The one word that can destroy your peace of mind.

My father and I had numerous squabbles, many of which would turn ugly. He was by nature a hot headed person whereas I was a quiet, young adult, on the verge of stepping out into the world, full of hopes and dreams. We were polar opposites and it was but natural that we would disagree. And disagree we did.

In the hot flush of youth and inexperience, I would blow my fuse with him (and later on as a “mature” adult as well) , showing him a nasty side of mine, that I didn’t know I had. Of course, I didn’t do this merely on a whim; there were things he said and did which deeply hurt me. But instead of listening to him and being patient with my father, I would retaliate with caustic retorts and comments that struck deep inside of him – I could even see the hurt that was reflected in his eyes. Until one day, after a prolonged disease, he died.

Now that I am a father myself and I look back on those fights that I had with my dad, it hurts. To think that I had knowingly inflicted emotional wounds on the man who brought me up, who taught me right from wrong, who loved me unconditionally, forever. But it is too late now, for the sand cannot be returned to the hour glass, nor the spilt water back to the jug. It is too late for any words to sooth him now or calm my guilty mind. So I feel the constant burden of my past actions coming back to haunt me – I feel regret.

Regret is the one word that can have a prolonged negative impact on your being. It seeps unobtrusively into your mind and heart and is an outcome of your mistakes or missed opportunities, big or small. It withers your soul and eats into your conscience, holding you responsible for your past actions.

Regret is relentless in its stranglehold and will not ease up on you, even if you have erred many moons ago. It doesn’t care whether you made the mistake a year ago or ten. It continues to haunt you, whispering the bitter words of disappointment into your ears, making you feel terrible about whatever it is you said (or didn’t say) or did to yourself or to your loved ones.

As human beings we also happen to experience regret for all the opportunities that came our way and which we squandered out of our inexperience or indifference. Life presents us with many opportunities, some of them being golden gates to our dreams and aspirations. But how many of us pay heed to these decisive moments which are often dressed up as intractable obstacles in our way?

Instead of paying attention to the long term benefit of such good fortune, we fantasise about the difficulties in our path and kick these golden moments out of our life. A great example again, is of yours truly who despite having an opportunity to migrate, chose to ignore the same and missed the chance of a lifetime.

This emotion of regret needs to be nipped in the bud. In hindsight (of course after the event we are all experts), I can think of 2 ways in which I could have prevented this intruder from invading my mindspace.

The first is the ability to curb your tongue. It takes only a split second to let loose a volley of criticism, sarcasm or even the truth (yes it is called bitter for a reason). Think before you speak, especially to those close to you – your mother/father, sister or your best friend. For once the words are out, nothing you can do or say will help assuage their hearts and mind. Be circumspect with your words, for words can cut sharper than a knife. Think before you speak. Golden words that must be heeded if we are to prevent the burden of regret to haunt us for all time to come.

The second vital action that we can take to prevent regret from becoming our true friend is to seize opportunities that come our way, even if they are clothed in difficulty and cause imaginary stress. Such moments are few and far between and presented to us to move out of our comfort zone and to try new things, forge new alliances and experience life changing events. Sure there will be some difficulty and pain, but as we now know, all pain is a gateway to progress.

We must learn to identify such watershed moments of truth/opportunity and grab these when they arise, of course after weighing the pros and cons. But don’t let the cons overwhelm you. Remember that even if the cons are there, there is a silver lining behind those grey clouds.

You need to push through the grey first, to get to the lining. And in the process, you become a stronger, sharper, happier version of yourself. Happy that you overcame the obstacles and proved your detractors wrong. Happy that you proved to yourself that you did it.

As the journalist Sydney Harris wisely observed:

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”     

It is upto us to ensure we are not left inconsolable or weighed down with regret. These are the bitter lessons from my life: will you use these learnings to benefit yours?

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