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A Clear Conscience

Everyone has skeletons in their closets. Things we're not proud of, things we want to pretend don't exist because we're afraid of the consequences... But the truth of the matter is, whether it's judgment or penalty, it's difficult to avoid the repercussions of things. I would go so far as to say that karma is the practical application of everything we try to avoid. The energy we spend, the anguish we must endure to fight for a lie, the way people will view us for trying to fight it, anyway. All of that is karma--real karma, not a metaphysical consciousness that is out to pay back everything you've done wrong. For most of us, causing pain is accidental; a side-effect of trying to heal ourselves. Trying to get what we need. If there is no malice, why would karma--the all-knowing loan-shark--come for us? If we accidentally cause pain, even while trying to do the opposite? The truth is that if pain caused without malicious intent was punishable, every last one of us would be made to suffer for every day of our lives. Humanity is simply too large not to have chain reactions that cause pain to someone with the things we do. When interaction is required, there is a coin flip's chance, at least, that someone loses. I donated $20 yesterday to a foundation that approached me to help pay for pet food. Their rationale was that homes that could not afford to feed themselves could surely not afford pet food. That sounds reasonable, does it not? That the pets deserve to eat too? But can an argument not be made that it was inhumane of me to pay for a cat's meal over a human's? Should I have told them no and gone off to donate for families that need food for themselves? What is the moral thing to do? Should I feel good that I helped preserve an animal's life, or guilty that I did not help to preserve a human's?

Innocence and guilt are silly things. We are all innocent of some things and guilty of others. As Stannis Baratheon put it; "A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good." It is entirely possible for someone who compulsively commits one crime to compulsively commit a virtue, as well. For someone that is horrible in one way to be utterly wondferful in another; but until we learn to stop judging people by one thing and one thing only, we will always hyperfixate on what we think threatens us.

I've heard horrible things about a friend of mine. About how he acted in his relationship, all of the ways he was an awful partner, all of the ways he did things wrong. I do not doubt that these are true. In all likelihood, he needed something far different from what he had, because his environment was not right for him, and he, in turn, could not be right for anything in it.

But that does not negate all of the times he helped me when he didn't need to. All of the great conversations, the bonds we shared, the times we laughed until we turned blue. I could turn to you and tell you all about him, and say, "he is a wonderful person." But so could his ex-girlfriend, and she could say, "he is an awful person."

Neither of us would be right. He is a person. He was in a setting that was awful for him, even if he didn't know it, and he was awful to the other person there with him. Similarly, we had a wonderful atmosphere, and he did wonderful things for me. We are just people. We behave based on what is in our environments.

I recently read The Fall by Albert Camus; a splendid little book about the human conscience, and it reopened a part of my mind that had long been asleep. Because that is human too--to lose what was so prominent about you before, when you do not practice it.

This part of me had to do with my honesty. My code. My integrity. You see, in The Fall, the monologuing main character recounts a story about his history and his crimes; a confession to a random passerby--you--and lets you in on every part of his life. It is over a hundred pages of a confession. We learn that he has told others this before, that he keeps confessing, almost like a game to measure how people react, mixing in some lies with some truths, always observing humanity's social compass, always scrutinizing it.

In many ways, I saw myself in this character--which I'm sure the great Camus somewhat intended--and in the way he viewed the world. Of course, in many ways, I can also easily point out where I disagree, but that is also the point.

What I learned--rather, re-learned--from this book was that confessing is the fastest way to catharsis. Somehow, the main character was delectably charming. Something about his authenticity was enchanting; the way he so earnestly measured up to the consequences of his actions--one of which was an actual crime--and it made me remember a fundamental truth about charisma that I learned long ago: people aren't attracted to what your traits are; they're attracted to the authentic showcase of them. People recognize a phony because they're insincere, even when their actions are all virtuous. But we all somehow love the Joker, who is evil and chaotic, because he owns himself. He is the epitome of freedom. We admire that.

The largest skeleton in my closet has haunted me for years. It's not something I need to publicly profess: not to people who weren't involved, anyway, but I am no longer hiding it. Over the course of this month, I have been confessing again and again to the people that were involved, and even after just the first one--which I was terrified to admit--I felt so much better. I didn't feel wrong about confessing, or the reaction. I felt wrong about what I did, and it gave me a real scope through which to study it. I saw it clearly for the first time.

Now, I didn't do anything illegal, and I didn't hurt anybody, but I did do something I would classify as immoral. In either case, it doesn't matter what I classify it as, since everything affects everyone differently. But when I started confessing, no matter how terrified I was, I felt so much closer to the truth. To the version of myself I want to be. I value integrity in my life more than anything--every man must have a code--and owning up to all of the things that I stained in my past allows me to clean myself. To move forward sincerely and authentically.

I am not advising you incriminate yourself if you did something wrong. If I'd have read this blog any time other than recently, I'd not have resonated with it. I needed to resist confessing for as long as I needed to resist it, because I wasn't ready. And when I decided I would do it, I still wasn't ready, but I jumped in to meet it, anyway. I feel taller now; sharper. I feel more aware. I acknowledge my imperfections and strive to accommodate where they have created weakness, because I believe in redemption. You can do that, too, but you can also opt not to do it. I try not to punish people or vilify them for what pain they may have caused me, because most of the time, they weren't out to get me. Even if they were, it was because they were not in a good place at that time, and their judgment was clouded. Does that mean I am happy with what they may have done to me? No. The truth is, there are some things that people have done to me that I will never get over. But that doesn't mean I don't forgive. Once it's over, and your environment is clean from threats, you can forgive what once threatened it. The lion chases you because it needs to eat, not because you deserve to be eaten. Circumstance lined that up for you.

Sometimes, the lion needs to chase a thousand rabbits to realize that it is exhausting, and that it is better to chase the gazelles. Does that make it better for the rabbits? No, they still lost things. But that was the lion's journey, and we can't fault it for that. It doesn't make it easier on the rabbits to hold onto that hatred, either.

If you've done something regrettable, I urge you to consider it from a greater scope. Maybe it's time to come clean. Write it down and leave it on the table of a coffee shop for an employee to read if you need to. Tell it to a stranger. Tell it to someone you know will never use it against you, if you're so fortunate to have family or friends like that. Don't let yourself be the only judge of it.

Consider whether it is serving you to keep it in. If it isn't, let it out. That's my advice. I'm not a lawyer and I accept no responsibility for your admissions of guilt or innocence, but I do believe that clearing your conscience is good for your health. You are your own person and nobody can take that from you. Be authentic. Shed the old skin.

That's all I got for you today. I post new blogs every Thursday, so be sure to subscribe if you want to be notified for that, and if you want to help support me on my journey to financial freedom, consider clicking the following affiliate link to get "The Fall" by Albert Camus!

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