On Consequences

I used to think that consequences were what followed after a bad decision. If I made the wrong choice, a consequence would follow.

Throw the food, have it taken away.

Stay out past curfew, lose car privileges for a week.

The problem, as with so many things, occurs when this common thinking gets extrapolated into other areas of life. Without even realizing it, we can get stuck in this childhood logic, this black and white thinking, that seeps into our adult consciousness and wreaks havoc. In this case, it might then look something like this:

Wear the wrong shirt, he won’t ask you out.

Say the wrong thing, you will lose that friend.

Walk down the wrong street, you will deserve what is coming to you.

It’s not that social reinforcement or behaviour modification of this nature are inherently bad. Most likely, they are necessary. We shape each other this way, we learn and grow this way.

We also cause a lot of harm by ingraining this in our kids and each other. It’s as if we are constantly getting the message that we are the problem, when in so many situations that just isn’t true.

My mom couldn’t watch my drama performance because she was busy and stressed at work, not because it was not good enough, or I chose the wrong time.

In this way of thinking, “I don’t have enough money because I was naive about not going back to work” becomes, “I didn’t go back to work, now we need to rework our finances to reflect that reality.”

But we never learn this second part. At least, I didn’t. At 34, I found myself still operating as if consequences could genuinely be avoided. It is as if, since all bad decisions have consequences, then all consequences must follow from bad decisions. Of course, this logic is flawed but I only know that consciously. Subconsciously, my inner child if you will was still encouraging my grown up self to stay protected, to avoid discomfort at all costs.

In my life, this ingrained, unintentional lesson has resulted in many lengthy, agonizing decision-making periods in my life. Choosing a university brought about a whirlpool of stress that I wasn’t sure how to get out of.  More recently, deciding whether or not to move brought months of agonizing over-analysis, doubt, and rehashing the same pros and cons ad nauseam with my bewildered husband.

In each of these cases, having internalized the message that consequences follow bad decisions, I was driven to avoid the pain of the consequence by making the right choice. I still thought that was the only way.

The part I was missing?

Every decision has consequences. And also, consequences are not synonymous with something bad. Actions bring results. Choices make changes. For every action, there is an equal and opposite.

Karma is a law of the universe, after all.

We are all driven to avoid pain in different ways. In fact, the very behaviour adopted to avoid discomfort is what causes the pain in the first place. But it’s not easy to change this until I could realize that this program was still running in the background. As I slowly learn to understand this, I internalize a new reality. That consequences are not inherently avoidable but instead will follow any and every decision, and this allows me to take another step towards freedom, another step towards my true self.

So, we didn’t move this year. We stayed in our small apartment. Some consequences are as follows:

  • Q has no backyard to play in
  • I do not have to spend time, money or energy making a new space feel like home
  • I cannot walk to the campus where my community works, where there are facilities for Q and I to use
  • I can walk to Q’s preschool

Every action has consequences. Instead of avoiding them, what if we expected them, understood them, and then used them as fuel for growth? This year, I will use my small apartment to grow in the following ways:

  • Being slightly uncomfortable in a small space will allow me to really get ready for a bigger change coming up
  • Practice gratitude for the extra time to spend writing, studying, self-caring and child caring
  • We need to get rid of stuff anyways, so I will be motivated to clear more space for Q and make it work for him.

As a parent, though, I am now left with this question: How to discipline my little boy without sending this same unintended message? Is it something, like ego, that just has to evolve, be nurtured, then consciously (ideally) outgrown and shed? Or, perhaps, I will somehow be able to show him that consequences follow all choices, and choices are much more powerful when you understand what you are really choosing.

Anyone got this figured out?

Do tell.

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