Regret and Gratitude-two sides of the same coin
There are many powerful forces at work in the world. Natural drives like gravity and magnetism impact our physical being. Other influences are more subtle. Economic forces (e.g., inflation) drive human conduct. Social imperatives, like ideology, affect our beliefs and attitudes.
There are also internal personal factors that modify our behavior. One has only to watch the news to see the pride and hubris of our elected officials (and aspirants). Our “leaders” (and I use that word very loosely) take credit for the positive outcomes, while somehow distancing themselves from the bad. As they say, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”
We live our lives in this interactive world, seemingly battered from all directions. But what about how we express our own personal feelings?
Regret and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. The former is focused on the past, a sadness for our own acts of omission or commission. The other resides in the present. It represents an acknowledgement of others, a grateful and thankful feeling, an expression of love. Together they form a powerful picture of how we see the world and how it sees us.
During an apocalyptic time of extreme persecution, Anne Frank is reputed to have said, “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.”
This is a poignant observation on how human beings tend to take for granted people in the present, but express remorse and appreciation when they are gone. The quote also implies that regret is a more compelling emotion than gratitude, and that people often feel guilty for not showing enough kindness to the living.
Regret is like an uninvited guest that overstays its welcome in our consciousness. We dismiss our missteps and unspoken words, only to be reminded of them when it is too late. The regret of not having shown enough appreciation, not having expressed love and gratitude while our cherished ones were still breathing the same air as us, seems to haunt our minds more than the joy in the moments we did share.
I once carelessly said that I had no regrets. It was the folly of youth. I had not experienced enough of life to know better. The world seemed without end. Heart break and tragedy had not yet come knocking. The years have rectified that naiveté. The days that stretched on forever are more finite.
I now find myself lamenting the missed opportunities. Seemingly, it is only at the end that we recognize the value of those important to us and express remorse for not having communicated to them our true feelings. The symbolic offering of flowers becomes a way to reconcile this regret.
Flowers, the silent messengers of love, apology, and sympathy, hold a paradoxical position in our hearts. It is as though we wait for the grand finale to shower others with fragrant tokens of affection. Why would we withhold these symbolic gestures of appreciation when they could have made such a difference in the here and now?
Her quote is not just a reminder of the importance of being grateful and respectful today. It advocates for a shift in perspective, to actively express appreciation, and acknowledgment to those we spend our days with. It challenges us to be responsible and accountable for our choices. It beckons us to be deliberate in our actions, an invitation to be more compassionate and generous to those around us.
It is also a warning of the personal and emotional consequences of being thankless and disrespectful to those around us, as well as being careless and reckless with our words and deeds. We should be humble and sincere with our feelings and expressions.
None of us know how long we will inhabit the physical universe. It would be nice in our final days if we remembered the value in which we held our fellow human beings rather than lament the way we spent our time. A grateful word today may ease our passage from this world and perhaps enhance our prospects for eternity.