I had a friend who often (and always by the second drink) found misery for herself by recounting an incident from her girlhood in upstate New York. On their farm all the children worked; she the youngest pitched in as she grew to labor alongside the boys. One day out in the field with her brothers an accident happened. She was hit in the head, knocked out. The boys didn’t know what to do other than rush her home. On the way she revived complaining of a headache and “funny” vision. To her family she seemed to be recovering, but a local Doctor was called to make sure. He concluded a day’s rest was all she needed. Her vision problem did not, however, simply go away. One eye continued to waver. (If watched for you could see the uneven movement.) For the rest of her life she felt any of the things that didn’t go right for her could be traced back to the head/eye injury and was certain that had she been one of her brothers she’d have been taken right away to a specialist in New York City.

It’s likely true that one of the brothers would have been seen as likely inheritor of the family farm and would therefore have received more familial concern than would a girl who’d branch off to one day begin her own family. Old fashioned attitudes were strong and given the times were easily understandable. But to my friend this was pure and simple a case of malicious bias in its most blatant and odious form. Well, it could be that had the accident occurred to an older brother he’d have been whisked to NYC to see a specialist and damn the cost. But I suspect had it been her brother hit in the head instead of her the actions taken and the outcome would have been much the same with one possibly major difference. The difference would be the in the attitude of the injured person. Would they make more or less of their debility?

My friend was a nice person, but when she’d start on the topic of her injury I felt a noticeable strain on our association. Why tell me about it again? Why go on about it at all? The incident was decades old. Nothing she, I, or anyone else could do would change what happened. What I told is not unusual. I’d wager each of us has at least one “what if this instead of that” periods in their past. Wondering about paths not taken is probably constructive if it aids us in seeing where we are as we look back.

Can the same be said when the backward look is regressive and faults the present for something in the past that can’t be changed? I certainly don’t think so, but I also think (and rather strongly) the backward look is one trying to search out where perfection went wrong. Desire for a better more perfect life is very understandable and quite human. But when doing so a false expectation is created and extended on the assumption we know what would be better. Take as example my friend with the bad eye. Would her being taken to a vision specialist in NYC have changed the outcome for the better? It’s possible, but maybe at the time the problem was one of those things too difficult to repair. Would she be happier if a bold effort made no change or made things a little worse for her? From my viewpoint I suspect her vision was good enough. The thing in need of adjustment was assumption and attitude. But once a person gloms onto an idea that works for them they’ll usually stick to it with conviction it is both true and correct. In the case of my friend it made her unhappy to revisit the conviction she’d been wronged. Yet, back she’d go filled with the need to make her belief true by its repetition. That internal loop of repetition was probably more damaging to her than the vision problem. But she, like most of us, needs a different sort of vision to see through our own repetitious loops and overblown assumptions of what’s true.

Here in the more remote part of the North Shore we have plenty of people just like me who daily prove there is no escape in trying to escape and little relief to be found in repeating one’s tired old positions. Maybe it’s easier to spot in a small population where a neighbor who espouses the virtues of community or diversity is glued fast and firmly into the requirement that community and diversity be along their model. Theirs is a community of agreement where age and assorted background all become of one mind and a diversity where tattoo and piercing are welcome but dissent is not. Agreement is required for acceptance. And if you fail to meet the mark then you’ll be excommunicated as with any other rigid dogma that says some things while doing others and where vocalizations of peace take the lead in constant assault on the other. This is done by people who are as sure and certain of their rightness as my friend was in the conviction she’d been done wrong.

I write this as a New Year is about to poke its nose around the corner. I think Oh Gosh, it’s going to go on and on with repetitious grousing about things none of us know for sure but makes no difference in the habit of blaming others. We can’t alter the past or the behavior of others. One of the few things where we stand a chance is examining where we stand and on what basis. A thing I look for is checkable fact rather than plausible narrative. I accept, for instance, Russian agents trying to influence things here, but I’d add Saudi, Chinese, Mexican, British, Indonesian, Israeli, and others. Foreign lobbying and spying isn’t new. The problem believing about secret deals is they can’t be very much of a secret if we know about them. Often times things will make a difference totally to the extent we allow them to do so.