At some point during my childhood, my mom started doing a very clever thing whenever my sister or I misbehaved. She would confront us about our naughtiness and conclude with "I don't know what the consequences will be yet, I'm going to think about it. Try not to worry." It was agony at the time, fretting over what punishment might befall me. The actual atonement was always far less intense than anything I cooked up though my imagination, but the process itself made a significant impression on me. It got me thinking about the consequences of my actions.
In that way, I think it was an effective parenting technique. Possibly too effective, since to this day I still consider the future results of almost every decision I make or action I take. From big things like should I quit my job and start a business, all the way down to the minutia of what order I should tackle house chores to be most efficient with my time.
I see it as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it has kept me safe from harm. Like the time I almost tried to reach the very top shelf in my kitchen through the leverage of one foot on a rickety stool and the other knee on the counter. The moment before I shifted my weight irreversibly onto my counter leg I had a vision of the immediate future. I saw the series of unfortunate events that would unfold if the stool gave way (which it was sure to do). In my mind’s eye I saw what I would knock over as I fell and what those objects would knock into and which of my body parts would land on the hot stove, in the sink full of dishes and onto the hard floor. So I abandoned the rickety stool in favor of a nice stable kitchen chair and retrieved ingredients from the top shelf, avoiding all calamity.
Another aspect of the blessing/curse simultaneity is that the future occurs to me as much more concretely present than it does for some other folks. The future is not just a vague potentiality, I feel the shadowy echo of that future in the present moment. The accompanying existential dread is very real and can sometimes be hard to shake. Of course it works the same way with potential positive consequences as well. The future is not all doom and gloom. When I foresee a positive future result, I also feel a little bit of that in the present moment. It’s exciting and inspirational. It keeps me going.
It could be very easy for my propensity toward consequence consideration to result in decision paralysis, but somehow I went the opposite direction. I am a very decisive person. I know my decisiveness is also partly born of my willingness to pivot and try something different if the first approach isn’t working. I also assume it’s because I'm prepared to take responsibility for any eventual outcome. If I’m owning the success or failure equally no matter what happens, I might as well be the decider of the decision I'm taking responsibility for.
Unforeseen consequences are harder to contend with. For example, this week I unknowingly ate something I am allergic to and my (extremely powerful) immune system tried a little too hard to help. I have never before had any kind of reaction to the foods I ate, so I did not consider any of those things as potential dangers. Nevertheless, my body went into FULL PROTECTION MODE and I ended up in the urgent care in the middle of the night for an intervention.
The main symptom-splosion began to recede a few hours after the very kind nurses handed me some pills to swallow as the drugs took effect. Now I can clearly feel the consequences of the whole ordeal. My skin feels like somebody wrung it out like a wet towel. I’m still swollen in unlikely places. And I'm exhausted. Apparently it's a lot of work to be poisoned and a lot of work to recover.
The only good consequence is that the steroids they put me on to resolve the allergic reaction pepped up my brain, so I was unnaturally alert for work after only 4 hours of uncomfortable and itchy sleep. This is a fortunate consequence because with the tax deadline looming in just a few days I didn't have time to postpone any client meetings. So there I was, meeting with clients on zoom, not outwardly presenting like I'd been up half the night feeling terrible. Lucky break.
I take much of what life throws at me in stride. I feel just as much of the melancholy, despair, fear, guilt, and upset that anyone does. I just bounce back quickly. Which is truly a testament to the power of practice. I spend time doing physical things with good alignment so that when I am moving through the world more unconsciously, I am more likely to move in a way that’s good for my body. I’ve had a lot of practice considering the consequences of my actions, so I can move through the world in a deliberate and intentional way much of the time.
I’m not flawless, of course. I make mistakes and misjudgments just like everybody else. One distinction I see for how I go about it is that I consider the broad picture consequences, not just the effect I will personally experience. There is an important lesson in that for greater society. Plenty of people consider the consequences of their own actions insofar as they are affected. We need to do more considering of what other people will experience as a result of our action or inaction. And we especially need to consider what will happen for the people who think, act, and live differently than we do. If we start doing more of that, then maybe we can finally fix some things in the world that desperately need fixing.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.