Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prematurely Regretful?

By coincidence yesterday, I read two articles on regret, the first early in the morning on a 5:30 subway train, the second late in the evening at 8:30 on my sofa. But who cares for such concrete details? The sequence could just as well have been reversed, right? Actually, no, the two came to me in the better sequence. No regrets about that.

I first read Kim Seong-kon's "James Bond and older men's wisdom, knowledge" (Korea Herald, November 14, 2012, p. 15). Here's his photo, from the Korea Herald:

And here's his opening paragraph, which I found more fitting for me than for him:
As I grow older, I begin to look back upon my past with remorse and regret. During my lifetime, I must have done . . . a few good things . . . . Sadly, however, I . . . can only think of all the mistakes I have made, whether unwittingly or intentionally. Full of regrets, I often whisper to myself silently, "I shouldn't have done that. How could I have been such an imbecile?"
I seriously doubt that Professor Kim is an imbecile, for I've met him and he makes a good impression. Not that my judgment is unimpeachableable, given that I have so often been such an imbecile, much to my regret.

But I need not despair, for the second article, Erica Brown's "Time to get your regrets right" (International Herald Tribune, November 14, 2012, p. 9), offers advice . . . but first her photo, from the The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington:

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

According to Ms. Brown, regret grows as death nears:
In the course of research for a book on death and how to overcome fear of mortality, I spent years speaking to dying individuals and their families. The notion, famously attributed to Samuel Johnson, that nothing concentrates the mind like imminent death jumped off the page again and again as I conducted my research. Imminent death often occasions self-reflection and, with it, disappointment and remorse.
As I have so many regrets but am only 55, I must be prematurely regretful. Death could be fast approaching! How frightening! What to do? Her advice: Use index cards. How? By writing down some regrets:
Regret is an essential part of repentance in Jewish law, and, as a Jewish educator, I find myself thinking about regret each year before Yom Kippur. As part of my research into the subject this year, I handed out index cards to my students from age 18 to over 80, and asked them to list a small regret and a large regret.
That's the depressing part, especially since I've just written my regret: "I regret that death may be fast approaching." But not to despair, for one also writes down a way to transform one's regret into something positive:
I have saved my index cards. I asked the original holders of the cards to flip them over and write down one thing they could do to improve how they live. You can't eliminate a regret, but you can transform one. Imagining a way to fix the future was easier than most students thought and provided a better, more realistic life solution than invincibility. It offered a sliver of optimism. I am keeping the cards because they remind me that death may be around the corner.
I don't know how this advice about fixing the future applies to my mortal regret since death is precisely what might be lurking just around the corner. One of those big convex traffic mirrors for seeing ahead would be more useful! But perhaps I just have to deal with my regret like a man of classical antiquity. Write something classic and leave behind a great name. But for that, I'd need more index cards. I regret not having bought more, but there's a shop just around the corner . . .

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At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is possible to live without regret. Regret is often culturally constructed and thus should be thoroughly analyzed and rejected. Regret is living in the past and worrying over things we can't change anymore. It is this false belief that only in our youth we can do constructive things, that the world belongs to the young, we are passe and can only be passive spectators rather than participants, thus bitterness is growing within us as we get older. It is this insane conviction that in order to be useful we need to impress others and go with the flow but lacking the vitality and endurance of the young think that we are of no use anymore. Regret is the inability to see the big picture and leave our worries and sorrows at the cross, and what's worse a belief that some kind of punishment for all our mistakes awaits us after our death. It is the erroneous notion that somehow we can be perfect creatures in the imperfect world and that we could have done things better. No we couldn't. With the current level of awareness we do our best anyway. And on and on...
I myself did a gazillion of foolish things and unfortunately hurt many people throughout my life, but never look over my shoulder and think how it would be if I had done things differently. If things are beyond repair we just have to let them go. There's still so much to be done, I still have so many plans that I'll be busy for the rest of my life and I don't give a rat's behind what others think about it or which direction the world decided to take this year. Past is just past, and it's where it should remain, and the future is mine no matter what.


At 12:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good comment, Jacek. I acknowledge a few regrets, but I don't dwell on them because I have a good relationship and am happy.

Jeffery Hodges

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