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.