Has anything that you have done made your life better?

The line is from the movie American History X, starring the talented Edward Norton, a film I highly recommend. The protagonist, Derek, is a young white man living in California. Confused and lost, he turns to neo-Nazism to deal with his frustrations, insecurities and self hate. He commits a crime and ends up in prison where things don’t go his way. He is betrayed by his supposed neo-Nazi brothers and he ends up in the infirmary. While he is recovering, his high school teacher, who is black, pays him a visit and they talk. The well-meaning teacher tries to get the young man to look in the mirror and accept responsibility for his actions, the same actions that landed him in prison. They argue and finally the teacher ends up asking him the question: “Has anything that you have done made your life better”? He bursts into tears upon realizing he has made the wrong choices most of his young life and he starts his road to redemption.

The question is profoundly revealing of any person’s mental state and their ability to question themselves. Moreover, I believe when one is asked a simple question after a traumatic event (in the case of the movie, Derek was raped in prison by a neo-Nazi, his supposedly ally, as a punishment for not following orders), it can make anyone put their whole existence in perspective. I would say the rape triggered the self reflection but, the self reflection was building with time, because the young man in the movie was increasingly hateful, violent and unstable. His soul’s pain was chronic, and the immediate cause helped trigger the self reflection.

So…Has anything that you have done made your life better?

I have asked myself that question, countless times. As time goes by and we evolve, we understand life is about discovery but, most importantly, self discovery. The latter is a long and tedious never-ending quest. Along that path, we succeed, and we mess up. Once a mistake is made, we must recalibrate our path and do some introspection. We must ask questions. If we don’t, we are doomed and that might even be an understatement.

If we lead a life without any introspection, we can easily get lost and even more easily can we become arrogant and prideful. Therefore, to avoid falling into the self-importance trap, introspection is needed. It keeps you sane, it helps you recalibrate and adapt. A little self doubt can go a long way, just a smidge though and so long as it is temporary. Permanent self doubt is crippling. Introspection doesn’t need a thousand questions, just a few, and sometimes, just this one.

Has anything that you have done made your life better?

It is such a powerful question, one that gives me goosebumps as I realize, yet again, I don’t make the right choices and how many times I have messed up. There are things I have done I am not proud of, things I could have done better, things I shouldn’t have done, times I should have spoken up, times I should have shut up, times I should have been nicer, more compassionate, smarter, times I should have been uncompromising and more honest, times I should have been unflinching in my decisions, etc. Everything I have done so far in my life has contributed to who I am, what I am and how I feel. It is easy to admit victories, doing enough, being the good guy, doing the right thing. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to admit shortcomings, mistakes, failures, or not doing enough.

Has anything that you have done made your life better?

So, what hasn’t made your life better? That is an easy question! Yet, we rarely find the right answers, or even worse, we do not want to admit to ourselves the real answers. It could be a vice or a flaw. It could be a person that doesn’t make our lives better. Yes, certain things we do aren’t good for us. Certain people who spend time with, aren’t good for us. They do not add any value to our lives. I know this part sounds totally transactional, devoid of any emotion but in the end, why be with someone who doesn’t add positive things in our lives? Aren’t we supposed to get and be better? Yes, we are. So, why do we sometimes hang onto bad habits and bad people? Do we like pain? Are we masochists? As a rule, I do not believe we are.

Humans are complicated and complex! I do not need to tell you that we have compulsions, vices, flaws, demons that push us towards pain and sorrow, subconsciously or not. We sometimes end up inflicting pain on ourselves and others, or we go towards pain, for unknown reasons. It could be an unhealthy relationship (abusive physically or psychologically), it could be a bad habit such as drinking too much, smoking, abusing drugs, gambling, bad diets, short temper, impatience, being an asshole, etc. I am sure you get the picture. I drink an unhealthy amount of coke, which is a disastrous habit to have. Excess sugar in the body gets turned into fat and the more I drink, the heavier I get so, how healthy is that? I am trying to stop but it is more complicated than I had thought. I guess that is why I don’t usually make fun of people who cannot stop a bad habit. I can relate to them quite easily.

I don’t have a blueprint to identify what isn’t adding value to anyone’s life. I don’t have any specific tips as to how to proceed to cut out the bad habits. Google can help you better than I can. As I said before, I still haven’t cut the damn soft drink from my life. I have cut some bad habits, but my success rate isn’t great, medium at best. The most important step is to identify the bad/troublesome habits/people. That first step isn’t a walk in the park.

So, how does one identify the bad habits and/or people? I am so glad you asked. Well, take a step back, think, analyze your life, ask yourself questions about where you are, where you want to go, how you feel. You must be truthful about yourself to yourself, admit the hard truth, which isn’t easy at all! Brutal honesty hurts. Push come to shove, ask someone you trust how they feel about a habit you have or a person you hang out with regularly. I have people around me I trust to tell me the truth, especially the truth I am not willing to face. Talk to people around you, they might help you.

In the movie, young Derek realized hate wasn’t going to solve any of his problems. He stopped hating others and even made a friend in prison. This black friend was the reason Derek never got attacked again during the rest of his sentence. Derek was smart enough to identify hate wasn’t helping him at all. He was able to cut the hate off and the hateful people along with it.

Once you have figured out what and who is not making your life better, please proceed to cut them off. Pain will always get in the way of your happiness. We all know happiness doesn’t come easy and how precious it is. By being with people or indulging in habits that make life harder, you are directly (sometimes, indirectly) inflicting pain on yourself, no matter how small. We can all accept accidental pain but inflicting pain on ourselves intentionally? No. There is no nobility in being in pain permanently.

Whatever it is, if it isn’t adding happiness to your life, let it go. This also applies to people once again. Life brings enough stress as it is, I am certain you don’t want to add to it. Sure, some things are inevitable but mostly, we can choose how you live our lives and how we feel. We have a choice so, let’s use that free will wisely.

So, has anything that you have done made your life better? Ask yourself that question from time to time. It could be helpful.

Just one man’s opinion.

Now smile and go on with your day.

Freeman. B

2 thoughts on “A SIMPLE QUESTION.

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