July 22, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Hindsight may or may not prove to be the best road to travel

Cynthia DewesIt seems that hindsight is always better than the reality of the moment. As time goes on, the decisions we make and the actions we take may seem kind of stupid or even just wrong. Or, happily, they may verify what we did or said.

That’s because time gives us the opportunity to gain more information, or assess the situation more completely than we could at the time. Things that were going on that we were not aware of now cause us to rethink what we did. More evidence on a subject, pro or con, may bring us to entirely different conclusions than we did earlier.

We may come to regret how we viewed another person who we thought was, as they say, “behaving badly.” Worse, we may have to regret how we treated them. We may wish we’d taken this road rather than the other, or had seized an opportunity we turned down.

Sometimes, we may remember when it’s too late to heed the scriptural warning that God will not be outdone in generosity. We wish we’d given more to that special collection, taken more time to listen to a person who was hurting, or put more food in the free pantry. We rue the extra six-pack we bought instead, for more reasons than one.

On the other hand, we may be satisfied with past choices. Perhaps we picked the right person to marry, and have lived happily ever after. Maybe we persevered through conflict at work, which resulted in a congenial workplace, much to our surprise. Maybe we suffered unpopularity with our teens by enforcing the rules, which resulted in their becoming stable, happy adults.

Some decisions may seem wrong in hindsight because the modern viewers were not alive at the time they happened, and they do not understand the reasoning or imperatives that drove them. One example is the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II.

No amount of statistical evidence or moral disgust can mask the fact that everyone at the time considered it to be an act of self-defense. It was not motivated by revenge or expediency, or a desire to end the slaughter. Of course, all those factors were present, but the main feeling of the time was simply self-defense. Even though we were winning the war, we feared the irrationality and barbarity of the Japanese hierarchy’s stated intention to fight to the death—both theirs and ours.

So what can we do to avoid regretting the past, and being scolded by hindsight?

First, we should consider our motives. Are they worthy, moral, loving? If we do or say this thing, will it eventually help this person or organization or country to come closer to God? Are we sure we’re not just punishing them?

Next, we should plan the best way to execute our actions. They must be non-judgmental, not rash or impulsive. And they should be delivered calmly and as kindly as possible. They must be explained, so that everyone understands that the goal is peace and harmony.

We should pray always for God’s guidance and for forgiveness when we get off track. We should reflect often on what we are doing, saying or even thinking.

We are all called to be saints. That’s a hard goal to reach, for sure. But we should keep trying because we want the hindsight of our lives to be good.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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