KD-ADS: Expanding Horizons

Cos thinking should never be stagnant...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Remembrance, Regret and Possibilities

Before I turn into the theme of my post, let me give some unreserved apologises for not updating for so long. There have been major changes in my life, and I have not given any thought to updating my blog since I doubt it has attracted any readers. Nevertheless, there has been a pivotal moment in my life, and I would like to elucidate my thoughts. My hope is to continue penning my thoughts on a regular basis from here on.

When one catches up with the past, such as meeting an old friend, or an ex-partner, there is usually the tendency to conduct a "review" of the times spent together in the past. In many cases, most people would surprise each other of the developments that each has undergone since those years. Further, they may learn more about each other when they reminesene about the past, and reveal the underlying feelings, thoughts, and experiences that each other had not expected.

This is one of the beauties of an exercise in remembrance. In conjuring up memories, one is met with new interpretations and a "re-experiencing" of those experiences. Falling in love for the first time can never be copied again, due to its very nature (i.e. the first time), but in remembrance, one almost imagines and "re-lives" that experience again. Perhaps you even fall in love for the 2nd time, because you are now able to appreciate the moment more deeper. You may even appreciate what was done in the past, and wish to improve the present from here on. That is one of the mysterious wonders of memories. Memories are not just units of stored experiences in a box; rather, they can become alive and refreshed, almost as crisp as a touch of fresh air when you surface out of a sea of water.

Nevertheless, in remembrance, there are also negative and painful aspects in the exercise, especially when one recalls the embarassing, shameful and painful moments of their past. Typically, one only cringes at these thoughts, because it would seem so out-of-character and outside-of-their-being to have done that, such as dating a particular person or doing something ridiculous to impress a person. Here, the person has the gift of "hind-sight" to understand the implications of his/her previous actions. Further, s/he will perhaps wish that they had the "fore-sight" at that time not to have followed that course of actions. There arises the question, is that said person experiencing "regret"?

There are many people who are fearful of carrying "regrets" in life. For these people, there is an implicit notion that "regret" connotates "stupidity", "naive-ness", "ignorance" or simply "lack of foresight/hindsight" at that respective moment in time. Rather, there seems to be great comfort in saying "I have no regret in life" because the notion is read as: "I learnt a lot from what I experienced, and since I can't take it back, I shall have no regrets" or "Regret is only for the weak". Indeed, it seems that "regret" is like a form of self-punishment, because it begs the question of why a person has been foolish to have done what s/he should be ashamed of.

However, there is an interesting interplay here, whereby, in his/her attempt to acknowledge "regret", a person seems to say that "I never had that foresight or hindsight in the first place, so I had to experience what I had in order to learn my lesson". The odd thing, that we have to ask, is if that is true? Do people enter relationships with partners, friends, business colleagues and activity partners with no sense of the likelihood of outcome or the future? Can a person claim to be betrayed when she enters a relationship with a man known to be promiscuous, deceitful and unfaithful and yet claim that she had no fore-sight of what's to happen? Can a person claim that he has nothing to "regret" when he enters and loses a business venture with a colleague of less than credible qualifications, and yet claim that he had no other choice but to learn his "lesson" about business survival tactics through this experience?

It seems to me, that "regret" is not a dirty word when viewed in the perspective of a human being. Unless you are a omniscient God, nobody can claim to have hindsight before an incident happens. That's just the meaning of the word "hind-sight", that only upon the expiration of the event, would you have obtained insight and reflection. Only with hindsight, then perhaps should the event ever happen again, you would now know what to do. And anybody would guess that by now, you would pursue a slightly different path. Even if the action undertaken is the same as before (i.e. enter the relationship with that recalcitrant boyfriend of a bully), the impact and effects would surely be different (i.e. with hind-sight, you would not be so easily hurt; not give in to him so easily; or maybe not bash him with that lamp).

Perhaps there are two kinds of "regrets". One of them, which has been discussed, is what I label, as the "no-face regret". Namely, the kind of "regret" most people don't have on their face, which is to accept that whatever has happened in their lives, can not be changed, and they have come out a "better" person after that. Whether it be coming out of an abusive relationship, a truth-telling session with your beloved family members, or a rough interrogation of your friend for his/her licentious ways, most people seem to assume that it is for the better that they have learnt from that experience.

But that raises a puzzling question if that particular "experience" is essential to the learning and adoption of a lesson learnt. Simply put, Wouldn't it be presumptuous to assert that in order to learn algebra, one can only obtain it by going for the maths class in secondary school? Were there no other ways to gain the knowledge of algebra? Or do we still claim that in order to learn about child abuse and its horrors, a person has to be abused as a child in order to understand that "experience"? Does learning about the negative effects of betrayal have to come about from actually having to experience betrayal itself? If the answer to these questions is yes, then we can never claim to have any knowledge of fore-sight. That is the opposite of hind-sight, which is to have knowledge and an intuitive understanding of the "experience" before living the actual event. A "yes" answer to the above questions implies that fore-sight would be an impossible task for our cognitive structure, and everyone is blessed or doomed (depending on your view of "regret") to always have to undergo an authentic (and one assumes, painful) experience in order to obtain hind-sight.

Hence, there is another kind of "regret", perhaps abruptly simplified, to my mind, as "regret of not knowing what I know now", a.k.a "regret with a human face". There is a simple illustration to this. Thinking back on the past pivotal events in my life, there is a sense that I have regrets on what I have done. I had no fore-sight at that time, and no knowledge of the impeding outcomes of my decisions and actions. When the time has passed, of course, I would like to say I never regret doing what I did, i.e. "no-face regret". But then again, if I were possessed with the knowledge of what I hold now, perhaps I do regret that I had not undertaken a different course of action, i.e. one which would have less negative impact, i.e. "regret with a human face". For being a human being, I would no doubt not ask for pain and suffering where possible. And if I knew that doing something different back then may have changed the magnitude of pain, shamefulness and suffering that came along with it, I would have to say I "regret" doing what I did.

"Regret" is never usually seen as synonmous with "possibility". One imagines that "regret" is such a negative word that causes one to lose their perspective of their own life, values, strengths and is essentially "self-denying". But, as with sadness, anger, jealousy and bitterness, these emotions can never be just categorical moral epithets; rather, they are always part of the make-up of happiness, envy, joy and peace. Just as one can feel contended with their life, it is the complete human being who feels "regret" that s/he is able to move on and progress into a different stage of their lives. If growth in self-actualisation requires critique and self-reflection on one's history, then surely ponderance on alternative actions and desires in previous experiences will surface up, in which case "regret" is to accompany along.

Possibilities only arise when someone is able to assess the gaps and inadequacies of his past, present and future. The idea of "regret" is to teach you that there were possibilities in the past; it does exist in the present; and it is up to you to take advantage of them in the future. Nobody can do the impossible task of having "regret" for the future, because the window is always open and the empty spaces are always perceived as possibilities (no matter how weak or strong). What matters is whether people are open to learning from "regrets", and not living away from a life with no "regrets".

Writing this post came at a certain point in my life where the significant people in my life have come together and each of them have changed my life in various ways. I feel obligated to dedicate a brief note to these people, who have been the main drivers for the themes behind this post.

To the person who has initiated a long conversation with me in reviewing our history, it was a beautiful and unforgettable episode where I was satisfied to resolve our differences, but also learn of your new feelings towards me.

To the person who I may have to contend with possible "regret", it is with due remembrance that I will forever think of you as one of the most important person in my life , who has taught me a lot about myself and joined me in learning more about the world. Painful as life can be, my memories of you will remain pivot to my life, and rest assured, there is no regret in ever knowing you.  

To the person who I have helped to give life, the world is now in your hands, full of possibilities, and left up to your discretion to create your own memories. Even if you should live without any memories of me, know that there is nothing for you to regret and that you shall live your world with fresh optimism and eagerness. Never ever live your life with a regret that you were born. That is only what I would want out of you.