As free will beings, everything we do is a matter of choice, whether conscious or not. Gossip may be a conscious choice for one person who knows it’s harmful but an unconscious habit for another with less awareness. Thus, we need an approach to introspection that gathers obvious choices and brings more subtle ones into our awareness. This is the first of a 4-part series outlining a structured method for taking this kind of inner inventory. The series will prompt those engaging in introspection to consider their choices in four categories: active choices, reactive choices, passive choices, and non-choices.
The first type, active choices, are the obvious wrong choices we made when better alternatives were available and within reach. Broken promises and commandments, intentional harm to someone (including intentional harm to self), missed opportunities because of laziness, and misused opportunities are examples. I would include the early stages of an addiction, when I still had the power to make a choice and I chose the destructive path. Serving my own needs and desires ahead of another’s in a way that left bruises belongs here, along with just about any willfulness that resulted in unfairness, disrespect or injury.
There is Jewish teaching, I believe from Medieval times and alert readers please correct me if I am mistaken about that, concerning the “evil tongue.” A woman searching her conscience to make teshuvah in preparation for Yom Kippur confronted her gossip about a neighbor. Struggling with how it was possible to make amends for her actions, she consulted the local rabbi, who told her to go home, to get a pillow, to go up to her roof, and to shake all the feathers out before returning to him. Perplexed but full of remorse, she did as he instructed and watched the wind carry the feathers in seemingly all directions for miles and miles. She went back to the rabbi and asked him what to do next. He then told her that gathering up all the feathers would be easier than gathering up hurtful words carried by the evil tongue.
Our childhood choices may be less harmful, silly even, but if a memory stands out for you, capture it here. Writing it down will free your conscience to move on with the inner inventory of less obvious wrongs. For example, I would note that time I bombarded unsuspecting passersby with M&M’s from a balcony, regaled by the unexpectedness of it, because it revealed my 12 year old appetite for manipulation. Harsh words and the evil tongue are an equal opportunity sin for all ages. Childhood experiments with meanness may have been outgrown, but any memory that weighs on your conscience should be offered up here.
Whether you are approaching introspection with the intention of making a confession in a religious tradition or simply finding the course corrections you need as you embark on a new year, making detailed notes about your choices in these four categories will not only capture both the obvious and the elusive but also help you make a break from past patterns of choice.
Join the conversation. Does the weight of past choices diminish the range of options available to you at present?
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