“Hindsight,” wrote my friend, “has twenty-twenty vision.”
It always seems that way, when we think back to what we could have, should have said or done. The witty retort, the other alternative…the thing we did not think of at the time… the course we ought to have taken instead of the one that we took…
Thinking about it, though, perhaps hindsight is a little more myopic than it pretends.
At the time, we did the best we could with the person we were then… and could not have done otherwise. Looking back on the past from where we now stand, we have a unique perspective. We can see how events unfolded, one after the other, from that moment until now. We look back armed with all the knowledge and experience we have gained since the moment in question and we stand as one who has grown and changed in the interim.
Those changes have not been random… they have evolved, little by little, building inevitably one upon the other, until we arrive at this moment… the one where we stand looking back with the alleged visual acuity of hindsight…or regret.
The trouble with regret, though, is that had we taken any other course, said or done anything different back in the then, the person looking back would not be the same now. Had we made the witty retort, would our emotions have been different as we walked away? How would those emotions have changed us? We cannot know.
The mistakes that we made are the very things from which we may have learned our most valuable lessons. Getting things right leads only to a momentary happiness or satisfaction. Making a mistake allows us to learn and grow. The words we wish we had spoken may well have satisfied our egos but left a shadow on our hearts.
Events, emotions, reactions…any or all would have unfolded differently. Our paths or our attitudes would be changed…and even the smallest change means that we would inevitably be different and look back through a different lens. Perhaps we would choose a different version of hindsight’s vision…
“If you are always looking back, you can’t see where you are going.” It is one thing to revisit the past with fond nostalgia. It is an integral part of our lives and our shaping. It is quite another to look back and dwell upon it. With hindsight we may see our flaws and errors more clearly, we may regret the hurt we have caused or the opportunities missed, but we can never change one moment of the past. Instead of focussing upon ‘last time’, we can turn our eyes and experience to ‘next time’ and shape it as we choose. The past is the foundation of the present and our guide to the future. We can look back and mourn or we can choose to carry our mistakes and what they have taught us as gifts, and let them show us the way into tomorrow. We can be who we are, not what we were.