I am always perplexed by the people who suffer over what has already passed, over what has been temporally “laid to rest,” so to speak — no matter how horrible! They often claim that they experience regret, an example would be the story of the man who lost his wife and continues to mentally burden his life long after her death – thereby darkening his relationship with his children. (1) What is regret? At its most succinct, it is an event or an occurrence that happened prior to the present moment: a chance experience in time that can never be exactly duplicated due to the fact that it has passed into the annals of history — usually personal history.
What makes this all so macabre, so pernicious, is that this concept — regret that is — is a mental attempt to relive a past event and recreate it in a more positive light – making it a non-event. What if it never happened? And because we can’t expunge it, we thus ache and agonize tremendously. Countless young students are permanently scarred by the failure of some test that they placed their entire future life on. They loop and re-loop the memory of the catastrophe again and again in their consciousness — often with very dire consequences. (2) As any beggar on the street in a slum (3) can clearly articulate, he — vagrants are usually men (4) — has a regret, an excuse that has brought him to this point.
Why do we do this? I believe it is because we accept regrets as real. I can recreate the past at will and feel its emotional turpitude as a result. What if someone told us that there was no such thing, emotionally, as regret? Much like the concept of the mythical unicorn, (5) it isn’t real. It is just one more example of social convention unnecessarily controlling our behavior. “Don’t live a life of regret, do such and such. If you don’t go to university you will regret it. Make sure you save for your retirement or you will regret it,” and the list goes on and on. What if the opposite were true? “So bad things happened, get over them. Be brave! You can survive. There are no heroes or cowards, there is only action,” etc.
My thinking is by no means unique: “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” (6) What we are left with is the realization that to overcome any event, no matter how gruesome, we must realize that as long as we live — we continue to exist — we have the opportunity to change and achieve success, as we define it.
It seems to me, unfortunately, that there is a great deal of acceptance of very low standards of excellence in contemporary society. The Internet is filled with mediocrity that has made its creators wealthy beyond Midas. (7) Our measures of human magnificence are just too low. We must banish this concept of regret from our lexicon. It is but an apology for not getting on with the arduous task of living and fulfilling our mission.
The great poet Langston Hughes (8) leaves us with a thought.
Out of love,
Though the goodness
Be wasted forever.
Out of love,
Though the return
A closing thought: We would be naïve to believe that pain and suffering are not a part of the human condition. The seminal question to be asked, however, is whether I want to live out my earthy existence in perpetual pain or in the contingency of joy and happiness? The answer would appear to be extremely simple and straightforward.
But, for the vast majority of humanity, it isn’t. Why? As a friend of mine related many years ago, “It is very easy to be unhappy, but hard to be happy.” In other words, the development of the self requires diligence and pain — much like body development at a gym. To accept what is and wallow in self-recrimination can certainly benefit no one – and most assuredly not you. We must learn to think critically about our time on this earth.
To sum up: This week we spoke about regrets and how they are neither real nor beneficial to the self.
To be noted: From Fr. Raimon Pannikar (8) — The goal of human nature, of any nature is blessedness. If we do not reach this goal, it is a sign that we are headed in the wrong direction.
This week, on your introspective walk, please ponder why you disavow the concept of regrets.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful.
Quote: Don’t be pulled down by failure rise like a phoenix from its ashes.
1) This is a reference to a previous article.
6) Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning (ISBN: 978-14-332-1042-6)