Three lessons I learned from one of the dumbest things I ever did

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That’s how it is – I’m not perfect, and I don’t think there is any use in pretending that’s the case. What’s important to me is that every time I make a mistake I learn something from it, something valuable, and something which ensures that I never make that same mistake again.

When I was 14 a good friend of mine I played football with, got jumped by a few older guys, and they beat him up pretty badly, which obviously upset everyone who knew this person, including everyone on the team.

Except for this one person who said that he thought he had it coming, and made it very clear that he thought what happened to him was well-deserved.

Now, this is not a very nice thing to say about anyone, and again everyone involved was super upset, and this is where my stupidity started rearing its ugly head, because at this point I started talking to some of my friends about beating up this guy who had been running his mouth, and I let myself get talked into it, not because I wanted to stand up for my friend or because I wanted to live up to some sort of personal code, but because I wanted to be cool and popular.

Let me say that again for emphasis – I punched someone in the face because I wanted to be cool and popular.

That is one of the single dumbest things I’ve done in my life.

But what happened subsequently is more important than the event itself for a number of reasons, as I’m sure you’ll agree in a few minutes.

After the episode, which was incidentally caught on camera, with one of the very first camera phones, I got called into the principal’s office, and she tore me a new one, and decided that in her mind I had crossed the line, and she decided to expel me from the school, which meant I had to find a new school.

On top of that, the person I’d hit or his parents – most likely the latter – decided to press charges, which resulted in a court case, and me having to pay a pretty serious fine.

Throughout all of this, my mom was a nervous wreck, which is understandable, because she didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, and I’m sure the uncertainty got to her.

When I think back to this which happened some 15 years ago, I can’t help but to think that I didn’t understand the severity of it all. I might not have actually been able to comprehend what was really happening or the potential consequences. What still bugs me the most however, is my motive for doing what I did, and that leads me directly to lesson number 1:

Never let your actions be dictated by your perception of others’ opinion of you

We all care about other people’s opinion of us. It’s natural and it’s most likely a relic from the time we lived in hunter-gatherer societies and our survival depended on being accepted in the group. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best course of action however – in fact, in our modern society I’d go so far as to say that caring too much about others’ opinion of you is most likely counter-productive, because it can force you to take actions which go against your principles, or which are downright stupid, as my story aptly shows.

And while that story might be an extreme example, it is illustrative nonetheless, and with that, let’s have a look at lesson number 2: 

Our actions have unintended and far-ranging consequences

When I decided to punch someone in the face, I didn’t give one ounce of consideration to the consequences. I just did it and figured that would be the end of it, but that’s not how the world works. The world works in such a way that every action has reactions. Not only an equal and opposite reaction, but many related reactions which influence and are influenced by an unseemly number of factors, chief among them other human beings and the systems of society. Not in my wildest dreams did I figure that I would end up in court, or that I would have to change schools, but that’s what happened nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we put our every action under a microscope and examine everything we do in the minutest of details, but I am suggesting that we take time to reflect on the fact that what we do might affect us later on, and might even affect those around us as well, which leads to lesson number 3:

What we do can affect our loved ones as much – or more – as ourselves

I never knew I could have make my parents – mom and my stepdad – as sad as I did. They were devastated, and I’m sure I would have been if I was in their shoes. If this had been the only consequence of what I did, and I had realized this beforehand, I would never have done it. Not in a million years. But I didn’t think about that, and that’s the whole issue. What we do intensely affect the people we love, and that is all the more reason to give careful consideration to the things we do before we do them – all the more reason to be careful with our actions, because they might affect our loved ones as much or more as ourselves.

 

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