On Truly Changing Your Ways

On my old blog1One of the old blogs. I’ve had 4 now, with this one being the second longest running of them., I used to make these attempts at really deep posts as my first post for the new year. I’ve only done one such post to start a year on this blog — mostly because I try to do those posts a little more frequently than once a year now. That said, there’s a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now that I felt would be perfect for a start of the year introspection2Shout out to said old blog. post.

When I was younger, I was not a good person. While I tried to do what was right, or at least what I perceived to be right, my instincts as to what was right and what was wrong weren’t particularly well-tuned. One particularly vivid example of this comes from relatively early childhood. From the time when I was in third grade through fifth grade3Roughly ages 9-11., I went to a babysitter before school. My brother and I would get dropped off by my dad at around 530 in the morning, then stay at the babysitter’s until around 745, when we’d start our walk to school. At the peak during the three years I went to the babysitter’s, there eleven kids there each morning, all but one between the ages of 7 and 13. The babysitter wasn’t good at managing our behavior in retrospect, though that doesn’t excuse some of what happened at her house.

One of the kids being babysat at that house was a boy named Ross4As is almost always the case with personal stories, names have been changed to protect the innocent.. Ross had a fairly severe developmental disorder, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. Because of this, Ross was one of the most common targets of bullying at the babysitter’s. Ten-year-old me was a fan of this, because it meant that I wasn’t the kid being bullied anymore, as I had been for the first year I went to the babysitter.

It was a nearly daily occurrence that someone called Ross names or tried to anger him. The babysitter’s solution to fixing problems to was to spank whichever kid she saw causing the “problem” that happened to be occurring. Since Ross couldn’t talk well, this meant that Ross regularly found himself getting spanked. This happened in spite of the fact that Ross was bigger than most anyone at the babysitter’s. There were times where Ross got in a fight with another one of the kids and kicked the crap out of them, not just because he was bigger and stronger than them, but also because he didn’t know when to stop. A few times, the babysitter pulled Ross off of one of the kids during a fight, only for him to keep right on swinging his fists and biting in the air.

I never got into any sort of physical altercation with Ross. I think ten-year-old me knew full well that Ross would have kicked the shit out of me had I done anything violent towards him. But I was one of the people who called him names. I didn’t treat Ross with respect. If anything, I was so worried about making sure I wasn’t the one being bullied any longer that I encouraged those who had bullied me to act poorly toward Ross. Self-preservation was my goal. It was also the wrong thing to do.

I haven’t seen Ross in over twelve years. Though he was the same age as me, he didn’t graduate at the same time as my graduating class5If memory serves, my school’s MRDD program (as they called it) schooled those with developmental disabilities until age 21.. I tried my best to act nice towards him on the rare occasion I did see him in high school, however such interactions were few and far between. I can say for certain that I never made amends for the way I, or anyone else, treated him at the babysitter’s.

In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned that there’s an idea that’s been going around in my head for a while now that I wanted to talk about. That idea is, at its core, nothing more than a simple question.

How do you make amends for past mistakes when you can’t directly make things better for the person you wronged?

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this question. While there are certainly no perfect people in this world, there’s also a lot of people who have been really shitty people at some point in their past. Cracked did a pretty good post about people who have made mistakes in the past and have done their best to make amends for those mistakes. The one that sticks out to me from that post is #7 — Eddie Murphy’s change from performing an anti-gay, AIDS panic-filled comedy routine in the 1980s to donating a lot of time and money to AIDS research (amongst other charities).

While I don’t believe that donating money to charity makes past wrongs right, I do believe it is a step to help show change toward becoming a better person who has learned from their mistakes6Especially if the charity in question does work to help prevent wrongs, raise awareness for something you were ignorant about, or something along those lines.. Equally, if not more, important than giving money to charity is to make changes to our actions so as not to repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. If you’re insensitive with your words, learn to speak with more thought and care in your words. If you’ve treated someone with disrespect, make sure that future similar interactions (be that with the same person or not) are ones that convey respect and empathy.

I realize I’m being a bit vague in my wording in that last paragraph. It’s because there’s so many mistakes that we make as people who addressing every single one in a blog post would turn this post into an 80,000 word epic. But I do think it’s possible to improve ourselves and chance ourselves so we don’t repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in our past. I know it’s something I try to do regularly — be that atoning for mistakes I’ve shared on this blog or those I have not. I want to continue to be a better person. I think we all do. And the best way to do that is not to ignore the mistakes we’ve made, but to use them to fuel us to improve ourselves. This is doubly true if there’s no way to atone for our mistake directly to the person who felt the results of our mistakes.

On Truly Changing Your Ways

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4 thoughts on “On Truly Changing Your Ways

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Politically I’m mostly liberal so I am seeing a LOT of calls for action in regards to social justice in general, but I really want to know how as a society we are going to truly facilitate change, because that involves allowing people to grow and being able to forgive ignorance and bad behavior. Obviously I don’t mean everyone gets a pass, but for society to change as a whole people have to change individually, and in our “hold a grudge forever” culture I’m not sure how that works.

    1. I’m not sure how people change in that culture either. That very topic was what prompted my writing of this post. I’ve been dealing with way too many complex thoughts over the past few months. I blame the world.

  2. I think the most important thing to make amends is to continue to try to do better as we move forward. To learn from how we treated others in the past and intentionally treat others in our current life and our futures better than we did them.

    I know there have also been times where I know I was really wrong that I found the person online and reached out and apologized for what I did. Sometimes it was ignored, other times it was mocked mercilessly, but some were really grateful, even if they didn’t actually remember the way I treated them.

    There definitely isn’t one answer to all of this.

    1. There’s definitely not just one answer to this, which is expected of super complex concepts. The problem is that I really wish there was a silver bullet for this, as it’s a really difficult thing to deal with.

      I think it’s hard to forgive in this day and age. People aren’t particularly good at forgiving — myself included. If someone truly changes their actions and shows that their actions are different now, they should be able to be forgiven. That’s not to say that their transgressions should be forgotten, but forgiveness is (I think) an extremely underrated human skill.

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