I do not believe it is fruitful to play ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ about past choices in the pursuit of hindsight identification of a better ending. I believe that every person does the best they can, based upon who they are at that specific time and within that set of circumstances, which will never exist in that precise combination again.
Of course, we would make different choices now – – the ‘bad endings’ of our past have made us into the wiser person we are today.
So what is the key to creating a life of better endings?
If you have studied creative fiction, you understand “action always follows character.” In other words, the choices and outcomes of a story are not laid out artificially: they organically flow from a character’s set of fears, passions, insecurities, personality and history.
You don’t find apples on a peach tree. Who you are determines what you do and what follows.
Our character is a stew of ideas and reactions steeped in conditioning from childhood, ethnicity and culture and personal aversions and preferences, wrapped in the ego or persona we have chosen to build and present to the world around us. It changes with time, but we can make conscious changes so it does not hinder future choices and actions.
When I meditate, I become aware of some of the internal, automatic themes of my thinking that color my choices and behavior. Unfortunately, they are not all positive; many are defensive (the role of the ego). But once I am conscious of them, I can choose to not act out of them. Over time, they may weaken from disuse; I may even succeed at replacing them with more positive ones.
The truth is I will always have an ego whining about the world, and it can lead me down a less happy path. But I am not powerless before it. I can work consciously to build a kinder, more aware and honest character. Will I still make poor choices? Yes, since I am not perfect and life appears to be a school of learning in which we can learn from our unhappy endings. With sincere effort to become wiser and more compassionate, I will make wiser and more compassionate choices.
Gandhi said it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Create a better character within you and better endings from your reactions and choices will follow outside of you, as day follows night . . . naturally.
Rebekah Shardy is a geriatric social worker, hospice manager, author of “98 Things a Woman Should Do in Her Lifetime,” (Andrews McMeel, 2003) and recipient of three short fiction awards.