I’m reading Daniel Pink’s latest book, The Power of Regret. I wasn’t particularly interested in regret as a topic, but I was very impressed with the quality of the research in Pink’s previous book (When), and so far, he’s delivering the same readable, interesting, well supported treatment of his topic as he did last time.
His premise seems to be (I’m not done with the book), that though we pay lip service to “No regrets!” bumper stickers, or “There’s no point looking back,” philosophies, in fact, our regrets teach us a lot and help us improve our aim going forward.
My initial reaction to that conclusion was, “Ya think? Sadder and wiser? Live and learn? Of course we learn from our mistakes… or we should.”
Then I taught a little webinar on how to write a romance. As I was developing the writing exercises and figuring out which scenes I wanted the class to focus on, I realized that regret is often the 85% of the character iceberg hanging below the surface of the plot. Valentine Windham regrets practicing the piano so obsessively that he wrecks his hands. Darius Lindsey regrets so much. Hamish MacHugh regrets a terrible moment on the battlefield. Lydia Loveless regrets being such a headstrong girl.
The characters make wrong turns, and their attempts to cope with the fallout can take years. Hmmm.
Then I bethought of myself of a certain adolescent Grace Burrowes. I was headed for a career as a professional musician (in my own mind), and practicing up a storm on the piano. I also set a goal to become competent on one instrument in each family. I asked my parents for a trumpet for Christmas, and they came through. Finding time to learn the instrument, though, eluded me.
A friend wanted to join band, and asked to use my trumpet to get started. I wasn’t playing it, so I said sure. At the end of the school year, I still hadn’t lined up lessons for myself, hadn’t done any reading, hadn’t lifted a finger to tackle the job of learning the trumpet, but I asked for the instrument back.
The friend’s family had been unfathomably kind and generous to me. They kept my horse on their farm, which is the only way I could have had a horse. They kept me weekends and summers for much of my youth. All they ever asked of me was the loan of that dratted trumpet, and I was a dog in the manger about it.
I am so ashamed of my greedy, selfish, mean little self… I have apologized for my behavior, but such is my disgust with myself that my personal policy on lending since then has been, “Whatever you lend, don’t expect to have it back.” Whether that’s money, a pair of riding gloves, a book… If I lend it, it’s gone, possibly for good. And I generally will lend anything I don’t actually need.
This is an example of a regret that taught me a lesson. I committed the error fifty years ago, but I still feel the sting of my stingy actions. I had my reasons, but they were the weak reasons of a character dwelling in the small-minded, defensive posture of chapter one. Phooey on that. I want to dwell in the pages closer to the happily ever after.
Has regret taught you any lessons? I’ll put two commenters on the ARC list for A Spinster by the Sea!