Rule 3: Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences

‘Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences’ sounds preachy, though I don’t mean it to be. ‘We’ definitely includes me!

Politicians exemplify the lack of foresight that needs to precede action. From Trump’s actions and speech while president that deepened divisions within the United States, to the British government’s stop/start policy for lockdowns, politics is beleaguered by short term thinking. Rarely do presidents and prime ministers have regard for the long term consequences of the decisions they make.

I’ve noticed that many people seem to have no idea that their personal behaviour inevitably produces results of one sort or another. How could they not? Yet so many seem oblivious to the fact that action (even inaction) has consequences; oblivious or wilfully ignorant. These consequences are not always the ones that might be expected – see the law of unintended consequences – and certainly they are not always positive or beneficial.    

The rest of us can be much the same. We think only of now. Indeed, we’re encouraged to do so by exhortations to ‘live in the moment’ and  ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ – but as useful as such existential advice might be, we also need to give some though both to the future and to the impact our behaviour might have on others. And we need to own it. Our individual behaviour and its consequences are our personal responsibility, if we’re mature adults that is (and isn’t this what we try and instil in our children?)

We have nobody else to blame for either the way we act nor for what it leads to. Nobody makes us act or react in a particular way, we make the choices ourselves. Granted we may not all have the same advantages in life. Our background and personal baggage may well influence how we behave. Nonetheless, our behaviour, and what it leads to, is ours alone and ours to own. Given this, it is well to give some thought to the consequences of our actions ahead of time. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’ as the old proverb has it.

A woman – let’s call her Sarah – who was a member of a group I once belonged to was sharply critical of everyone else. She could, in fact, be extremely nasty. However, if anyone responded to her in kind, as people often did having been subject to her unpleasantness, Sarah was stung and deeply offended. ‘What an extremely rude person,’ was her usual retort. In this way, she systematically fell out with most other people in the group. When a new person joined, someone with whom Sarah had fallen out with previously, she declared she would leave if this person was allowed to stay. She had no supporters, having behaved unreasonably with most other members and consequently Sarah left, feeling unjustly and unkindly treated. She could not see how her downfall was of her own doing.

We can take credit when the effect of our actions is positive. We need to take responsibility when it isn’t. If we wrong someone else or affect their or our own lives adversely, then it is up to us to make reparation, to put right what we can. What we haven’t done, however, is offended any gods. We have not ‘sinned’. Neither has anyone had to die to fix things for us. No imaginary sacrifice from thousands of years ago is going to pay a penalty on our behalf. We remain irresponsibly infantile if we excuse ourselves with such thinking. We are the only ones who can take responsibility for our actions and their consequences. We learn and grow when we do while others are ‘saved’, from our carelessness and belligerence.

Story for Rule 2: Endgame

Very dark. Can barely see. Fading light in the far distance. Too frightened to move. Don’t know what’s underfoot. Damn, talking to myself. Hope no-one can hear.

You’re here too. Knew you would be.

Who?

It’s me, old friend. Right beside you.

Who’s me? Can’t see you. You’re just… a disembodied voice.

You too.

So where are we?

Where’d you think? Where we always are.

You know, this isn’t making much sense. I remember being in bed, then… here. Am I dreaming?

No… I don’t think so. Something else.

I’m not… not… dead, am I?

Course not. You wouldn’t be here talking to me if you were dead. I thought you knew: once you’re dead you’re dead. That’s it. No afterlife.

Okay, yes, I do know that. But this… this isn’t the judgement, is it?

Judgement? There’s no judgement. No sin from which to be absolved. You know it doesn’t work like that.

You’re right, I do know that. But what about regrets? And guilt? I’ve quite a lot of those.

Not a lot of point though, is there? I mean, what can you do about it now?

I could make changes. When I wake up – this is a dream, right? – when I wake up, I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to tell my children, grown up now of course, that I love them. I never told them enough.

They know.

Yes, but I want to tell them. Tell them and hug them. I’ve never been as demonstrative as I should’ve been. I regret I wasn’t a better parent.

Still, if they’re adults now, they’ve made it haven’t they?

Well, yes. I guess so, but I can’t help but feel I should’ve done more with life.

Such as?

Doing something worthwhile. Something that was me. I should’ve been more myself. Not tried to be something I wasn’t.

Right.

That’s what religion did for me. I certainly regret that!

You know, there’s no point regretting anything. Not now.

I thought you said this wasn’t the judgement?

You wouldn’t be here if it was. As I’ve already tried to explain, neither of us would. There’s nothing on the other side. Nothing. The fact we’re here at all proves this isn’t some sort of life after death.

So, why are we here, wherever here is? And who are you, anyway?

I thought you knew. I thought you’d recognise my voice after all this time.

Your voice? Why would I recognise your voice?

Because, my friend, I’ve always been here beside you.

You have?

I have. But now we have to go. Both… of us. Time… is up and it’s… getting darker.

Go? Go where? Why can I barely hear you now?

It has been good… knowing you. We’ve made a good team. But time… is… short.

Wait. What are you

We’ll go together. Like always

Yes, okay. We’ll go togeth

.

Rule 2: This Is It (so make the most of it)

My partner Dennis and I often take a walk in the local cemetery. It is a sobering experience but also, strangely, an inspiring one. Graves there date back to the 1700s, right through the 19th and 20th centuries to burials that have taken place in the past few years. Many people died young, not only in previous centuries, but recently. There are many graves of children and babies. Equally, there are many gravestones that record the long lives some people lived, even in the years before modern medicine.

All of these people, whatever the extent of their existence, lived real lives. They experienced the same highs and lows as those of us alive today. They enjoyed love and celebrated the same occasions we do. They suffered pain and hardship in much the same way as us, probably more so. They shared the same hopes and aspirations, for themselves and their children, experienced the same successes and disappointments. They sought meaning, some of them finding it (or having it imposed on them post-mortem) in religion, if the inscriptions on their tombstones are anything to go by. Quite a few modern graves have them to.

And yet, to what end? Every one of these people is gone. Long gone in most cases. They and their concerns, loves, hopes, dreams, worries and aspirations, whatever they were, died with them. None of them, not even those who trusted their souls to Jesus, has a renewed existence. Not one of them has gone on to a new life here or in heaven. Death was the end, as it will be for us too.

Which is where the inspirational aspect of contemplating the brevity of existence comes in. The few decades for which we are alive (if we’re lucky) is all there is. They are the only time we will experience life. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy each and every moment as well as we’re able. This life is not a prelude for another, better one after death (what sort of nonsensical contradiction is that?) This is it.

So, live the life you have. Savour every moment, even in lockdown or the mundanity of the daily grind. Change whatever it is that stops you from living. Live life fully while you can.

12 Rules of Life: first rule

Considering what might be my twelve rules of life (after Jordan B. Peterson):

I wrote about my first ‘rule’ in 2019 BC (‘Before Covid’): Be Yourself – or, Don’t Pretend To Be What You’re Not. I know this is the theme of every Disney movie there is, but just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true. Don’t spend your life at war with yourself. I spent too much of mine doing just that and it leads only to self-hatred and depressive illness. The only way out of the resulting inner conflict and its consequences is to accept yourself and live with who you are.

Life isn’t a box of chocolates but it is like a hand in a card game. You can only play with what you’ve got, not with what you wish you had, nor with what you’re pretending you’ve got. There’s more chance of winning on this basis, though it’s not guaranteed. At least you stand a chance of happiness. 

 

I find that, although I have this as my first rule of life, I haven’t actually written much about it. I wrote more, and more despondently, when I wasn’t being myself. The story that follows, based on something that actually happened to me, perhaps conveys some of what I’m saying here about being yourself. Or maybe not. You decide.

O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive

Frequently and erroneously attributed to Shakespeare, the couplet is from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion, published in 1808. I read this story on BBC Radio Cumbria a few years ago.

‘You told him what?’ I said incredulously.

‘I told him you played the piano.’

‘But I don’t play the piano,’ I said.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I thought you did. I must be confusing you with someone else.’

‘Like who?’ I said, ‘Liberace? Mrs Mills?’

‘There’s no need for sarcasm,’ she said. ‘I’m sure I’ve heard you play.’

‘I’ve never played the piano’ I said, ‘unless you include ‘Chopsticks’ and the first line of ‘We Three Kings’. That’s the total extent of my repertoire.’

‘Oh,’ she said again, ‘but you can’t tell him that. You’ll have to go along with it now. When he asks, tell him you do play.’ She smiled sweetly as if she’d somehow resolved the predicament she’d created for me.

‘Why would I do that?’ I asked her. ‘He leads a world famous orchestra. He’ll see through me in a second. I’ll come clean, tell him you were confused and that I can’t really play the piano.’

‘Oh, please don’t do that,’ she pleaded. ‘You’ll show me up. I’ll feel a right chump.’

‘Surely not,’ I said. ‘Look, honesty is the best policy, Janice, so if he mentions it, I’ll tell him the truth.’

The man himself was coming towards us. My sister-in-law turned, pretending she hadn’t seen him, and launched herself at the buffet. He held out his hand and smiled broadly. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said. ‘Janice tells me you’re something of a virtuoso.’

‘Ah yes, about that…’ I began.

‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘it’s so good to have another musician here, especially one of your calibre.’

My calibre? What had Janice been saying to him? But instead of asking him this, I found myself saying, ‘Ah, well… yes, thank you.’

‘Who did you study under?’ he asked.

I hesitated before spluttering, ‘Miss Marjorie Roe’, the name of my music teacher from primary school. Had he spotted my hesitation? Why was I even worried that he might have done?

‘Can’t say I’ve heard of her,’ he said, puzzled. ‘Still, she was obviously capable of nurturing your considerable talent.’

‘She was very good,’ I mumbled.

‘They should have had you play at the ceremony this afternoon. It would have been infinitely preferable to the noise we had to endure,’ he said sniffily.

‘Oh, quite,’ I said. I had thought the little ensemble at my nephew’s graduation was rather good – though evidently not of the same calibre as myself; not if Janice were to be believed, anyway.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘some students of mine are looking for a little extra tuition and, obviously, with all of my engagements, I just haven’t the time to oblige. I wonder if you might be …’ he left the implication hanging.

How could I extricate myself from this tangled web? Whatever I said, or tried to say, only ensnared me further. ‘No, really,’ I said, ‘It’s just that, you see, I can’t actually…’

‘I quite understand, old chap. So many commitments and demands on one’s time. And it is quite an imposition, I do agree, to have one’s time taken up by the less capable and – let’s face it – less talented.’

‘No, it’s not that…’ I started again to protest.

‘Then you’ll do it? Splendid!’ he cried. ‘And it does pay rather handsomely. Not that that’s a consideration, of course.

‘It pays rather handsomely?’ I repeated. Why, oh why, was I even considering it? It didn’t matter how much it paid; I couldn’t possibly take on his students when I can’t play the piano!

So here I sit, next to the baby grand in the university’s music room, jotting down the conversation as I recall it. My first student will be arriving any minute and I’m hoping against hope he’s interested in learning ‘Chopsticks’.

A Change of Direction

I started this blog in 2013 because I really needed to work out for myself what it was that had taken (away) so many years of my life. Christianity.

I feel now, 7 years and 436 posts later, that I’ve done that. I’ve demonstrated to my own satisfaction that Jesus and all that goes with him, is a myth, a make-believe based on the visions of a few religious nutcases in the first century. (Yes, nutcases. I can’t use any other word.) The imaginings of these zealots and those who perpetuated the lie, duped me, deluded me, took years of my life and stopped me from being myself. It was my fault. I should’ve had more sense than to fall for it. But now I know.

So what to do with this blog? The new, ‘improved’ WordPress platform is far less user-friendly than older versions and over-complex (for me and many others) and I need to simplify what I’m doing with it. I have only a few followers, and even fewer who comment. (I’m grateful to everyone who drops by regularly and to those who leave comments.) I’m sure that from time to time, I will feel moved to write about Christians’ doings and idiocies, but for now at least, I’ll be taking the blog in a different direction.

I’ve recently finished reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos. Perhaps you’ve read it. If you haven’t, save yourself several hours of your life that you’ll never get back. While some of the book is undoubtedly interesting – who knew about lobster hierarchies? – it is completely devoid of humour and takes itself far too seriously, reflecting, I’d venture to say, its author’s disposition. Peterson is undoubtedly erudite and uses much of the book demonstrating just how erudite he is. He indulges in interminable digression, replete with chunks of scripture, from whichever ‘rule’ he is ostensibly discussing. And what rules they are! ‘Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street’. ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’. ‘Do not bother children when they are skateboarding’. Try living your life according to these profundities and see where it gets you!

Thinking I could do no worse, I’m going to attempt to outline my own 12 rules for life. Don’t worry, I’ll be brief, and I won’t presume to offer an antidote to chaos. Some of the ‘rules’ I’ve already written about in earlier posts so I’ll just précis what I’ve already said or at least attempt to come at them from a different angle.

I’ll follow each post with one of my short stories that (hopefully) illustrates the rule in question. That’s the plan at least. We’ll see how it goes. I would of course appreciate your comments on both of these new elements when they start to appear.

Meanwhile, may 2021 be a much better year for all of us. Surely it can’t be any worse…