No one ever wants anyone else to know just how fucked-up they really are. We’ll do anything to cover up the blemishes in our personalities and hide our shortcomings. Whatever wicked shit we have done in our lives (and we have all done wicked shit), we will stop at nothing to present a modified version of ourselves to the people we know, and the people we meet, a better version.
“If they know how fucked up I really am,” we think to ourselves, “they will never accept me.”
I intend, here and now, to violate this basic aspect of my nature, this need I feel to pass off a nobler version of myself so that anyone who might someday read this will accept me and, if I’m fortunate, even like me. I don’t need that kind of superficial bullshit in my life, that mask-wearing crap that forbids anyone from knowing the real me. I’d rather you see the real me and reject me than give you some fake version and have you accept that.
So, let me begin by saying this: if I were to divide my life into two piles, with all the good things I have done on the left and all the bad things I have done on the right, the bad pile would be ten times larger than the good pile. That’s not me feeling sorry for myself, that’s just the cold, hard truth. I’ve done some heinous shit in my life. No, I have never murdered anyone, but sometimes the pain you can inflict on someone’s heart or mind causes their life to be much worse than death could ever be. Thus, murder, while appalling, is not the worst thing you can do to someone. The worst thing you can do to them is force them to live day after day in unending, horrific anguish. I’m not saying I’ve done that, either; but I do assert that pain is relative. I might do something to you that carried no malice, but you may come away from it scarred for life.
Short of murder and forcing someone to live in lifelong torment, I have done some sinister shit. I’ve cheated and lied and stolen and used people and manipulated situations to my benefit. I’ve committed errors in life and then blamed others for my mistakes. I’ve been selfish and cold-hearted at times, and I’ve even turned a blind eye to the suffering of the people I profess to love. When I was young, I would “con” women into bed, take what I wanted from them, and then never speak to them again. I treated women like they were objects that existed solely for my momentary pleasure and nothing more. I’ve shown disrespect to people who deserved more respect than I ever will, and I’ve conducted myself in a judgmental manner at times, even while pretending to be this open-minded, accepting person. I have pushed my agenda while ignoring the needs of others, to say nothing of playing with their minds so that they end up believing their needs are synonymous with mine. I’ve been a bastard sometimes, and in the past, I knew that and simply didn’t care.
In short, I’m no fucking angel. But I think the difference between myself and a lot of the people I know is simply that I recognize my faults and do not try to blind myself to them. I own who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And while I’m a fervent advocate of the power of self-acceptance, let it never be said I use my self-acceptance to permit my bad tendencies to run rampant. It’s certainly true that there are few things in life as important as learning to accept yourself. Nevertheless, it is wise to keep in mind that self-acceptance is never a green light to just go ahead and do whatever the hell you want. With the acceptance of self must also come, I think, the acceptance of responsibility. We are all beholden to pursue mental and emotional health inasmuch as is possible for us. Perhaps it’s a pursuit that will never come to fruition, but it should be pursued nonetheless. I feel that anything less is cowardice.
That’s why I remain committed to battling my less than admirable tendencies so that, at the end of my life, perhaps I really will be a better version of myself.
And yet, when you think about it, I suppose an argument could be made that being a better or worse version of yourself means nothing, in the end. Indeed, if all the roads of life end in death, who’s to say a good reputation is a better than a bad one? What does it matter? If there are two men who die in a train crash, one of which was a good, honorable man and the other of which was a piece of shit, does it really matter to the coroner or the gravedigger? As the molecules of both men disintegrate, do the atoms that made them living creatures care about or even know of their good or wicked reputations? Even those who will remember these men, those who can say at the funeral, “I knew this guy; he was a great man” or “This asshole deserved to die”—do these people really matter? They too will die, as will all who remember them. The point, I guess, is this: in the end, if all ends in dust and death and decay, does matter whether you or I choose to indulge or deny our wicked urges? Isn’t one just as arbitrary as the other?
To which some may say, “Well, our actions have repercussions. Our good choices leave a good mark on the world, and our bad choices leave a bad mark. Our choices matter by the results they yield in the world.”
I suppose this is correct, but it’s also incorrect. I mean, we can talk about repercussions and results, but how lasting are they? How far do they reach? When our Sun finally collapses in on itself and the solar system dies with it, where will those repercussions be? When this Universe eventually comes to its inexorable end, as all scientific data says it will, how will the consequences of my good choices or the consequences of your bad choices echo on in the cold, entropic eternity of that nothingness? They won’t. I may donate a million dollars to charity, leaving a legacy of astonishing goodwill in my wake, or I may murder ten babies and leave a big bowl of fucking misery in my wake, and while the humans who are affected by my actions may suffer while they live, they too will come to dust and all memory of my good or bad actions will be lost. Is there in real meaning in my actions, then? To wit, does a tree standing in a forest today feel the ill effects of a tree that was toppled in the same spot several centuries ago? No, I don’t think so.
Our actions, then, would seem to have only that meaning which we attribute to them whilst we live. In this sense, the correct paradoxical answer is that, no, our actions have no real meaning, and yes, they do have real meaning.
This is yin and yang existing together at the same time.
I say all of that to say this: I have done heinous shit in my life, yes. But my choice, such as it is, is to nevertheless aspire to be better than have been, and I do this because it’s what I want, because that’s the meaning I choose to give my own life. I prefer good over bad. Maybe all the bad shit I’ve done won’t matter in eternity any more than the good shit I plan on doing from now on, but in either case, at least I’m responsible for my own choice.
In any event, I close with the words of Jerry Garcia: “Without evil, good doesn’t mean that much.”