Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.

Our biggest regret

Friday, May 21, 2010

We all have regrets. We've all done things we shouldn't have done or didn't do things we should have done. Even Frank Sinatra sang "regrets, I've had a few," in his classic song "My Way." So this is a common bond we share with each other.

There are two kinds of regrets: internal and external. When we feel bad about something we did that hurt ourselves, that's an internal regret. When we feel bad about something we did that affected others in a bad way, that's an external regret. External regrets are much easier to deal with than internal ones. If we have an external regret, we can apologize to the person we wronged; in fact we SHOULD apologize. But it's amazing how many people find this simple act so very hard to do.

It's hard because it's admitting fault and we don't like to do that. Many of us are very good at placing the blame on everything and everyone else except ourselves. We hear excuses and alibis all the time from high profile people like celebrities, politicians and athletes. If people would only live up to and take responsibility for their mistakes, most of us would forgive them and move on because we tend to be a forgiving people. When someone has the courage to admit their faults, we see a redeeming quality in that.

Many people believed that when President Nixon was caught red-handed and up to his ears in scandal and law-breaking, he should have gone on national television, issued a heart-felt apology, promised to never do anything like that again, and the public would have forgiven him. But instead of facing up to his errors, he stone-walled, lied, deceived, blamed everybody EXCEPT himself and ended up having to resign the presidency in disgrace; not because of what he did, but because of what he didn't do. He didn't take responsibility for his behavior and apologize to the people he disappointed and let down and he paid the price for it.

On the other hand, when our regrets are internal, they're harder to deal with because it's difficult to apologize to ourselves and even harder for us to accept our own apologies. When I look back on my own life, there have been mistakes made and wrong turns taken but for almost every single one of them, I didn't know it was a mistake or a wrong turn when I made it. Consequently, I have very few regrets, even though some things didn't turn out the way I wanted them to. When you give everything you have to give and leave nothing in the tank, whether it's a job, an athletic endeavor, or a relationship, then there's nothing more you could have done.

We always look back on things we failed at and ask what we could or should have done to have made things turn out differently. The fact is that's a very difficult thing to assess because we don't control other people and circumstances, no matter how much we wish we did. And we don't know what other people are thinking because so many of us say one thing while we're thinking another. So it's hard to know what to do based on the other person's perspective because we're not sure we know what it is. We only know what's in our own heart and head and that's why we do the things we do.

Some of us operate from a fear of the unknown. Rather than taking chances or forging a new frontier for our lives, we play it safe and stick to what we think we know for sure, even if what we know isn't necessarily good. We do this when we have little or no confidence in our own ability to make good decisions so we're always listening to other people and never to ourselves. If we lead our entire lives like this, one day we end up sitting in a rocking chair with our days numbered, saying, "I wish I would have."

And that's the biggest regret of all.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: