While in Utah visiting my family, my sister and I got into a conversation about regrets.
What do I regret? What kinds of things would I do differently if I had a few do-overs?
Do I regret filling yards of surgical tubing with water and spraying an apartment full of poker-playing boys in college? No.
Do I regret filling up my first semester of college with classes like trampoline, tennis and dance?
Or making a spontaneous decision at 9 p.m. at night to load my car with college friends and drive to Las Vegas for the weekend?
What I regret are the times I could have been kinder to people.
I remember a girl in junior high and high school that everyone teased mercilessly because she had acne and a nervous twitch.
As she walked down the halls, people imitated her twitch as she passed them.
I hated walking that same gauntlet as all the boys sat on the hall benches and called me “Little Bob,” after my Dad who was a little league football coach or “Little Snowsie,” after my brother.”
If I hated that kind of attention, how must it have been to be mocked for bad skin and a sudden jerk of the neck I couldn’t control?
Luckily, I can’t remember directly teasing her myself, but maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten that detail because I’m ashamed of myself.
Even if I didn’t personally injure her, I never once stood up for her.
I’m ashamed of myself for the times I could have stepped back from the teasing or stepped in to stop it; for the times I kept my mouth shut when I could have jumped to someone’s defense or when I opened my mouth only to add to the cutting remarks.
Doug shared a story on Facebook from The New York Times Magazine called, “George Saunder’s Advice to Graduates.”
He wrote about regret he’s carried for 42-years. He regrets that he wasn’t nice to a shy girl who joined his seventh grade class.
She wore blue cat-eye glasses and nervously chewed on her hair.
Students teased her, asking if her hair tasted good, or they simply ignored her and never tried to befriend her.
I don’t know how many kids passed through my life like that. How many did I ignore because they didn’t look or dress right or simply because I had plenty of friends?
Saunder’s said, “Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But it still bothers me. So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”
That phrase “failures of kindness” hit me hard because that is what I regret most too.
“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly,” he said.
But, what about the times I didn’t respond sensibly, reservedly or mildly and without even knowing it, may have been downright cruel?
There are no do-overs for those times.
In his graduation speech, he wisely shared that: “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will be gradually replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You won’t really care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.” (One of the best reasons ever for having children!)
His end-of-speech advice was, “Since , according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up! Speed it along. Start right now.”
If I had one do-over, I would definitely follow his advice and err on the side of kindness. I’ve clearly become a much kinder, more selfless person as I’ve aged.
But, if I could dial the years back to my adolescence and do a few things differently, I’d still do the crazy things like hose down the poker-playing boys, master my trampoline moves, and skip off to Vegas; but, I’d also be a lot kinder.