“She has 20/20 hindsight” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions in my formative years. Eventually, I began to understand what she meant: That people look back and realize their mistakes when it is too late to correct them.
I guess I have a hindsight astigmatism or something. Most of the time I think I did the right thing, so why am I constantly flummoxed when the result is less than what I expected? Perhaps I am not critical enough of myself. At least the 20/20 hindsight crew gets to enjoy a pity party as they bewail their stupidity of days gone by. My vision impairment, on the other hand, seems to be a failure of clairvoyance. I can’t seem to predict the effects of my actions with any sort of reliability.
Switching over from my mother’s bromides to my father’s pearls of wisdom, it is he who likes to remind me that Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting a different result. Really? Then how do you explain slot machines and lottery tickets?
Back in college, the guy who lived across the hall from me used to refer to this phenomenon by the shorthand SSDD (“same shit, different day”). Surely we don’t get locked into behavioral patterns because we’re so thrilled with the results we’ve been getting. Perhaps we are all inertia addicts, unable to resist the magnetic pull of the familiar. (Is there a twelve-step program for this?) Or maybe we actually do expect that things will change for the better even if we keep lumbering down the same old road. Perhaps people really are crazy, à la Joseph Heller and Billy Currington.
Hope and Vicissitudes
I have a suspicion that expecting a different result from the same actions may be attributable to a combination of hope and our understanding of the vicissitudes of life. The Puritan work ethic teaches us that if we do what is morally right and good, we will be rewarded in the end (if not in this life, then in the next). My cynical parents like to say “let no good deed go unpunished.” So, assuming that we will be slapped in the face for our good deeds, we are urged to turn the other cheek in the hope that they won’t hit us again. And if they do hit us again, then by golly, that’s attributable to the shortcomings of evildoers who fail to see (or don’t give a fig about) the purity of our motives.
Indeed, among the many attractions of religion is the way that faith gives us hope. And it is hope, of course, that is our vanguard against the despair brought on by life’s seeming randomness. Although Einstein famously remarked that “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” it often seems that, even when we do everything right, we still end up rolling snake eyes. This results in things like Xanax, Dr. Phil and books titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
So how are we to get from one day to the next without falling into a pit of Sartrean despair? Certainly not by having 20/20 hindsight and realizing that our problems are all the result of our own stupidity. On the contrary, the answer is to “keep on keepin’ on,” to chug right along with what we’ve been doing and hope that things will change for the better. Perhaps my spouse/children/boss will start treating me better. Perhaps my talents will finally be recognized, my knight in shining armor will ride up to my door and I’ll buy the winning Power Ball ticket. Or, if nothing else, perhaps after a good night’s sleep, things will start looking up in the morning. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”
Einstein was wrong. Doing what we’ve always done and hoping for a better result tomorrow is the only thing that keeps us sane.