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Inside looking out: A riddle of the mind

It can haunt you for years. Keep you awake at night. Bother you when the sun rises and disturb your mind long after the sun sets. It can make you feel alone when you’re in a crowd. It can drag you down into your past transgressions and leave you drowning in an ocean of intolerable regret.

It begins as a nagging thought, but then it travels to your heart and if it goes unchecked, it can burn a hot fire inside your soul. It’s the reason why someone drinks too much, cries too often, smiles too little. At its most intense level, it urges someone to take his own life.

Author Richelle E. Goodrich cautions us to avoid this grind of the mind. She says we should see it coming like “a street sign that warns of rough roads ahead if you don’t make a U-turn.”

It can stop you from living a life you want because you’re always worried that you will say things or do things that you can’t take back. Yet you’re too blind to see that it may not even be your own fault. Author Frank Sonnenberg says that when you take upon this dread in your head, it’s because you’re allowing other people to make you feel this way.

Author Zane Baker calls it a demon from hell that will “keep you in never-ending turmoil” if you don’t learn to let it go.

French fashion designer Coco Chanel said that this self-infliction is “the most painful companion of death.” It sucks the life right out of you and you’re left with no defense to face the challenges of a new day.

Yugoslavian novelist Ivo Andric wrote, “There comes a time when a man finds himself in front of a dark uncrossable abyss, which he himself has spent years digging. He cannot go forward and has no way back. Words have failed and tears won’t help. …”

Its causes do not foreshadow the aftereffects. She should have kept her eyes on the road and not looked down at her cellphone before she crashed into the other car. He should never have gone to the hotel room to meet his married secretary after work. She should not have slipped those two 50-dollar bills into her purse from the money she collected at the fund drive. Did he have to steal the tool box from the hardware store? Why did she say those words to make her sister cry? What did he think he would accomplish when he cursed at the umpire during the Little League Baseball game?

For the moral majority, these actions bring an aftershock that weighs heavily upon their minds. For the morally impaired, every explanation one can think of will bulletproof their brains from any shots of tormenting pain.

She needed to read that text at that moment because her boyfriend was breaking up with her. He deserved a fling with his secretary because he wasn’t getting along with his wife. She didn’t have money to buy her daughter a birthday gift so she took the $100 from the fund drive. He stole the toolbox just because nobody in the store was around to catch him doing it. Her sister cried. So, what’s the big deal? He cursed out the umpire for making so many horrible calls.

If you block this monster from gnawing at your mind, you’ll never be bothered by what hurtful consequences your actions may cause. You can justify robbing a bank. You can even rationalize committing murder. You can lie to your best friend and not feel bad or lie to your spouse or lie to anyone else. Free of any moral responsibility, you simply don’t have to care about what you say or do. If you can keep this demon from hell from making you feel regret, you remove any blame from yourself.

The other side of the conversation will say burdensome thoughts and feelings are not a curse, but a godsend. It’s a blessing in disguise. It keeps us compassionate and empathetic, two character traits that give us a collective sense of being human.

Those who can’t or won’t feel empathy make up a large percentage of the prison population. They feel no regret for their crimes, and if they had the capability of making moral decisions, then they would not have committed their atrocities in the first place.

“Sometimes, the mistake is not the problem,” said American philosopher Michael Bassey Johnson. “It’s the lack of remorse that is the real mistake.”

We all say we’re sorry, but do we really mean it? If we do, that’s because we feel bad for hurting someone we care about. If we don’t, then we’re trying to make what we did wrong go away and hope the person we hurt will let us off the hook.

American songwriter Jakob Dylan explained in simple terms why it’s important to feel guilt for the pain our actions or words can cause.

“A guilty conscience,” he said, “means at least you have one.”

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com.