Wise Thinking #4: Overcome Hindsight Bias with Gratitude
If I believed in reincarnation, I’d come back at least 12 times and try each of the lives I’ve chosen away. Here’s the dilemma: If I couldn’t log them in one giant journal, each life would seem like the only one. Arriving at life number 12, I’d choose things I’d already done, not knowing this was my final chance to try something new. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but like the days before TV was on-demand, I can’t resist reading the guide to see if the unwatched show might have been better.
Perhaps quantum physics offers a better solution. I could pop into parallel worlds until I found the alternate me and see which track she’d followed. Two weeks ago, I stepped out the airport door and felt I’d done just that. There was my daughter, waving in tuxedo pants and a vest. She looks like me, and she has style. We embraced tightly enough to bruise our hearts. Thankfully, nature gave us identical safety features to protect against such danger. This is a good thing, because in two weeks we had to catch up 28 years of missed hugs. Many times during my visit, her round blue eyes would gaze at me silently, her hands would come up beside her developing grin and her shoulders would wiggle just before she launched a hug attack. Describing it makes me giggle.
She took 26 hours to be born, and I wonder if perhaps she was trying to stay with me. When she was 3 days old, we left the hospital in separate cars. Last year, I received her first letter, and Friday I returned home from our first visit. Once 21 inches long, she’s now an inch taller than I am. She’s only 5’2”, but that extra inch makes her proud. “Look! There’s someone shorter than me!” she told her husband.
She’s far surpassed me in education. That’s what every parent wants, right? Perhaps I mentioned it once too often, because she said, “I’m not all that amazing, okay?” She’s wrong. She’s magnificent. I love the life I’ve chosen, but this incredible girl is taking the trains I skipped to destinations I’ve contemplated. At the age of 17, while I prepared for the state French competition, I told Grandma Roberta I’d love to learn several languages and work at the UN one day. Instead of language, I pursued music, drama and education. 28 years later, my daughter has traveled to Europe and Asia and made a career of being multi-lingual. I’ve written songs, poetry and devotions. She’s written several novels. In the used book store, I was inspired by memoirs and art; she excitedly described several of her favorite Manga series. Her life is the series I most want to read. Is this how every parent feels? I’m surprised my parents didn’t get arthritis from gripping the OSH (Oh Shoot! Handle) white-knuckled while raising me. I assumed parenting was similar to being a passenger in a car chase. You hang on tight, try to help, but spend most of the time yelling, “Watch out!” or praying with your eyes squeezed shut. I’m praying, but mostly prayers of gratitude.
On Highway 1 the other night, after she drove an hour and a half to meet me for dinner, I stopped the car in Indian Springs. In much of the US, streetlamps and neon hide the stratosphere, creating the sense that we’re totally alone. On that untainted stretch of highway, flecks of light crowded the sky, gifts from stars billions of miles away. I stopped the car and received them, reflected them in tears of joy until they blurred together and the scent of pine and moss was muffled by my stuffy nose. “Thank You, Lord.” I repeated at least a dozen times. It feels unfair, to be blessed this way when I didn’t do the work. I am grateful for the woman she’s grown to be. I could have kept her, preventing the struggles she had with her adoptive family. I gave her up to protect her from the mistakes I knew I’d make, but parenting brings out the weaknesses in everyone, even those who pass the rigorous adoption approval process.
There’s a type of faulty thinking called “Hindsight Bias.” It’s natural to look at events and consider how they could have turned out differently, if we’d made different choices. When normal hindsight becomes “I should have known,” or we decide the end result was obvious, we usually aren’t thinking accurately. Life is an experiment with far too many variables. It’s healthy to decide how we’ll do things better in the future, but giving into Hindsight Bias leads us to regret, and regret strands us in the terminal, waiting for a train that’s already gone. Psychologists recommend overcoming this bias by considering several ways a story might have played out. I recommend gratitude and trust.
In between flights that first day, I began crying from a combination of joy and regret. I feared I’d never stop, and I’d freak her out the moment I met her. God sent a seatmate who kept me chatting until I chilled. Once my Valentine hugged me, I grinned for two weeks. On our last day together, she and I and her supportive hubby pried our eyes open at 5:30 to go watch the sunrise on the beach. It was cloudy, but it was the best sunrise ever. Am I biased? Probably, but I’ll take gratitude bias over hindsight and regret any day.