The Benefits of Regret

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Sometimes only in their darkest hour do people truly shine. Regretting the actions of the past isn't an overarching statement of general failure. It is a new beginning.

“I do not recall that.”

 Sometimes, only in their darkest hour do people truly shine. This is something the Japanese understand better than anyone. Sadly, this wisdom is often represented in the minds of a lot of westerners in the form of a sort of mawkish stereotype about servile, obsequious, perpetually bowing slaves. Believe it or not, Japanese people do not “like” feeling ashamed but many of them understand well enough when it is appropriate to do so.

Not to take sides here, being an American myself, but he reason I mention this, is because of how often I notice that other Americans tend to avoid shame like the Ebola virus. Even when it is deeply warranted and sorely needed. This is an attitude than continues to baffle those who understand the benefits of it to no end. And with good reason. Since when is the ability to reflect on your own mistakes meaningfully and think about how you could have done it better, a “bad” thing? On its face, it seems like common wisdom, yet if you look at the divide between people’s mistakes and their ability to connect them to their own flawed thinking, the sheer distance is staggering. If you fell in, you’d plummet to your death.

              It goes as far back as Richard Nixon’s speech justifying his own paranoia and manipulative behavior. From there, it stretches onward from the statements of banking CEO’s responsible for the 2008 financial crisis to those who planned and initiated the program to torture supposed terror suspects into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit to the countless college football coaches or players who insist that when women get drunk, it grants you the right to rape them.

             All of this follows a general theme, in case you haven’t noticed it yet, of people simply failing to accept the consequences of their own actions. If you’re still reading any of this, by now I’m sure you are probably starting to hear echoes of your parents wagging their fingers at you telling you there’s a lesson to be learned from all this and – if you were like most kids – can also still imagine yourself rolling your eyes and tuning them out.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t all the product of typical, parental frustration. Never admitting failure doesn’t make you seem more “adult”. Quite the opposite – it shows a deep lack of maturity. Sure, no one likes feeling depressed, but becoming a grownup doesn’t magically free you from those moments when you felt small and embarrassed as a kid for doing something obviously stupid. I’m proud to say it’s something I still feel at least once every weeks, if not once a day.

Too often both blame and shame are treated like human waste: when other, more important people make mistakes, they’re apparently free to “dump” it onto those who are less important and often, the least responsible for those mistakes. Naturally, this seems to free them not only from any sense of accountability for their actions but also any ability to avoid making those mistakes in the future.

The simple truth is, that prickling sense of embarrassment or disappointment in oneself is usually our own minds trying to help us grow as human beings – victims of other people’s actions naturally being excluded from that statement. Unfortunately, self-improvement isn’t exactly in “vogue” right now – or else, is a term that usually just makes people think of hitting the gym. In that way, it’s a little like all that stuff Evangelist preachers are always barking at people about – yet, at the same time, something completely different.

It isn’t being sorry for your own existence, it’s merely a moment of quiet reflection and gradual resolution to do it differently next time. It’s the reason Buddhist meditation is a lot older than those “self-improvement” seminars people go to and pay more successful people to make them feel bad about themselves. It was the “original” question that people seeking true enlightenment first asked of themselves. It’s not running from your own vulnerabilities or covering them up to make yourself seem more confident and impressing others. It is a sublime moment of eternal stillness in your “normal” life when you shut out all the noise of your ego and actually focus on your own vulnerabilities. And it is, beyond a shadow of doubt, something there is absolutely no replacement for.

 

 

 

 

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