When we look over our lives, I would imagine that every one of us has regrets. As parents, we have regrets about how we parented. We have regrets when someone dies. We may have regrets about not taking a job opportunity or finishing college.
One of the regrets that stands out for me comes from my elementary school days. There was a boy in our class who was constantly picked on. The boy's name was Ben. He was somewhat unattractive. One day, the picking on Ben went too far. It was recess time so we all went out onto the playground. It was decided to play maul ball. Maul ball is when the ball is thrown up in the air and the person who catches it becomes the one everyone tackles. This time, the ball was thrown to Ben. Everyone piled onto him. When he came up out of the pile, it was discovered that his arm was broken. Ben was taken to the hospital. I was glad that I decided not to play that day. While I wasn't one of the ones who piled onto him, my regret is that I did not stick up for him.
My regret isn't that I participated in the harassment but that I didn't show any kindness to Ben by doing things such as sitting with him at lunch. The regret is that I chose being liked over showing kindness. I chose to "play it safe" over standing up for someone being harassed.
Having regrets doesn't mean being paralyzed
because of past events or constantly beating ourselves for past choices.
When we look back over our lives, how many different times and in how many ways did we choose being liked over showing kindness? Thinking about our regrets, do we ask ourselves why we chose to compromise or simply fade into the background? Did we choose being liked or safe over being kind and compassionate?
I like what Brene Brown writes about regrets in her book Rising Strong: ""No regrets' doesn't mean living with courage; it means living without reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life."
Having regrets doesn't mean being paralyzed because of past events or constantly beating ourselves for past choices. Regret can be a tool for learning about who we really are and what makes us tick. It is about being inquisitive about the motivations for our decisions. As we reflect upon our regrets, we can become more compassionate and willing to stand up in the face of injustice.
To this day, I wonder what Ben's life was like? Was he happy or did the cruelty impact his life so much that he never felt good about himself? I hope Ben found people in his life who saw something special in him and worked to bring that out.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700