After a long and stressful week of early mornings and late nights, shuttling kids to and fro, doing and redoing chores, and making of the dreaded lunches, I received a phone call.
I was on my way to pick up my husband from work. The car was chaos—radio blasting loud enough to barely drown out the ruckus of three kids in the back. I don’t know how I managed to even notice the phone ringing, but I did.
It was my husband.
Me: Hello babe, how are you?
Husband: There’s been an accident. It’s pretty bad.
Me: Were you in an accident?
Husband: I think someone has died.
Me: WERE YOU IN AN ACCIDENT?!!!
Husband: No. But someone was killed right outside my office. There is blood everywhere.
All at once an empty, sick feeling washed over me. Of course, I felt gratitude and relief that my husband was okay, but somewhere, someone else was receiving a similar phone call with a different ending.
As I followed the flow of traffic towards my husband’s office, I braced myself for impact.
Five minutes later, there it was. The accident. It was horrific. The front end of the tiny car was gone. The driver did not even have a chance. Police cars crowded the scene and fire engines stretched out in a whirl of red and white lights. A wall of tarps had been set up to shield oncoming traffic from the grisly scene paramedics were working on.
My insides felt like ice as I glanced at the scene, trying my best to keep my eyes on my own oncoming traffic. It wouldn’t do to set another accident in motion. It wasn’t until I had a chance to finally flip a u-turn and park in front of my husband’s office that I got a look at the other vehicle—a jacked up 4×4 truck, fully loaded. It’s front was mangled, the hood crumpled at an odd angle. The driver had survived physically, but emotionally, one can only imagine.
I watched as a paramedic carried a stained purse over to a small group of people crowding around one another, hugging each other and sobbing. It was all that was left of a person who woke up that morning fully intending to return home that night.
Actions. We can choose them, but we cannot control the consequences.
I have driven by that spot a few more times over the last two days to do the same old thing I do everyday—drop husband off, pick husband up. But it is not the same old thing anymore. I see a red stain on the road a few feet away from the office entrance. And strangely enough, I don’t see any angry black tire marks.
It doesn’t look like anyone applied the brakes. At all.
That means that neither driver saw what was coming.
Sometimes that is how our actions are. Full tilt without fear of results. Without a care for who they might harm, ourselves or others.
Sometimes that is okay. Because not all actions are bad. In fact, there are an endless variety of good actions—hugging a baby, kissing a spouse, congratulating an opponent. It only stands to reason that the consequences that follow will be sweet and innocent.
But sometimes it is not okay. Because we can’t choose the consequence. Because at the end of the day, someone might not be going home. Once something is done, it can’t be undone.
Of course, not all negative consequences will be as dramatic as a car collision. It might be as undramatic as—if I choose to read a book instead of make dinner for my kids, my children will be hangry (hungry+angry). Okay, maybe that is dramatic. Hangry kids are no fun.
How about….if I don’t do my laundry, I can expect to wear dirty underwear tomorrow? That works.
Strange as it might seem, sometimes it is not easy to recognize that action equals consequence. Either we can’t recognize which action caused what consequence, or we might not believe we are responsible for the consequence.
Yes, it is possible for life to be chaotic enough to not recognize rhyme or reason. Who has time to sit and psychoanalyze when life and kids are flying past you at an alarming rate? Not me.
And, yes, sometimes other peoples action do cause us unintended consequences.
But, lets for one moment pretend that we can examine our lives in super slow-mo extended replay. What would we see? Could we pin-point the cause and effect of our lives? Would we see behaviors that might lead to things that we might not actually be happy about?
Perhaps this might seem a little intimidating. I don’t like to recognize myself as my biggest enemy. Why would anyone else?
But it could be this fear that holds us back from becoming masters of our own destiny. If we are afraid or unwilling to look, we will perpetually be a back-seat driver, forever reacting instead of acting.
When we understand just what our role is in our own life, we can make a change for the better.
- Identify the cause: what am I doing that creates this result
- Determine what you need to do to rectify or improve the situation
- Act—do what it takes to move forward.
As I sit here, analyzing this article in super slow-mo extended replay, I feel like I should reiterate that this exercise does not need to be targeted at negative things.
What a learning tool it could be for analyzing our positive qualities!
Wouldn’t it be great if we could single out our strengths, acknowledge them, and see how they could be applied to our weaknesses? Because we are not just one or the other, we are both.
We often hear about standing up to peer pressure and having moral courage. I propose that we have moral courage in standing up to ourselves. Let us not be afraid to recognize the truth of our actions—good or bad. Let us be brave enough to own our consequences, especially when they are good, but more importantly when they are bad.
When I drive past the scene of that horrible accident, I know that both drivers did not fathom how their day would end. I know that they had made good decisions and bad decisions over the course of their lives. And I know that one action that had unintended consequences will haunt the lives of themselves and their families forever.
And while I am utterly heartbroken for those lives, it gives me a sense of urgency and courage to not fear, to look inward, to recognize how my actions affect me and those around me. And to choose to sit in the driver’s seat and no longer be a back seat driver. I want to act, not react. These will be my consequences because I chose them, not because they were handed to me.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.