The Book of Questions #3: Death, Regret and Honesty

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with everyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

The Book of Questions #3 by Gregory Stock, Ph.D. (1987)
Open Casket (Olympus PEN EP-1 M.Zuiko 17mm F.2.8)
Open Casket Olympus PEN E-P1 + M.Zuiko 17mm F4.5 F10 1/200s ISO 200

An absurd death scenario

Again these are two questions at once. Let us for a moment ponder the absurdity of this hypothetical scenario. Most people know they are going to die with reasonable certainty. So if I would be 85 years old I can assume that I might just have a fatal stroke this evening. In this sense I could very well tell people what I need to tell them as long as it is still possible for me. The same goes for risky medical procedures, diseases, going to war or any other high risk activity.

Conversely if my death would be unexpected then the whole question is worthless. I will not have the time to ponder it. You could argue I might be incapacitated with a high chance of dying later. Then maybe in my comatose state I could regret the unsaid things. But then I might just be thinking nothing coherent at all. Nevertheless the question wants us to think about all the unsaid things and maybe even prompt us to say them. Alright here is my answer:

Maybe a shocking answer?

Nothing. Many people will say they should have told someone they love them more often, should have apologized or maybe should have told someone off finally. But this to me sounds more like sorrow than regret. More like a wish for more time to say something (mostly one more time). In this sense of course I would commiserate no longer having the opportunity to say something like the above to the important people in my life. 

Whatever decision I made in the past (and that includes saying something or not) was made with the best knowledge about myself, the circumstances and options available to me. Were these decisions in retrospect the best or even just good decisions? No of course not. I am a limited and flawed human being. With hindsight I would have made different decisions. But it is useless to regret them. I made the decisions how I thought they would be good or right or possible at all. It is all I could do.

There really only is one thing that we as humans should regret and this is not making a decision at all but instead just drifting through life. Although not making a decision is of course a decision in itself but a regrettable one. Because in this case one gives away agency over one’s own life. So to go back to the question if I had made the decision to not tell someone then there is no reason for regret, maybe just for sorrow.

Honesty and Silence

This leads directly to the second question: Because I have decided not to tell them. There are a lot of things I would like to tell certain people in my life. Some good, some bad. But I decided to keep silent because nothing good would come from it, because circumstances make it imprudent to say something or most of the time because people would not understand anyway. Sometimes it is not my place to make people question their lives with my words.

That being said with the really important people in my life I try to practice radical honesty so there would not even be anything unsaid. But that is probably a topic for another post.

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