Deb Zwez asks:
In light of the recent death of Roger Ebert, and your noted regret in not sending your book (your tribute was lovely, BTW) — and coupled with your obvious pleasure in how your life has turned out at this point in time, do you have any other regrets that may influence your future?
I’m not in a position to know what I will regret in the future, and I’m actually fairly happy about that, as I don’t imagine that there is much worse than waiting to do a thing you know you are fated to always regret. I do try to live my life in a manner so that I never have cause to regret anything; I like anyone else am imperfect on this score. Nevertheless, the attempt is useful, I think.
I’m happy to say that so far I don’t have any major regrets in my life, where “regret” would be defined as “a thing I would sorely like to go back in time and change, and thus materially alter my life from that point forward.” Much of that is due to the fact that (as Deb correctly surmised) I am very happy with where I am in my life. Since everything I’ve experienced in my life has led me to this point, why would I regret those things? It doesn’t mean that every one of those things made me happy at the time; they did not. Some of those events caused me a considerable amount of pain, either as they were happening, or later, or both. But now I am here, now, and I am very glad to be here, now. So.
What things I do regret are typically failures of ego: Where I have been rude to people through obliviousness, anger or fear; where I have hoped for favor for my deeds instead of doing a correct thing for itself; where my own desires have led me to act poorly or stupidly; where my laziness has kept me from right action. These are not typically things of life changing status, but they do remind me that there is a gap between who I am and who I wish I was, and that in that gap are people who, for no particularly good reason, I’ve been a dick to. These are the times when I had a chance to be a better person but let the chance get past me.
The way I deal with those regrets is pretty simple. One, I apologize as necessary — an act which for me is not about seeking forgiveness but rather acknowledging I was in the wrong, without excuse. Two, I try not to make the same dick move twice. Continually trying to be better than that is part of the process of trying to live without regret.
(In the interest of honestly I will admit that there are times where I am intentionally a dick to someone, because I thought it is needed or desirable at the moment. I don’t tend to regret those. And if in the fullness of time I do, well, see the paragraph above.)
To quote the famous line: “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then, too few to mention.” For me I’ve had enough to mention, but not of the sort that makes me wish my life had been different; just the ones that make me wish I was a better person. The good news is that I can keep working on being a better person. It’s a hell of a lot easier than going back in time, anyway.
(It’s not too late to get in a topic for Reader Request Week: Go here for the details and to leave your request!)