I wrote about this character a couple of weeks ago. One of his more notable quotes from the movie takes place in a conversation with Neo, who had just recently joined the enlightened crew of the hover craft Nebuchadnezzar:
“I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?”
Regret. Regret that he chose the red pill of truth over the blue pill of ignorance and the lie. To me though, the red pill-blue pill choices of life are many and we most likely have made more than a couple of choices in life that we at least wonder about, if not regret.
I’m talking here about the regret of commitments made and not opportunities missed – I’ll talk about the latter another time. The blue-pill choices are not about the trivial matters in life – ‘I wish I hadn’t ordered the second Big Mac’ or ‘I regret wearing the suit with the ketchup stain on it yesterday.’ They are about those choices that significantly change the pattern or course of our lives. They can be as grand as marrying someone to as seemingly minor a matter as getting a puppy. (I just had to throw the dog thingie in there as I cannot tell you how many people have tried to pitch me on getting a pet. ‘Oh, since you live alone, you should get a dog’ or a cat or boa, you name it.)
If a decision changes substantially the course and pattern of your life, then it seems big enough to warrant careful consideration. To me, something as ‘insignificant’ as getting a dog would be such a case. I watch my neighbors across the street walking their five dogs around the neighborhood no fewer than twice a day. The dogs happily prance through our neighborhood peeing and crapping each day like its a truly unique experience. I’m happy for all of them – the dogs and humans. My neighbors are retired and they obviously are committed to giving these animals the attention they need.
For me, that would be a fricken pain in the lower body parts – a clear and present disruption of pattern. Now, before you fly off the handle and call me an animal hater, let me say that I really like cats and dogs, and our family has had a couple of each at various times over the years. But they call for commitment, commitment THAT DOES NOT GO AWAY anytime soon.
I believe that is the key characteristic of regret when it comes to the commitments we get ourselves into. We recognize, perhaps too late, that these commitments won’t disappear at the next sunrise. They will exact their ‘pound of flesh’ from us each and every day for the foreseeable future – and we begin to regret it. And regret can turn into resentment, a deadly toxin of the soul. Prolonged resentment will in fact kill us.
Take another example – buying a new car. I’ve done this drill – 3-5 years of payments. It started with such joy and excitement, much like the first moments with a cute puppy or kitty. This drained away day by day until, well, it was just a car to drive. But the payments continued to be extracted from me, each month. Then, I noticed I began to chafe at them, resent their intrusion on my income each month. Until I got to the place where I had to cast the debt off, and fortunately I had the money to do so.
“Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?” Cypher, I KNOW what you mean.
So, when I bought my little Caddie a couple of years ago, I was VERY aware of the emotional burden that comes with me buying cars on credit. I chose to buy a well-maintained used car. It was a beautiful machine. I put down an amount of cash that gave me a payment level that was acceptable to me emotionally.
Yes, I said emotionally. I can afford car payments of significant size. The true price is in the mind.
And, finally, I knew I had the capacity to pay it off at anytime – which I did recently. These added up to a commitment of no regret.
That transaction is my prototype for new life commitments. Reflect first on the choice and the commitments it is calling me to. Why am I considering this commitment? What will it cost me – tangibly and intangibly? Can I accept that arrangement?
If I decide to proceed, I will strive to structure the commitment in a manner that I think will be acceptable to me EMOTIONALLY – if not immediately, within a definable window of time. I have an exit strategy and make it such that I can pull the trigger.
I find I’ve been reasonably successful at maintaining this frame in my personal life – less so in my professional life. Even in those work areas I wonder about, I think the issue is more a matter of not having reflected more on the commitment, and less about the commitments themselves.
Let’s be honest, people you know from the previous life want you to be and do what you were and did before the change of circumstances. Add to this our tendency to operate by habit and we tend to conform to old patterns. We do much in life by habit, not reflection, and as result end up making the same mistakes over and over again.
So when it comes to the commitments I make these days, I want to join Cypher in his lament less and less often. I sense that that is possible. It seems important to living midlife with purpose and contentment.
“Why oh why didn't you take the BLUE pill?” Cypher asks.
“Because I chose the RED pill, without regret,” I said.
About the Author: Master Hobbit