Regret

10 Sep, 2012

“‘I accept the universe’, exclaimed Margaret Fuller, a New England transcendentalist but me, myself and I had never accepted the universe. Never had I ever experienced a brimming satisfaction about my affairs; a way of life is always flawed, a goal always slight, a success always amiss, a love always corrupt and the past, well, always unfulfilled. This changed when a shrewd afghan farmer by the name of Tayeb explained to me his concept of Pushemani-o-Tasur. As his stocks of Urdu and my strands of Kabuli Pashto finally began to sew meaning, it became clear that he was alluding to an eternal, inevitable truth of the human existence: regret. It’s a universal abstraction but Tayeb believes (and eventually, so did I) that it is not a curse but a credit; one must not solicit a life devoid of regret but one positively defined by it.

We all feel it. At its axiomatic basic, regret is a repentance of the past. Be it a missed opportunity, a moment of absolute idiocy or a rueful decision, it’s never exactly a cloud-nine-esque experience. So much so, that popular culture preaches the pursuit of a life with ‘no regrets’ because after all ‘you only live once’ and you must ‘seize the day’. It’s called carpe diem, my friends and you’d be damned if you Amite Occasionem i.e. let the opportunity slip by.

Nonsense.

We’ve taken it all a bit too literally, I’m afraid. They’re great ideals to have if you don’t use them to justify your irrational desires but far too often we rationalize citing the notion that otherwise an imminent haunting of regret awaits us. ‘I’ll regret not going out’ is a common song and dance during the exam period. Potential regret has become a source of largely unnecessary anxiety for modern society and regret about the past is falsely understood as unnecessary baggage. Basically, as Shakespeare famously wrote, ‘Things without all remedy should be without regard; what is done is done.’ Admirable philosophy, one might think. Except this is Lady Macbeth asking her husband to man up about having murdered people. We strive to either live a life free of regret or attempt to become immune to it. Ironically, the inability to feel regret is a symptom of psychopathy. ‘Life is full of contradictions’, Tayeb said and only once we have properly digested this notion will we truly be able to locate the knots we have knit and must carefully undo or far better, stitch our lives around.

Many of us returning this year will have several major regrets from the past year. Research shows that thirty-three percent of all our regrets pertain to decisions we made about education – more than anything else and followed by romance and career. So university seems to be a breeding ground for regret and we must make our peace with it. But how? The passage of time will heal the pain and some good-natured dark humor will help but in the end, we must take comfort in the universality of it. It is important for us to understand that regret is only a by-product of an endless pursuit of dreams and aspirations. The fact that we feel pain when things go wrong is proof that the human spirit is still bent on doing its best, that there are higher grounds in all aspects of life. Say, for example, the human race did not feel regret having hurt a loved one. Well, it’s true that we’d feel far less regret through out our lives but would we really want to live in this type of a world? What Tayeb believed was that the human race still needed to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things we create and forgive ourselves for creating them because regret is not a sign that we did badly but that we can do better.

Margaret Fuller, a New England transcendentalist exclaimed ‘I accept the universe’. Upon hearing this, a British writer, Thomas Carlyle retorted with ‘By god, she’d better!’ We need to accept the universe because we have no other choice. So here’s to a year full of lessons applied.

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