Kierkegaard says that whatever decision you make, you will regret it. That is the unsatisfactory nature of life, called ‘dukkha’ in Buddhism. But we can just as easily take the opposite view. If it is true that every decision is the wrong one, then we can also say it is the right one. This is the point of view of an optimist, which as the Dalai lama says, “feels better” and makes us happier. Then negative consequences of past decisions can be seen as lessons, which can lead to something good if they are dealt with skilfully.

In reality, we have little control over any of our decisions; they are merely the development, flow and outcome of past experiences and pre-existing conditions, inside and out. The best we can do is choose ‘good company’ and positive influences and guard the gates of the senses. Paradoxically, how we decide what is ‘good company’ and a ‘good influence’ is already the outcome of our experiences. This is why all large social groups, whether religious, political, national, revolutionary, tribal or otherwise, encourage conformity by repeated rituals and practices, thus taking much of the decision making out of the individual’s hands and into the hands of the larger social group with which we identify, according to its agreed morality, ethics and/or legality. I remember teachers at school warning us, ‘we eventually become reflections of the company we keep.’ I am now forced to admit there is probably more truth in this than even they realised, though on a much more profound level.


Sometimes it is not enough to walk in another’s shoes, but to get inside their mind; to live every second of their life, to share their childhood, their parents, their schooling, their ancestors, and then to ask yourself, “Would I have done anything any differently? Could I, really?”