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Regret. Everyone knows it, everyone feels it. It’s the most powerful, obvious, and yet intangible manifestation of the consequences of our ill-intentioned actions and missed opportunities, or as we like to call it under the disguise of our insecurities, “mistakes”. Regret is to us what a hangover is to a senseless night of drinking; it’s tiresome, unproductive and makes you want to hate yourself. I know, it’s a cliché of an example and I regret not improving my knowledge for the lack of a better analogy.
It’s a funny thing. The fundamentally human thing to do when we are confronted about something is to deny that we are responsible for what are being held accused for. No one likes being confronted. It puts us on a tough spot outside our comfort zone. And here’s the funny part, when we deny the obvious, there’s a little part inside of us, a tiny, muffled voice in our head that advises us to admit to our mistake or at least acknowledge it. It’s the voice of regret.
Regrets, among other things, are like feedback to our life system. And as feedbacks go, the realization of the feedback depends on the type of system. And as every system has its own time response, regret manifests itself in different ways and at different times in all of us. Some of us feel the instant hit of realization whereas the regret haunts the some of us at a far later stage in life.
Humans are funny creatures. We all have a vivid universe of colorful thoughts, sparkling ideas, miserable phases, exciting times, and cherished memories. We all perceive the world in our unique way. We process emotions differently and dealing with regret is no exception to this variety. And in all this diversity of existence, we are, somehow, organized.
People can be arrogant. People can be ignorant. Sometimes, they can be both. And this hybrid of human traits engenders a dangerously rigid mindset which is borderline ego-maniacal. There’s an underlying belief based on ignorance and denial that boldly empowers them. They don’t consider their decisions as bad or malicious. Thus, there’s a lesser probability that these people spontaneously and inherently feel regret. When somebody else points to them about their decisions and their effect on the lives of other people, the regret they feel is usually in the form of a blow to their ego. If they aren’t still blinded by their egomania, then they undergo a transformation so beautiful whose ripples change the lives of other people for the better. But if their arrogance dominates their vulnerability to change, then even after being confronted of their mistakes there’s little to no change as to how they carry on with their life.
Let me tell you something about people on the different end of the spectrum. Unlike others who are ignorant, these people are practical. They may be a little bit egoistic, but then everyone else is, but certainly not ignorant. They are equally welcoming towards whatever life throws at them. They don’t see regret as a character flaw or repulsive experience instead they accept it as an opportunity to learn from their regret. They learn, they shut up, and they move on. They don’t let the regret affect their life more than it needs to. They wield a special power to find the best in things, in people, in the world and they carry on forward with the same infectiously zealous mindset throughout their life. These people are legit cool.
And then there’s God. It is overwhelming at times to realize how our faith in the intangible can guide and empower some of us to tread through our lives. It doesn’t matter if people are rude or not; oblivious or not, they are always humble before God. And in their faithful humility towards God, they see regret as a divine intervention to improve their modest lives. They believe by atoning to the consequences of their actions, they are setting things straight with the higher power. They acknowledge regret as a mode of redemption, plain and simple. They believe that it was their fate to bear this weight and it is under this weight they will emerge as a better version of themselves. At least, it is better that faith in the impossible can help people be better versions of themselves.
But there are exceptional people, like myself, who take some form of regret way too personally. If you’re anything like me, which is to say generally casual yet surprisingly introverted, you are quite familiar with the pang that a past decision can leave in your heart. It feels acute and heavy and the only thing you can do about is blame yourself for it. You realize that at the center of your misery and dread are the decisions you took. On some level this makes sense but what’s really annoying is the way the regret is dealt. It exhausts you of your time, energy, and optimism. It shatters almost every structure of hope in your mind and replaces it with self-pity and comically low levels of self-esteem.
One day you’re really good friends with this amazing person in your second year engineering course and the next day you ask a mutual friend to tell her to “be at an arm’s distance” from you. One year later, when your equation with that person is not good as it once held the potential to be, you realize, in hindsight, that it was all your fault, which is true. You will be good friends with that person again but only if you knew that this time around, “good” means the generic and mediocre good. Here’s the silver lining though, all this introspection and realization of your past mistakes instills a pure shred of humility in your existence which will only grow beautiful with time and a little self-awareness. It transforms you, gradually but effectively, into a person which is naïve enough to make mistakes, stubborn enough to avoid any regret, and humble enough to accept it and learn from it.
So don’t fear regret, face it, embrace it, and learn from it. It is a dangerously powerful tool that can build a better future or destroy a steady present. It is a quagmire, a metaphorical swamp; once sucked in all you can do is struggle and desperately pray for a second chance, not to make the same mistake that got you stuck. But here’s an interesting afterthought though, if you were indeed given a second chance at life, can you proclaim with certainty not to commit those mistakes again?