Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do We Truly Regret Our Supposed Regrets?

When you find yourself regretting something, ask yourself this: if I could go back to that pivotal crossroads knowing only what I knew when I made said decision, would I do anything different than before?

How could you without additional information?

On the other hand, my own suspicion is that most people view regrets from the "safety" of retrospection. As in, "if only I had known BEFORE I started playing the lottery that I would win EXACTLY NOTHING after dumping thousands of dollars into it, I would NEVER have played it to begin with!" But this, when analyzed rationally and objectively, is NOT regret. It is essentially COMMON SENSE!

After all, it does not require regret to state the obvious: a rational person would NEVER knowingly throw money away (I apologize to those that view the lottery as a noble tool for funding schools and other such social goods, so for the sake of argument, suppose lottery proceeds are akin to throwing money into a bottomless pit!) As such, is the idea of regret really tenable?

Examples of "regret":

A girl regrets having a one night stand only after she finds out she is pregnant or has contracted an STD. But her regret is not really regret. It is resentment over the fact that the outcome is not in accordance with her expected outcome, which of course was that she could partake in a brief sexual tryst free of any long-term negative consequences. Once again, it is NOT regret. Sexual temptations know not regret! It is simply hoped they can be satisfied without inconvenient consequences. A rational person would NEVER engage in risky sexual relations if it was known pregnancy, assuming it is unwanted, or disease would result.

Somebody regrets going through a yellow light only after he is involved in a wreck or perhaps handed a traffic citation. Once again, it is not regret, rather it is resentment over the inconvenient and expensive consequences of the unforeseen result. Would anybody regret getting through a yellow light unscathed? Of course if a crystal ball revealed the forthcoming collision or citation, he would have stopped. This would simply be a rational act of using additional information to make a more informed decision.

Some people are regretful we went to war with Iraq only after our supposed pretext for it (WMD) appeared to be erroneous. It is not regret, rather it is resentment over the fact that our supposed pretext was unfounded.

Somebody regrets studying a "dead-end" discipline only after the technology industry exploded with prosperity. Once again, it is not regret, rather it is disappointment that this was not known beforehand.

Somebody regrets not studying harder and taking education more seriously only much later in life (I find myself in this very predicament at the ripe age of 37!). But this is not regret. It is simply acknowledging a most annoying aspect of life: youth is oftentimes wasted on the young.

Many times I have thought that if I could go back in time KNOWING WHAT I KNOW NOW, I would do things somewhat/much differently. But so would everybody else! Once again, this is NOT regret! It is COMMON SENSE! Regret would be to claim that "knowing exactly what I knew BACK THEN, I would thus do things somewhat/much differently if given the opportunity to do it over". But how could I possibly do things ANY differently if I knew only and exactly what I knew BACK THEN?

Therefore, regret seems to me an untenable concept, perhaps stemming from the ego's tendency to deny things it doesn't like!

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