“Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.” ~ Jean-Jacque Rousseau
I am very bothered when I think of all the bad things that I have done in my life.
I haven’t been able to get that line out of my head since I studied the poetry of Simon Armitage in school. Who himself lifted the line from a form probation officers used to use to assess the extent to which their charges had been rehabilitated.
At the time I was exceedingly bothered when I thought of even the slightest little thing I’d ever done that might have turned out not to be such a terribly great idea. So bothered that I continued to feel terrible about scribbling on one of my preschool’s new chairs with a pencil crayon that could easily have been washed off until I was well into university.
It’s what comes of growing up in a household where referring to your classmate Ewa – pronounced Ever – by her name, rather than calling her Heather, provoked the same level of anger over the perception that I was dropping my haitches as a normal mother would reserve for their kid burgling the neighbours’ house.
The problem with that; or, at least, one of the, many, problems with that, is when you eventually get out of that environment and decide that your family are not people who you should have in your life anymore, you find yourself somewhat adrift in the morality department. Once you’ve established that not liking cabbage is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice, that people have friends for reasons that have nothing to do with attempting to destroy the fabric of society, and that all the myriad of other perfectly normal things that perfectly normal people just happen to do in the course of going about their perfectly normal days are really no big deal – when it comes to assessing what actually constitutes a big deal you’re left pretty much to your own devices.
Which is unhelpful. Especially when you’re simultaneously adjusting to having been released from your own, real life version of the Virgin Suicides.
For a while I continued to feel guilty about absolutely everything. There was literally nothing I could do that anyone could give me any harder time about than I did myself.
Until one day I’d had enough of the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, realising that it was unhealthy, and, well, pretty stupid. And decided to cut myself a break, try to develop a normal amount of perspective, and start bumbling along like a normal person.
Which didn’t go entirely well at first. I used to think that I didn’t matter and that no-one cared about me, so it genuinely never occurred to me that people could be affected by my words or actions.
Even now I tend to be great at empathy in the abstract but tend towards a kind of latent solipsism when it comes to actual individual people.
The most important thing that I’ve learnt though is that the wrong thing doesn’t tend to advertise. There’s no big sign that appears in the air that says, ‘Hey, you know if you do this it’s going to seriously screw up your life, right?’. In fact it can disguise itself as something relatively innocuous.
I blame the entertainment industry.
We’re used to seeing dramatic events presented as being, well, dramatic. With tense build ups and emotionally manipulative musical accompaniments.
In real life there’s none of that. In most cases doing the wrong thing is every bit as easy as doing the right thing. The simplicity is deceptive, as we expect anything that’s a big deal to feel like a big deal. For the wrong decision to be a difficult one to make.
Until you’ve been in the position to make a really, truly, awful decision you think that it’s self-evident that you would choose the right course of action. That there would be an actual moment where you would think about what you were doing and make a conscious choice.
In practice these things seldom appear to happen this way. Instead you simply do something, say something, go along with something, because it seems relatively innocuous. Only to be confronted with a sudden, sickening moment of realisation a few days later, while you’re in the middle of doing something else, that leaves you feeling the same way as you’d imagine a crash test dummy would if it were able to feel.
And some times some things really do just happen. Just like that. One minute you’re having a perfectly normal day, and the next minute you’re in the middle of doing some thing completely fricking stupid, without, so far as you can tell, there having been so much as a split-second’s thought or action taking place in between.
And then when you’re through with doing the completely stupid thing that you should never have started, it all feels so fleeting, and insignificant. And it’s so hard to marry the concepts in your head of the nothing that just happened and the huge, crazy big deal that you know that it was supposed to be.
Now, I know that to some people those will sound like really poor excuses. But I’m not offering any excuse, I’m not, after all, confessing to anything. I’m just describing a feeling.
Fortunately I am at least clear that telling people things that will only hurt them to make myself feel better about the bad things that I have done is an automatic no, no.
Or maybe unfortunately. I’m not 100% sure.
I’ve never understood the virtue that some people seem to feel in coming clean about their every sin to those who can only by harmed by the information. But then, I’m pushing thirty; it’s a little late in the day to be learning to develop a reasonable conscience.
Does anybody know where I can buy a talking cricket?