Bite Sized Philosophy, 12 July 2015: Remorse

Despite being observed in elephants, alpacas, and clownfish,
remorse seems a uniquely human response: dwelling on the unchangeable, neglecting food and drink, withdrawing from the world. All are a response to death, loss of family or fortune, uncharacteristically racist drunken tweets, and are defined by an imagined
world made better by the absence of these regrets.

Remorse is how a man can drown without getting wet. It’s the response to time, the anger we direct toward dumb choices, mistakes that cost us dearly, watching your marriage fall apart, hitting a stray dog in the road. But it’s more than a purse we carry stuffed with the latest measurements of our failures. It can refine you.

Remorse is how we know and gauge the measure of our humanity. The very feeling itself humbles you, casting light on yourself and your motivations. If the remorse of a warlord can push the man to drink, it is a reassurance: somewhere in the monster is a person.

It is also a comfort, a type of double bluff: the indulgence of remorse is the indulgence of a false precept, beat into our heads, based on true assumptions: had we only made a different choice, went down a different road, had we only done this or that, we’d have made it, somehow, and we’d be better, somehow. This is comforting and false.

The sorrows of our present life are only fruits – each yielded by the orchards we tend blindly – and each time a rotten apple falls, we can ignore the taste and eat to live, or spit out the bitterness and starve. Dealing with remorse is, briefly: eating bitter fruit to keep on going, looking for better trees, and the wise, they study gardening.

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