, a truthful account of one's experiences is the single best weapon against the next generation's potential mistakes.

Conclusion
Acknowledging one's own mistakes, not as a one-time admonishment before forever turning over a new leaf, but as simple understanding of the truth is important for your mental health. It is also a more compelling argument to others against mistakes they have yet to make. We do no one any good by keeping skeletons in our closet.

If you've changed over the years, if you've acquired wisdom, share that wisdom with others. But do it honestly. Share the mistakes as well as the successes. Talk about why what worked worked, and why what didn't work didn't work.

This is all part of being healthy, happy, and honest.