In the 2016 election, I was 21 years old, and I knew everything. I remember fevered arguments with my father, and with my father’s friends about the importance of giving disenfranchised people a chance, the value that a candidate like Bernie Sanders stood for, and the ignorance of anyone who didn’t see that. I would argue until my face turned blue with my father about how Trump was the political devil, and how we needed to elect someone who would help the people, not the business. Etc etc. I was a like a spout of regurgitated information that I didn’t understand.
I look back now in a sea of confusion and desire for an understanding of why. Why did I, who literally had no interest or knowledge about politics feel so strongly pulled to the left, and become a mouthpiece for all of the things I learned in my governmental trainings on diversity, inclusion, and equity? Why did I have such a fervent desire to prove my point, and why did it feel so powerful inside of me?
Now obviously I am not speaking for others, but for my own journey of understanding. And for myself, I was ignorant to the process of growth. The 2016 election caught me at the perfect time. I just spent the previous year trying to change and become better, trying to become someone worthy of what I was given. Then, after only a year of work, I was handed this opportunity to become a moral savant for the oppressed. I was taught to be a martyr, an ally, a symbol of hope in a lost and oppressive country. And I found myself lost in the feelings that this brought onto me.
I reached the peak of growth, I had felt. Now, obviously I was wrong, and this past year has hit me like a ton of bricks, but at the time, the opportunity to “fight the powers that be” allowed me to force my own issues deep within and feel complete by work that was deemed morally righteous. If this is a good or bad thing is another conversation, but the idea that I, a 21 year old, knew more than everyone else and could change the world, was blissfully naive, and ultimately set me up for a hard reality check.
I began at step 1, and tried to get to step 89 within 12 months, and used the speed of activism to feel accomplished. I was ignorant to the process of growth. I was ignorant to the years and years it takes someone to mold their own soul into something the world can use. I was ignorant that life, and growth, is always a process.
I am not sure where I heard the idea of karmic return from, but I know that it isn’t mine, and that it has stuck with me for years. Everything that we put into the world always comes back to us. Always. There is no such thing as getting away with anything immoral or unethical. We may not get caught in the sense that people think of when they commit acts, large or small, but we always pay sooner or later.
This payment comes in the means of physical punishment, mental angst, or by the worst of all (and the most common): moral erosion. Whether we do something and we get caught, we do something and our mind eats away at us over time, or we do something and teach ourselves that behaving that way is okay, skewing our compass of morality until the whole world becomes misaligned. And, on top of that, everything always comes back. Like a true process, we always pay for the shortcuts or the sins we commit, but the payment comes in many forms. (My favorite thought in this realm is the idea that someone can commit years of moral slights and self-sabotaging behaviors, and then when something goes wrong, such a dissolving relationship, a loss of employment, or any other hurtful event, the person then blames the unforgiving randomness in life. The blame is put outward, instead of inward at the karmic return of the life they have practiced).
Everything is a process. This holds true for relationships, employment, growth, etc. If we see it like this, instead of an all or nothing situation, we could perform better. Mistakes are not to be deemed irreconcilable, as long as those mistakes are done in a manner that is not malicious or morally repulsive (some mistakes aren't mistakes, but decisions made. Mistakes are when we try and do better, but occasionally slip up and fail). If we aimed to be .1% better every week, using the mistakes and slip ups as learning opportunities, then imagine what we could be in 5 years?
Abraham Maslow, who coined the Hierarchy of needs said: “It seems that the necessary thing to do is not to fear mistakes, to plunge in, to do the best that one can, hoping to learn enough from the blunders to correct them eventually.”
These mistakes are meant to be signs that we may be going the wrong way and we need to reevaluate our behavior. In the understanding that life is a process, we let go of the need for consistency, because everything has the ability to be learned from. And as new stimuli present themselves, we must do our due diligence to see if this changes us. In a world where changing your opinion or mind is deemed the darkest sin (look at any politician and see if they ever admit to changing their minds) and an eternal weakness, we must allow ourselves to mess up, learn, and change
Emerson told us that: “Individual minds...are not bound by the shackles of reverence for consistency, but they must be brave enough to contradict tomorrow what they have said today” and “Allow your mind to change; be inconsistent; never fear to contradict yourself”.
In a true process, where we don’t take morally pleasing shortcuts, where we don’t shackle ourselves into one viewpoint, and where we don’t fear the change that comes with .1% growth, we are willing to see everything as part of the learning curve, we are willing to act in a manner that only brings the best back to us, and we are willing to reinvent ourselves if necessary.
“We are shackled by our own judgments. Thoreau walked not to find himself, but always to be in a position to reinvent himself.” -Frederic Gros
It is unsettling, but ever present that young adults seem to find themselves taking the morally pleasing shortcuts when faced with a crossroads (while and the other option being the persistent and never ending cycle of growth). Both roads are supposed to lead to the same outcome (making the world a better place), but seldom do. In fact, it seems that fighting the world to change instead of fighting ourselves to change first leads us to the deepest parts of hell, which may be why the devil is always present at crossroads. The process of growth is a terrifying journey. It is a situation where the end doesn't justify the means, because we, as people, are all made up of the means, and the moral erosion that occurs when we allow ourselves to think that we can behave in repulsive manners that may lead to a desired outcome may never be undone.
The fighting for a cause may come one day. The standing up and demanding change may be in our future, but only after we take this journey seriously, only after we weed out the demons hidden within our activism, and fight the internal battle first. We may change the world, but not because we are young, gifted savants, but because we are the exact opposite. Because we took the time to weed out the repugnant evil that lay inside, we ceased the need for perfect and allowed mistakes, and we put forth our true best into the world, without shortcuts. And through that process, became someone worthy of fighting a just cause. It is always a process.