MC: “Should have” is a form of self-pity

This is more of a theoretical or research question than an assertion.  The other day, TL and I started to talk about choices we should have made differently in life:  when to buy a house, which job to take, etc.  We do that occasionally.  It occurred to me that the discussion is both an opportunity and a risk.  It is an opportunity to learn.  “Next time I’ll consider more information before buying.  Next time I’ll plan better.”  These are just examples.

The discussion is also a risk:  a risk of falling into self pity.  “Woe is me.  I made the wrong choice long ago and now I can do nothing about it.  My life sucks.  It could only be better if I could just go back and change the past.  Because of past decisions, I’m now at the mercy of other people, God, karma, or whatever.”

I had a flash of insight during that little conversation.  The latter type of thinking about the past suddenly reminded me of the way I used to think before D-day, the way I’m training myself to not think now.  I used to think about feeling powerless to my genetics, the way my parents raised me, and my past decisions.  From that thinking, I used to slip right into self-pity, feeling sorry for myself. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to anger, bitterness, fatalism, and even revenge. Yes, revenge.  Against whom?  Against God.  I told myself God had cheated me, and that I therefore had the right to break moral rules to get what I deserved.  I had the right to lie and cheat to even the score.

I know, that cascade of sick logic is rather extreme.  It shows me just how dangerous self-pity can be.  So, to the extent that “should have” leads to self-pity, I need to stop saying “should have.” “Can do better next time,” or “can learn from this” are helpful.  “Should have” is not.

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3 thoughts on “MC: “Should have” is a form of self-pity

  1. Just a thought that occurred to me. It is like fixating on the sunk costs just keeps you sinking. Of course, that is not to say that you should not understand what the sunk costs were, how they came to be, and learning what to do to prevent them in the future.

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  2. In a completely different field (behavioural economics) there’s lots being discussed about how we as humans are deeply irrational. We make decisions and judgements that are not in our best interests. We are far too confident in ourselves. I can think of nothing more irrational than making a decision to do something that threatens an individual’s family and home. Who would make a rational decision to betray someone who loves them? Faulty thinking processes.

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  3. You’re exactly right. Behavioral economics is often useful. But, along with other social sciences, including psychology, it only works most of the time, not all of the time. Why? As you said, because unlike matter, energy, and numbers, humans sometimes do irrational things, or at least act on insufficient or faulty information or behave according to hidden motives, sometimes motives that we even hide from ourselves.

    I guess, to continue the analogy, cheaters need to discover and admit their true motives. And, both spouses need to continue seeking more complete information about each other and about themselves.

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