Mildly annoying quirks can do serious damage to your soul.
By Stephanie Hertzenberg
Everyone has at least a few bad habits. Some poor habits are only mildly irritating and do no real harm. For example, someone who chews their finger nails has a nasty habit, but it is not hurting anyone. It may gross out their friends, but no one is seriously adversely affected. There are also people who are always running late. This can be a more seriously problematic habit as it inconveniences friends and family and can lead to people missing buses, trains or airplanes because they had to wait for the person who was running late. There are also bad habits that can be serious problems and cause health difficulties. Any variety of addiction, whether to drugs or to a person’s smartphone, is a critical issue. Other bad habits, such as routinely skipping out on sleep or eating unhealthy meals, can also do damage to a person’s body and mind.Bad habits can reach more than just the physical and emotional levels of a person. Bad habits can also effect a person’s spiritual growth and expression. Even “harmless” bad habits can do damage to a person’s faith through one of a variety of ways.
Everyone procrastinates from time to time. They put off cleaning the gutters because they hate how the bits and pieces of leaves stay tangled in their hair no matter how many times they wash it. They procrastinate writing up that report for their boss because they really hate crunching numbers. They avoid preparing for that meeting with their children’s coach because the woman really gets on their nerves, and they do not want to think about her any more than necessary.
Most people are aware that procrastination can harm a person’s work or academic life. It is hard for a person to do their best work if they are scrambling to meet a deadline. Putting unpleasant things off, however, can also start to hurt a person’s faith. A Hindu may have to hurry through puja because they really need to finish writing that report. A Christian may end up skipping church on Sunday because they have to get all the housework they have been avoiding done. A Muslim may find themselves rushing or skipping prayers in order to cram a little more work into a day. A Jew may find it impossible to keep Shabbat depending on how badly things have piled up during the week. It may seem harmless, but putting things off often comes back to haunt a person in some spiritual way.
While it is annoying to have a friend who is always running late, tardiness is not a bad habit that most people would assume causes spiritual harm. Lateness, however, can do some spiritual damage. Running late either to church for Christians or prayer for Muslims can throw off the entire experience. Tardiness can mean that the person is not in the proper frame of mind to really be present. They may be standing in the church or mosque, but mentally they are still elsewhere. Running late can also mean a Muslim rushes through wudu and may accidentally forget a step.
Tardiness is also problematic for all adherents of religions that have karma as a central doctrine.Forever inconveniencing others or causing problems by being late can build up poor karma for adherents of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Neopagans are not excluded from such spiritual problems either. A number of Neopagan traditions believe in karma or a similar force. Wiccans, for example, hold to the Law of Threefold Return, the idea that any action a person takes, whether good or ill, will be revisited on them three fold. Goodness thus begets goodness, and harm begets harm. One could also argue that causing problems by forever being tardy is a violation of the Wiccan Rede, “Do as ye will so long as it harms none.” “Harm” can be tricky to define, but tardiness has the potential to cause enough problems to potentially fit the bill.
It is always frustrating to watch some be deliberately wasteful. While everyone has at some point overestimated how much food they want at the buffet, some people make a habit of being flagrantly wasteful. They leave the lights on when they go to work. They drive the 50 feet between two mall shops instead of walking. They always order large meals, but they never take home the leftovers. If anything, they do not seem to believe in leftovers at all. They turn the heat up as high as it goes and sit around in shorts during the winter, and they throw away perfectly good phones in order to upgrade to the latest and greatest. To anyone who was raised to “waste not, want not,” this sort of attitude is infuriating. It can also do some spiritual harm. Most religions emphasize charity and prohibit greed. Wastefulness flies in the face of both of those ideals.
For how much people tend to complain, one would think that everyone is living miserable lives. In reality, however, most people complain simply because it is expected of them. People are far more likely to start conversations about either things that annoy them or troublesome events in their life than they are by telling a coworker or neighbor about something good that just happened. In addition to turning people into a flock of small Johnny Rain Clouds, complaining about everything is a good way to do some spiritual damage. When a person complains, they focus on everything that is wrong in their life. This leads to anger at the problem, envy toward those who seem to have fewer or lesser problems and a certain greediness for either a lifestyle that requires no complaining or a complaint that can “one-up” someone else. Buddhists are taught to avoid greed, envy and anger at all costs, and Christians are not supposed to embrace greed and envy either. Some Neopagans believe that a person attracts what they focus on and so see complaining as a good way to cause further problems in a person’s life.
Endless complaining also causes people to lose track of the things that are going right in their life. When a person complains, they are not feeling gratitude, and being thankful for the blessings a person does experience is a large part of several religions.
Everyone has been out to lunch with a friend only to find that their friend is more interested in tapping away at their phone than actually interacting with the person sitting across the table. This sort of technological overload often harms relationships, limits friendships and can cause physical damage when a person who is overloading themselves on technology stays up late reading Facebook or eschews exercise in favor of watching the latest video from their favorite YouTuber. Even before technological overload hits the point of addiction, an obsession with technology can cause all sorts of spiritual problems. Too much time on social media may lead a person to be overly judgmental when they compare carefully posed pictures with true candid images. They may also get swept up into the digital lynch mobs that form so easily on platforms such as Tumblr. Even if no one is physically hurt, hate filled words and insults definitely break the “do no harm” rule found in nearly every religion.
A person who is always dealing with technology can also find themselves getting into trouble with all sorts of temptations. The Abrahamic religions place a lot of emphasis on sexual morality, but the internet is overflowing with porn. Gambling is often eschewed by religions, yet online betting is big business. While plenty of people manage to deal with the internet without getting themselves into trouble, there are also a lot of people who start out with good intentions and end up getting in over their heads. Surrounding oneself with temptation and hoping for the best is not normally a plan slated for success.
Never Say ‘No’
“No” is a word in the human vocabulary for a reason. There will inevitably be times when a person is asked to do something that they do not want to do, cannot do or that will harm them or someone else. In those times, “no” is the response. There are some people, however, who struggle to say “no.” This may seem like a small and harmless problem, but being unable to say “no” can cause almost endless struggles. A person who cannot say “no” will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by tasks and duties that they do not have the time, energy or resources to perform.
An inability to say “no” can also lead to a number of spiritual problems. A person who cannot say “no” may find themselves being pressured into taking part in activities that are against their faith. A Muslim may find themselves struggling to refuse an alcoholic drink or pressured by oblivious friends into wearing clothing that they find to be immodest. A Christian may find themselves unable to turn down an invitation to a séance, and a Jew may find themselves sitting uncomfortably in a restaurant grappling with the decision to eat food that they have no way of knowing whether or not is kosher or skipping dinner. It may seem like more of a time management issue, but an inability to say “no” can rapidly become a real spiritual problem.
Bad habits are never fun nor are they easy to break, but it can be done. With a little creativity and some patience, a person can get rid of their poor habits and replace them with new, better ones. Breaking bad habits will not only help a person physically and emotionally, but it can also help a person who is struggling spiritually reconnect with the good in their life and the power of their faith.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a writer and editor at Beliefnet. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and minored in Creative Writing. She maintains an avid interest in health, history and science.