Ditching the grammar of regret
My ears are still ringing. And it’s been more than a week since I went to the concert that caused the ringing. I hadn’t been to a concert for a long time. But when I saw that one of my favourite bands of all time, Living Colour, was coming here to Sydney, Australia, I couldn't say no.
When I bought the tickets the thought came to mind to get some earplugs. But I got busy and the concert was only a few days later so I never got around to it. Alas, here I am with ringing still in my ears. So, do I regret going to the concert or not wearing earplugs?
Well, I have been catching myself saying things like,
I wish I had worn earplugs.
Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the concert.
If I hadn't gone to the concert, I wouldn’t have damaged my ears, and they wouldn’t be ringing right now!
This is the grammar of regret. Obviously, we use different types of grammar to express different things about life. Here we use what’s called conditionals to express hypothetical statements about the past that have a bearing on the present.
It’s complex grammar that second language learners struggle with due to its complexity. But perhaps it is its complexity that is the problem.
By drawing up alternative scenarios about the past, we are imagining the past differently instead of how things actually occurred. Likewise, we are imagining how the present could have been different. In other words, we are not facing the present as it is, but are trying to wish it into what we would like it to be.
The reality is that we can’t change the past. As much as I would like to go back and wear earplugs, I can’t do that. And this is just a trivial example compared to others. The more weighty things we wish had never happened are the accidents we feel we could have prevented that hurt others in even more damaging ways. And we may be so full of regret and guilt that we get stuck in this grammar on loop saying,
If only I had or hadn’t done ….
But it’s not helpful or truthful. It happened. We can’t change it. We can only deal with what is, now.
We can learn from what happened in the case that it happens again and we know how to deal with it better next time. But there’s no going back.
So, I’m trying to embrace the ringing. I’ve read there’s a chance that it could be permanent damage and as a recovering hypochondriac, I’m trying to pull my mind away from that territory too.