the karma of emotional investment

i’ve been thinking a lot about karma lately. not just as an old hippie who dabbled in hindu offshoots. whatever you want to call it, karma is a law of the universe. think of it as cause and effect. action and reaction. reap what you sow, if you like. everything you do has consequences.

i may not have the wisdom down yet, but the aging part has taught me a few things. this being my blahg where i rant to myself, you have no choice but to indulge me or move on. i like talking to myself. sometimes i even make sense —to myself. but if you do read on, first read this disclaimer: the following is not necessarily based on having followed my own advice, but rather on having learned by hindsight and irresponsible choices. don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself! but i hope you won’t have to.

for starters, think long and hard before having children. wait! i didn’t say don’t have them. consider wisely and go into child-raising intentionally. it’s not a spectator sport, or for impressing the neighbors, or for turning out clones, or what-have-you. it is not for the weak-willed and squeamish. it’s not for people who indulge in cute kittens but then pawn the older cats off on someone else. it’s not like shopping for clothes to flatter yourself, then giving them to goodwill when you want to update your wardrobe. it’s for conscientious, adaptable, resilient people who intend to take responsibility for their actions and follow through, whatever the cost. people who are ready to emotionally invest in their own future by earning the respect and honor they expect from their kids. because everything you do, or neglect to do, will come back to you later. compounded, with interest.

(just a quick aside here: i did not intentionally plagiarize any ideas from esteemed writer/blogger john scalzi. any resemblance to ‘whatever’ is not so much coincidence as confirmation.)

this i have witnessed as child to my parents. they were products of the depression and ww2, so they were all about appearances and material possessions, but very repressive, harsh, and unforgiving toward their older children, who just couldn’t seem to comply with the program. in their 80’s they became demented and sick, regressing back into children themselves, and requiring me to essentially parent my own parents. long story short, their ‘investment’ somewhat backfired at them. the guilt and obligation part worked out for them, but the respect, compassion, and devotion were not there. payback yes; gratitude, sadly lacking. (i’m still working on this attitude, but that’s a separate rant.)

so, karma. moving right along into adulthood, you will never get it all right. you will never make all the right choices. your questionable results will hopefully teach you before you repeat the same mistakes. pain is a great teacher, unless you like pain. in that case, you’re on your own. the main point i want to make here is that you affect everyone involved with your behavior and choices, not just yourself. you are mentoring and modeling behavior to the people close to you. you are investing in your future as well as theirs. as you learn and modify, so will they. adaptability is key. as you learn by experience, you are teaching the next generation how to transition functionally and gracefully.

i wish someone had prepared me for life, responsibility, and aging issues. each new unexpected crisis hit me hard because no one had proactively prepared me for reality. i had the negative defenses of anger, resentment, low self-esteem, being critical and judgmental, and so on, built in, but no positive tools for prioritizing, making wise decisions, or maintaining healthy personal boundaries. things just ‘happened’ to me and i was ‘victimized’. i had no blueprint or roadmap. disorientation, disillusionment, and alienation were the inevitable consequence.

so finally you come full circle. you age and lose function and cognition. no one prepared you for the horror and loneliness of it. no one prepared your children for the surreal role they would suddenly have to take on. not to mention the expense. depending on your role modeling, your children will either be prepared and willing to address this huge challenge, or scramble frantically and resentfully to rearrange their own lives to confront this burden. and their children will get further neglected and lost in the shuffle, and learn to resent and dread old age. as did i.

here is where your true values regarding family and friends will come back to either reward or haunt you. if you model/learn the values of mutual trust and respect within an extended support network, you’re investing in your future. you’re ensuring that those values will both come back to you and will be paid forward. negative cycles will be broken, and healthier ones take their place. in short, you won’t find yourself so alone with your regrets.

i’ve come to question many traditional concepts and principles, but this one has proven itself to me time and again. we don’t exist in a vacuum. what you do or don’t do matter and will have repercussions. the bad news is, you can’t always undo the damage. the good news is, you can stop repeating history and the vicious cycle. i can’t undo my upbringing or my son’s, but i can re-examine myself every day and try to be part of the healing process. it’s the most stable investment there is.

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