If life is the result of choices we make, good and bad, why don’t we make better choices, and why don’t we make good choices more often? It’s not lack of information. Most of us know the right thing to by the time we’re three years old. We can’t always blame it on the past or our upbringing. There are people with similar backgrounds and some make wonderful choices while others make terrible choices. Is it laziness? In The People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck says that moral and intellectual laziness is the root of evil. That is, some people make bad choices, because they are too lazy to really deal with the root issues and causes.
In the New Testament, Saint Paul says, “But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The original Greek means “to have missed the mark,” like an unskilled archer. Does that mean I tried to hit the mark, but I just wasn’t strong enough? Are we genetically predisposed towards certain behaviors? Do we do the wrong things because we’re afraid? Are we in emotional pain? Do we just not know any better? Are we “making mistakes” as Pema Chodron says?
I don’t have all the answers, but here are my thoughts:
1. We all make bad choices. By “choices” I mean we willingly and willfully choose to do things that hurt others or ourselves.
2. All I can do is try to make amends for my bad choices and try to make more good choices.
3. Choices of the past cannot be erased, but they don’t have to define our lives either.
4. Every day, every moment, is a new opportunity to create a different and better life.
First, we all make bad choices. I have never met an exception to this rule. We live in a fallen world and none of us is perfect. I accept this, not with weary resignation, but as a caution. I shouldn’t be surprised when I do or someone I love does something hurtful. It may or may not be intentional, but it happens. This is the human condition. The only remedy I can apply personally is to make more good choices than bad choices.
Second, when I have made bad choices, I should try to make amends as quickly and completely as possible. If this is not possible, then I need to not make the same mistake again. I need to behave differently. I also need to not beat myself up. I read recently that humans are the only animals that repeatedly punish themselves for the same mistake, sometimes one made years ago.
This leads to the third point. The past can guide us, but it doesn’t have to define us. Chuck Colson, the convicted Watergate conspirator, after imprisonment and public humiliation, created Prison Fellowship Ministry, a national organization that benefited thousands. I have heard many people say that a mistake, choice, or lifestyle from the past determined the course of their entire lives. I think it’s our most recent choice that determines our lives. There is not one choice I have ever made that is more important than the choice I make now.
Every day, every moment, is a new opportunity to begin. In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield says the decision to change takes only a moment and the act of change takes a lifetime. But that lifetime is full of moments in which I decide to Get Started and Keep Going. This is the grace of God: each new moment.