The three of us have struggled with how to our experiences and knowledge gained from our mistakes, missteps, and, frankly shameful behavior of the past. As someone once said, making good choices comes from wisdom, wisdom from experiences and experiences from bad choices. It’s hard, though, because, first, we know you all think of us as perfect examples of what God intended man to be (okay, maybe not all of you), second, because it is shameful and embarrassing, and third, because, undoubtedly, there will be someone who says, in the back of their mind, “yeah, but that was pretty cool, though.” The thing is, though, most of our experience comes from scars, not trophies. So, with the strong admonition to not be as stupid, self-centered, egotistical, and, in some cases, evil as we were, I want to break the ice for all of us. Disclaimer number one – names have and will be changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. Disclaimer number two – this is not a confessions board to make all of us feel good, so don’t post anything you are not comfortable sharing. Disclaimer number three – do not assume that my co-authors are aware of or have knowledge of this information, it may not surprise them, but it may disappoint them, give them the benefit of sharing in the surprise.
The person I am today is irrevocably linked to several factors, not the least of which is the lessons I learned from mistakes and, frankly, shameful actions of my past. One of my favorite quotes is that “not all learning has to be experiential”, however, I have lived a large portion of my life choosing experiential learning over learning from the mistakes of others. It is my hope, you do not repeat some of those. To that end, today I want to focus on one significant episode, which caused me to reflect and change for the better. Again, humor aside, please learn from my bad example to save yourself pain and anguish in the future.
I have always prided myself on being bright, loyal, driven and successful. I have very, very rarely felt like I was in a situation where I could not figure out a way to successfully extricate myself or manipulate the environment to make myself successful. While lacking in self confidence initially, I found that I could, with effort and focus, conquer most, if not all, of the mountains in front of me. Grades came easy, people had a tendency to feel comfortable and open up to me, and I had, what others might refer to as, a passing relationship with the truth. I found it was easier to tell people what they wanted to hear, give the answers that were expected, and I found myself rewarded with information and insight, because people would open up to me and confide in me. Basically, I was viewed as trustworthy, while being both a liar and a manipulator. To me, at that time, truth was to be used to reinforce the lies I built upon it and I destroyed at least two friendships and jeopardized many, many others in the process.
I was very, very good at it. A comedian once said that the key to success is sincerity, “once you can fake that, you have it made.” I took that as a goal, rather than the joke it was meant to be. In short, I was the type of manipulative, conniving instigator that provoked things to happening and my efforts and energies were focused on making sure I was always in the clear, rather than being in the right. I didn’t want to be the king, I wanted to be the one controlling the king, through lies, deception and just enough truth to sell the con. Of the many incidents I could cite, the one that stands out in my mind the clearest was when I set myself up to be both confidant and adviser to both a good, good friend and his girlfriend, with whom I was infatuated. I liked my friend very, very much, but knew his limitations and weaknesses and told myself that his girlfriend would certainly be better off seeing him for who he was, or more appropriately, seeing only the bad aspects of his character. As a manipulator, though, I also knew that to expose him and endear myself would be a delicate balancing act, if I wanted to – well let’s face it – steal his girlfriend. I had to be seen as supportive yet understanding…a good friend, but “honest” broker.
I won’t go into the gory details, because, frankly, it’s irrelevant how it went down and I am still ashamed that I treated both my friend and his girlfriend with such disregard and callousness. The short version is that I strategically lied and betrayed a friend, leaking information to his girlfriend and vice versa, under the guise of trying to be a helpful mediator. They stopped trusting each other and became unable to see the good in each other. Ultimately, they stopped talking to each other and, as teenagers are wont to do, ostracized each other, splitting their mutual friends between them. I had succeeded in driving them apart, and in the aftermath, became close to the girlfriend. When all was said and done, though, I felt empty, dirty, and alone. I had sacrificed two good friendships, yet could not have a true relationship with the girl I had pursued, because of the lies and the damage they had done.
For a long time, I thought that the damage that I had done was to the two of them, but realized several years later that, by lying and manipulating the situation, I had scarred myself in the process. I became jaded, mistrusting, and built walls to protect me from others like myself. At my core, I realized I didn’t just break up a relationship, but, rather, I had caused true damage to myself and a myriad of others, all of whom were innocent, save me. To this day, I sometimes wonder what would have been had I actually been the upstanding, moral boy I had put on as a mask, rather than just the shell, but that is another discussion. While those sins of the past are no longer held against me, I would be lying if I said I did not still have regrets.
The point is, despite my talents, my gifts, my abilities, and my skills, the only thing my machinations and manipulation did was to damage and break everything good in the relationships of at least three people. While I have no idea how my actions affected the lives of my victims today, I do know that they were devastating to me. They made me hollow inside, empty of compassion, love and empathy. It took many years, true friends and a God who actively demonstrates how He can fix things we believe irreparable for me to bounce back. I am ashamed of the actions, sorrowful for the damage done and hopeful that God’s grace and ability to heal past transgressions is transcendent. But the question is, what did I learn from all of this?
Well, first off, when you lie, manipulate and connive, the results are always unsatisfying. I’d love to say this was an isolated incident, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t. In every case, however, the results were unsatisfying. Second, when you lie, manipulate and connive you always end up hurting people close to you. Regardless of how much you think you can handle it, you can’t not hurt people when you do this. Finally, no matter how far away from Him you run or deep your evil or selfishness may run, God can always fix the mess you may make…if you let Him.