Everyone makes mistakes. Usually they are harmless and teach us useful lessons. We all know that—but even so, we still can’t quite manage to leave our old mistakes in the past. Random memories of things that we did wrong many years ago, and that everyone else in the world has totally forgotten, just pop into our heads for no reason and leave us feeling bad.

When we look at those old mistakes more closely, often it turns out they’re just silly. For instance, when I was a kid, a security guard at a supermarket told me to get out because I’d been standing around the comic book rack for an hour reading werewolf comics, without buying any of them. Well, okay, the security guard was right that it wasn’t a library; and buying a donut from the bakery counter, which gave me sticky fingers while reading the comics, didn’t put me on the best-customer list either. Still, there’s certainly no reason why stuff like that should bother me 40 years later—much better just to remember how yummy the donut was!

Donut with multicolored sprinkles.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Instead of feeling like we’re criminals because of unimportant past mistakes, we need to take them more lightly and forgive ourselves for them, just as we would forgive anyone else who had made a trivial blunder. Even with real crimes, after a certain number of years the limitations period expires and the crime can’t be prosecuted. There are good policy reasons for this—physical evidence decays or is lost, people’s memories get fuzzy, and it’s not at all clear what really happened.

So I suggest that when memories of old mistakes start bothering us, we should apply to the Court of Conscience for a statute-of-limitations dismissal of the charges—complete with a formal order, as below:


WHEREAS, the Defendant stands before this Court charged with Making Mistakes while Being Human; and whereas, this Court finds that all of the facts alleged in the Prosecutor’s Complaint are outside the statute of limitations; NOW, THEREFORE, this Court ORDERS that the charges be, and hereby are, DISMISSED, and that the Defendant shall go free.

Signed, Judge of the Court of Conscience
Today’s Date

January 28, 2015 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Dear people who gossiped about me online five years ago,

If you are reading my blog, no doubt you’re surprised to see this entry, after all the time I spent pretending you didn’t exist. Rather than saying anything to you, I decided to treat you as far beneath my notice and deserving no attention whatsoever. I told myself that I wasn’t even going to think about you because, as the saying goes, brooding on a grudge is like letting a person one despises live rent-free in one’s head.

But the grudge never actually went away, even though I cultivated an attitude of being much too tough to care. As long as I despised you, I couldn’t evict you. That negativity got dumped like toxic waste into the depths of my psyche, bubbling and reeking as it slowly decomposed. So I came to the conclusion that the only sensible thing to do was to forgive you instead.

In every situation, there are useful lessons that can be taken away. Forgiveness has to do with appreciating them and moving on. So I asked myself: What insights did I gain five years ago? In what ways has my life changed for the better since then? Are there any parts of that experience for which I can honestly feel gratitude?

There’s no doubt I benefited from learning the value of personal branding. Because I wasn’t a business owner or a celebrity, it never had occurred to me that there might be something to gain from building a consistent “brand” online. I didn’t understand that without proactively defining myself, I was letting other people’s random remarks determine my public image.

When that lesson sank in, I registered my name as a domain and started using it for my email and for this blog. Most likely, some other Meg Evans would have taken the domain name if I had waited much longer; so the fact that I took timely action, which I probably wouldn’t have done absent the unpleasant wake-up call, is the second item on the gratitude list.

Although at present I am using this domain only for a personal blog, I’m also building a solid online foundation for potential future business activities. For example, if I began writing ebooks, I would already have a well-established website where readers easily could find me. I wouldn’t need to make major changes to my site, but could just add a page about the books—easy peasy! That’s item #3 on the gratitude list.

Another related lesson I took to heart is the value of authenticity. In the past, I had been overly cautious about keeping the details of my personal life out of other people’s view. I worried that if I said too much about my fears, weaknesses, or mistakes, then I would leave myself vulnerable to nasty remarks from bullies. So I avoided such topics, believing I was safer that way.

But in fact, hiding my true self didn’t make me any less vulnerable. On the contrary, because my acquaintances lacked a good sense of who I was on a personal level, they were more likely to be influenced by gossip than if they had known more about me. If I had allowed my confident, authentic self to come out and sparkle in all my social interactions, embracing candor instead of surrendering to fear, then everyone would have known better than to spread rumors that obviously didn’t match who I was.

And finally, I’ve developed a healthier sense of how to build and maintain nurturing relationships. When I was younger, I still had a lot to learn about setting boundaries. I put up with negative stuff that I never should have allowed in my life, mainly because I hadn’t yet realized the extent of my personal power. I didn’t fully understand that I could design my own life and contribute to a kinder culture through my intentional choices.

Now I focus on steering my life where I want it to go, rather than just drifting along with the current because I didn’t feel that I could expect better. I no longer waste my time and energy on other people’s melodrama. The world is so full—so wonderfully full—of better options to discover! And for that, also, I am grateful.



Most people would agree that when we are wronged, it’s best to forgive and to let go of our anger, instead of brooding over a stale old grudge and allowing that stagnant resentment to suck the joy out of our lives. Of course, this familiar advice doesn’t in itself answer the question of how to go about it. Letting go of anger can be much easier said than done. A primitive emotion, anger has a basic survival function—when we’re attacked, it motivates us to fight and focuses our energy on defeating the attacker.

In the modern world, chances are high that we’re not going to have any life-threatening encounters with marauding attackers the next time we walk down the street or drive to the mall. We are far more likely to get angry at someone who is not really trying to do us any harm, such as a careless driver who gets too close. When such things happen, letting go of the anger generally doesn’t take long because a moment of reflection makes clear that there was no harm, either actual or intended.

Forgiveness becomes difficult not in these everyday situations, but when we feel that someone really was trying to harm us. Maybe we are just going about a routine day when we discover that we’ve been targeted by gossip. Even if no actual harm was done because it’s obvious nonsense and the bully who started it has no credibility, it still triggers the anger response in those primitive brain circuits: Danger! Attack! Enemy! Fight!

Though we’re probably sensible enough not to get into an actual brawl, the anger can last much longer than the incident itself. Months or even years later, we still feel that we have an enemy who means us harm and who chose to attack in such a nasty, unfair way—how is it possible to just let go of that and forgive?

One approach I’ve found helpful is to remind myself that I don’t have to own stories that belong to other people. If someone with an overactive imagination invents ridiculous conspiracy theories and puts me on their list of imagined evildoers, I don’t own those stories. They are no more relevant or meaningful to my real life than a tabloid paper at the bottom of the birdcage. I can choose to give them only the attention they deserve—which is to say, none.

And I don’t have to buy into the anger narrative by mindlessly slapping on the labels of “enemy” and “attack,” either. Most likely, even when someone is being nasty, it’s not because of a personal vendetta but just because of random stuff going on in their life. After a while, they may not even remember what they said. From their perspective, it wasn’t a malicious attack—just ordinary conversation, and not at all memorable. They’re not framing the situation in terms of having enemies, unless of course it suits their melodramatic worldview to have large numbers of enemies; and they couldn’t care less about whatever they might have said in the past.

So—if they don’t care, then why should anyone else? Forgiveness can simply be a matter of reframing an old incident as unimportant, rather than making heroic efforts to love one’s enemy. When the other person ceases to be seen as an enemy and becomes just another flawed human being who is trying to get through life, we’ve effectively let go of the narrative that fuels the anger. That gives us more room to increase our creative energy and to develop new, healthy, empowering personal narratives. As for other people’s silly old stories—time to put some fresh newspaper in the birdcage and take out the trash.