Tuesday, November 17, 2009

nuggets

Nuggets of wisdom can be found everywhere: plaques, posters, greeting cards, tote bags, even tea bags!

Among my favorites:
  • The battle of the sexes will never be won, there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
  • Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first, and the lesson afterward.
  • The hand that holds the car keys rules the family.
One such tote bag caught my eye recently, and I wrote down the quote and propped it by the phone on my desk. It claims a place of such prominence not because it trumps all other wisdom, but because I thought I would do something with it soon. Like put it on a greeting card!

I have been engaging in a pretty thorough course of self-examination over the last several days, and this morning one of the lines of this “nugget” stood out: “Choose with no regret,” it reads, followed by “Continue to learn.”

That first one gave me lots to think about. In the world of drama we are often shown a character looking at his or her life and coming to terms with its potential end right around the corner. The phrase “I have no regrets,” is uttered, the implication being that coming to the end of one’s life without regrets is a kind of finish line to cross. Perhaps it is. Maybe the substance of regret is the grist we are given for the mill of our being, to grind through and come to terms with the consequences of our choices, accept them and let them go. I can buy into that. But I also know that some unfortunate consequences have a long life span, and their impact on our lives can reverberate a very long time.

I have plenty of regrets about choices I have made. To the best of my ability I strive to make good choices with the information I have at the time. I think that is a fair standard for any of us when it comes to making choices. Held up to the light of scrutiny when all the information is gathered and evaluated is when we are able to recognize the flaws in what we chose. “If I’d known then what I know now…” But we don’t know. If we’re lucky, and perhaps intentional, we’ll learn from the experience when our choices head down the path to regret (see teabag wisdom about experience, above).

What I think “Choose with no regret” is really getting at, however, is the freedom to choose without second-guessing ourselves. It might be something as mundane as picking a color from one of L.L. Bean’s plethora of options when purchasing a turtleneck (or a t-shirt for my friends in the tropics). When a high school senior chooses a college, a more critical choice, the wisdom must hold, as well.

I think choosing without regret means not uttering the phrase that begins with “I wish I had (or hadn’t)…” The reality at such times is that we didn’t do, say, or act as we had the opportunity to do. Regretting our choices at such a time does help us learn to pay attention to the things we have before us to consider at any point in time. I have learned, for instance, not to buy an article of clothing that I absolutely love when no viable opportunity to wear it is likely (or when it is just snug enough that I think that I really will lose the weight to be able to wear it!). But more importantly I am learning that the regret of not doing weighs more heavily on me than regretting doing something. I am working on understanding what part of my being interferes with action, and trying to determine how I can rehabilitate the character flaw that keeps me from getting to my feet, putting pen to paper, or getting out the mixing bowls.

I suppose that what it boils down to is that regret is opportunity. What we do with, whether or not we learn from it, is what shapes the choices we make in the future.

What do you think?
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2 comments:

Mompriest said...

At this point in my life, having moved my family across country for a job that I resigned from after 19 months, I have an armful of regret. I lean into Mary Oliver for my sense of wisdom that may one day come from this:

The Uses of Sorrow (In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

"Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

(Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006)

Jayne said...

Like you said, we make decisions based upon what we KNOW right then. It's easy to look back and wish that we'd had more information or intuition, but the truth of the matter is that we don't, and so we do the very best we can. Sometimes it's the best decision we ever made, and other times, well, not so much. But, in it, we do grow, and learn so that when presented with another decision, we can add that to our arsenal of experiences and choose with more information.

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