January 5, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

How to Live

Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't build on it; it's only good for wallowing in.

Katherine Mansfield

Some time ago I watched a 60 Minutes interview with Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of amazon.com. His company is very successful and Bezos will be very rich. He knows his business, which is selling. He struck me as a very intense man, which might be due to his not being used to being in a spotlight. The interviewer asked him something about how he lived his life. He replied that he tried for "regret minimization." He intended to live his life in such a way that when he got old he would have as few regrets as possible.

That reminded me of what my father said to me when I told him that I was planning to get married. He said "Get married or don't get married; you'll regret it either way."

Now, who should I believe, Bezos or my Papa?

First of all, at my advanced age I have concluded that regretting anything in the past is a waste of effort since there isn't a damn thing that you can do about it. However, if I have regrets, they are probably not about the same things that Bezos would regret. For one thing, the acquisition of money and power leaves me cold. Of course I would like to be important enough to be asked to appear on 60 Minutes, but I don't think that I would want to pay the price, nor take the consequences. Bezos obviously relishes it.

Occasionally I think of the lovely young women that I could have bedded and didn't; mostly because I didn't know how to do "it." Theodore Parker said that "Remorse is the pain of sin." H.L. Mencken rebuts this with " Remorse is regret that one waited so long to do it." It is part of the nostalgia for youth and the past. It is this that probably moved Goethe to write his play Faust. The central character of his play is Faust. He is an old philosopher and scientist who is considering suicide. The devil appears and offers him anything that he wants on earth in exchange for his becoming a permanent and eternal resident of Mephistopheles' domain. The opera Faust takes one episode in the play and elaborates on it. That event is when Faust(tenor), who has been transformed into a young man, seduces Marguerite(soprano). She has a child, kills it and ends up in prison awaiting the gallows. After a lovely nostalgic interlude, she rejects Faust and the Devil(basso) in favor of God and heaven(choir); a great trio.

Sure, knowing what I know now, I would have done many things differently. If I did, I wouldn't be the person I am. I have no idea who I would be.

I conclude that what Jeff Bezos plans to do is impossible because he has no idea what he might regret when he gets older; nor could he possibly have any idea. The only way that he will find out is if he gets old. If he pops off with an early heart attack, he won't regret anything. Is it a good idea to live to a ripe age? Whether it is or isn't is irrelevant, but it is a good idea to live as if you will live for a long time, since time is the most precious thing that there is in life. Money and power aren't even in the running.

Thanks, Jeff Bezos, for inspiring one of my better columns.

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