Have you ever stopped to consider how many choices you make every day? Big choices, little choices. Important choices, trivial choices. Choices that only matter for a short time, and choices that you live with for the rest of your life.
One choice I made as a teenager was pulling the chair out from under a classmate who was about to sit down. I guess I thought it would be a clever thing to do, but the hurt I saw on her face bothers me to this day. I continue to pay the consequence for this thoughtless act.
In my work as a judge, I see people who must answer for the consequences of their acts every day. During my years as a judge, I have come across remarkably few truly evil people – and for that, I am most grateful. For the most part, I come across basically decent people who have done really stupid things.
But even decent people must pay the consequences for the choices they make. And, because we are people, we will make bad decisions from time to time. Whether it’s, trashing someone else’s property, drinking alcohol before one is 21, driving while under the influence… No one is able to lead a perfect life. We all, every one of us, make poor choices. And we, each one of us, have to suffer the consequences of our actions.
But, on the other hand, when we make a mistake, even a horrible mistake, it is not the end of the world. Consequences must be paid, but we can and we must recover.
The choices we make, we have to live with them. I have to live with pulling a chair out from under a schoolmate. Another has to live with causing the death of his best friend.
The book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has lots of simple guides to living a more purposeful life. One of them is “You can’t talk your way out of something you acted your way into.” You spend years and year building up your reputation, but one stupid, thoughtless act can bring it down. You can, and you will say, “I’m sorry,” But actions do truly speak louder than words.
My mom used to tell us kids that “Sorry doesn’t make it better.” And it really doesn’t. The hurt is still there. Her favorite vase is still broken. Only time and effort and acting as you want to be remembered can make it better.
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Next week: Continuing Education