Thursday, October 30, 2003

Thought of the Day: illusory regret
I started thinking about regret today. I have some mildly major decisions to make, and fear of regret is a by-product of the decision process, both before and after. What triggered my thinking initially was the sight of a graying businessman on the El today, and the weariness conveyed by his face. Writers always read too much into these things, and accordingly I pegged him as someone bearing the weight of former dreams that never flourished, the results of choices he made, consciously or unconciously. And the relevant regret. Pick your metaphor: regret pricks you as you trace your memory, or it aches somewhere inside you, an occasional nuisance. (See, this is reading far too much into the sigh of an old man.) I was thinking about how foolish regret is, despite its power over us, the part of us that dreams and aspires. Regret usually bears the implication that you could and should have done something differently to achieve a different result. I was thinking today, on the front end of these decisions I have hanging over me, how illusory this assumption is, that we can do things and decide things and get a certain direct result. Life is so full of unintended consequences and unexpected twists and turns as to render regret erroneous--who can say whether choice x would have yielded result y? Some regrets are important corrective measures--I shouldn't have wasted my money or time on such and such a class or job or person. But others are illusions: if only I had gone back to school, or not gone back to school, if only I had married younger, or married older... These are idle pursuits. Life is about making a choice, following your heart, taking a step, and then adjusting on the fly to whatever happens next.

-From my B&C blog: Regret 'lacks immediacy,' says William O'Rourke
-Earlier Thought: What does selfless ambition mean?
-Previous Thought: The problem with listening

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