My Greatest Regret

My Greatest Regret

My greatest regret?  That “trendy” haircut on my birthday in 8th grade should be high up on the list.  But, really, it’s not. 

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”  

George Saunders

Saunders wrote an inspiring graduation speech, and it went viral – for good reason.  His “failures of kindness” are the regrets that haunt him.  And, I think we can all identify with that. I know I do.

October was a month of reunions for me.  

Remarkably, my high school, college and grad school reunions were all scheduled in this one month.  While it was wonderful reconnecting, it was most fulfilling to see how we had grown beyond the barriers that divided us in the past.  It’s amazing what 30 years will do for a person.

I didn’t hear the typical regrets of people wishing they would have spent more or less time in the library.  The resonating theme I heard from others and felt myself, was “why didn’t I do more to help?” 

We remember others’ suffering and isolation, their sadness.  Why did we choose to ignore it and walk away?

I’d like to say that I’ve matured now, and I don’t accumulate those regrets anymore.  But, honestly, I can’t.  They still happen every once in a while, and that’s too often for me.   I think the problem is, they sneak up on you.  And it is difficult to be brave, especially on short notice. 

Because kindness takes courage.

One of my failures of kindness was in Cold Storage, a grocery store in Singapore.  I was in line, scrolling through my phone, when I noticed the man who was checking out in front of me was talking very loudly and aggressively.  I started to pay attention and realized he wasn’t on the phone; he was berating the woman who was bagging his groceries.  He just kept yelling at her that she wasn’t doing it right and that she was wasting bags.  She was clearly rattled and nearly in tears.  So, did I step up?

Nope.  I froze.  There was a clear opportunity to intervene, but I did nothing. 

My thoughts were racing.  I was thinking, “I have to say something!  What do I say?  I don’t want him to rage at me.”  All valid thoughts and feelings.  But still.  The grocery store was full; there were people everywhere.  And, I still said nothing.  I failed her.  We all failed her.

The man left.  The employee cried.  The woman in the next aisle and I apologized for not saying anything and told the woman she did nothing wrong; he was just acting horribly.  She didn’t stop crying.  It didn’t make a difference.

That was 5 years ago, and I’m still thinking about it. We all have failures. I just need to keep trying to be better.

Do you regret failures of kindness?  What do you think we can do to avoid these failures?  As always, let’s be kindful of each other.

“Courage has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.”
Brené Brown


  • Emma Wilson says:

    So beautiful Patti and reflects your heart beautifully. A stark reminder that these moments when we didn’t and could have acted will stay with us. Sometimes I have acted and the consequences have been very hard, but I don’t regret doing the right thing. It does take courage. Thanks for the reminder, beautifully put about what really matters. Love you and miss you in my life x

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