Choosing Regret

In 2022, I tried to be calmer. My perspective on things and the way I interacted with other people shifted as a result of my newfound commitment to meditation. I still don’t think I take it seriously enough. But meditation made me calmer. It had another effect. I realized it made me less willing to get run over. To be bullshitted. And this was arguably the more unexpected realization I carried into the first days of 2023.

Meditation has this soothing and hopeful image of clear understanding, of mediating compromise. You think of generally agreeable people when you think of people who meditate. I tend to fail that image. Yet I found it a source of strength to cut through the smoke of everyday chatter, opinions, and swaying self-images in societal fashions. Count me out, please. Because what does agreeable mean, after all? Agreeable to whom, and in whose eyes?

I can’t be happy with a bad compromise. But life requires negotiating. And there are times when I lack the composure to see past all the commotion, to see what makes a good compromise. In effect, this is always also a matter of accepting regret.

You can be happy with your choices even if they end up in failure. Because the alternative would have posed greater regrets.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin talked about making uneasy decisions when faced with unsolvable dilemmas. This unsolvable dilemma is reality. Berlin talked about value pluralism. Many values are admirable and worthy of pursuit. It is inconceivable that we would make a choice that is adverse to them. But these ideals can and frequently do clash with one another. Consider the fundamental contradiction between liberty and safety. Each principle is valuable, worthy of pursuit, and reasonable and good. However, freedom and security can be in a violent confrontation with one another. There is no way to have your cake and eat it too. You must make a choice. And this choice isn’t between something good and something wrong; it’s about which choice you might regret more in the long run.

You aren’t choosing between possible outcomes so much as you are choosing how you want to approach them. You are deciding which motivation you want to follow. You are deciding who you are.

Meditation gives me pause. It allows me to choose my regrets between the person that I could have been and the person that I am becoming. It allows me to live with myself honestly.

Isaiah Berlin

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I smell for a living. No, really: http://www.smellosophy.com

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