I posed a question earlier today to my Alumni of Historical Solutions, a closed group on Facebook. The question was this: when have you tried something, failed, and then regretted it?

One of the group members asked for clarification. Was I referring to regretting the try or the failure? Once again, my alumni have improved my work. It’s an excellent question and deserves a bit more space than a handful of characters tapped inside a tiny rectangle on a f/b page.

On the f/b box I typed in this quick reply—my question should be viewed as a pairing, a tandem. It’s not one or the other, but both trying and failing as a prelude to any sort of regret. 

What I want to point out now is that this tandem is really part of a longer sequence. First, you saw something that prompted an attempt, a try. Second, you tried. Third, stuff happened that undercut or overwhelmed your try. Fourth, you decided to stop and, in a word that folks usually use as a substitute, fail. Then, after some passage of time you either felt regret or you didn’t. That’s the sequence embedded in my original question.

This sequence occurs along a span of time. Time moved. During the movement actions, thoughts, decisions, and results occurred. To use my favorite analogy, all of these things were in The River.

When you’re contemplating history, I implore you to stay aware of the critical element of time’s movement. That’s where the importance and the meaning lies.

Finally, a couple of departing points. First, regret is often assumed to be unproductive. I’m not fully convinced. If it has the right target—what I did incorrectly, for example—then regret can be a very productive feeling. Second, if there’s anything more unpopular than regret, it’s failure and failing. Again, I don’t quite agree. We must take the time to understand a decision to fail and a choice of failure. Failing is stopping and ending, it’s true, but it’s also quite a lot more if we have the patience to sift through it. We might find that a healthy and proper exploration of failure is one of the key steps to wisdom.