“Look, you can’t do things like that! Now, I don’t know how I can explain this to you. But, it’s not only against the law, its wrong!”
– Arsenic and Old Lace
Dear World At Large,
Me again! We haven’t chatted in a while, so I thought I’d do my usual pop in and deliver a few quiet words of advice. This one’s heavy on both the philosophy and the rambling, but going to be a firm talking to nonetheless.
We live in a world of autocorrect, delete buttons, editing, photoshop, spellcheck, you name it, all of which exist to give a comforting sense that errors and perceived mistakes or flaws can be done away with. I know these are all technological examples and heavy on social media, but I think that anyone who believes these don’t inform our personal, unofficial philosophies is terribly self unaware. We live in a society that seems to believe that things we don’t like can be made to go away – whether that’s removing something you once posted on Facebook, or deleting a text message – but I am here to tell you that this is a false sense of security.
Mistakes follow you, Dear World At Large, and even if you have gone through a legal, religious/spiritual/philosophical, or paperwork laden process to atone, make restitution, or accept punishment for your actions, this is not the same thing as unmaking them. They cannot be unmade. Stupid mistakes can – and will – follow you around for a long time.
So, as a recent example, if you’re a visiting university staff member responsible for a number of students and you make a series of poor decisions culminating in the arrest of you and several of those students, putting your job in jeopardy – this is not something that’s going to just vanish because you want it to. Particularly after you’ve already appeared before a judge and plead guilty. Yelling at your friend neighborhood secretary, demanding to speak various administrative officers, and trying to pressure people to make your arrest, court appearance, and sentencing all vanish will not work. First of all, we can’t make such records and events disappear (at least not without some sort of political clout and obscene amounts of money, and even then a fairly obvious hole still gets left in the legal system). Second of all, and probably more importantly, we won’t make them disappear. See the quote at the beginning of this post.
The same is true for much less serious errors, Dear World At Large, but even small things can affect your ability to get a job, a date, housing, loans, recommendations, and even friends. As for social media, everything you have ever said, done, linked to, or ranted about is cached away somewhere in the dark bowels of the internet. On a more human note, unkind words you’ve spoken, silly errors in judgement, and countless day to day interactions are also stored away in the collective memory of your friends and associates. Nothing is really lost.
Which is why you have to be so careful! I’m not saying there isn’t room for mistakes in life (because good luck with that!) but I am saying that people need to step back and reflect more often on whether or not their actions are wise ones. It won’t protect you from everything, but occasionally it may protect you from yourself.
Unless you ascribe to reincarnation, we don’t get do-overs. We get do-betters. These can be wonderful in and of themselves, much of the good in the world has come from them, but they are not always nice experiences. You are responsible for all your actions; you can’t disavow them, you can’t be made immune from them, and there is no “Undo” button. Be smart out there.
Yours with love (sincerely this time),