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Today's quote:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Regrettable regrets

 

Remember the scene at the end of the film Casablanca in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann are standing on the tarmac as she tries to decide whether to stay in Casablanca with the man she loves or board the plane and leave with her husband?

Bogey turns to Bergmann and says: "Inside we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life."

Regret is an emotion we feel when we blame ourselves for unfortunate outcomes that might have been prevented had we only acted differently in the past, and yet studies show that people regret inactions more than actions. Why is this so?

Well, one reason is that our psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than of actions. When our past action caused an unfortunate outcome, we can console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience. But with inaction we can't console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience because ... well, there wasn't one. The irony is all too clear: because our psychological immune system can rationalise an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we ought to just blunder ahead.

Which is exactly what I have always done. And, yes, I have plenty of regrets but they are all regrets of actions, not inactions. So perhaps I am ahead of all those who hedged their bets, who never left their hometowns, who never left their safe jobs, and who never took any chances.