Those “what were you thinking?” moments!

Hey, this piece needs a personal reference point….YOU!

So conjure up in your mind something you did or said recently or years ago that you now regret. If it would make this exercise more comfortable for you, replace the “you” with someone dear you; a family member or friend for example. Hold that thought for now.

For many, the “what on Earth was he/she thinking?” (sprinkled sometimes with a choice expletive) is the question we ask ourselves when we observe or read about acts by so-called “intelligent” people that defy common sense. And those acts of craziness seem to be increasing these days, not only in sheer numbers but in nuttiness.  

Take for example those who partook in the mind-boggling January insurrection at the Capital building, or the idiot on a motorbike who zig zagged in and out of heavy traffic recently at a speed of at least 95 miles an hour, or – okay, you knew was coming – those who continue to go mask less despite evidence that mask wearing is one way to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Speaking of a specific “what were you thinking” incident, I’m sure that many of you heard about the horrible situation recently during which neighbors got into a heated argument over snow removal which led to one retrieving a gun and killing the other neighbor and his spouse before committing suicide with that same firearm. 

All this makes me wonder about the numb of pain of underlying issues and grievances behind the hair trigger reactions and divisions that are splitting America, weakening the scaffolding that long lofted respectful decorum. Seems that many are on edge these days because of pent up anger, fear of change, anxiety, economic uncertainty, surging unemployment and, of course, COVID-19. 

However, during these times, believe it or not, there are folks who believe that we must somehow figure out how to talk to those different from us, hold different opinions, or even behave in ways that appall us. Without that the divide widens as people harden their views, rely solely on biased sources for information that reinforce their positions, demonize others and slip into destructive behaviors.

So, how do we get folks on opposite sides to talk with and not at one another, to empathize, to agree to disagree, to emerge with positions better understood and with dignities intact? How do we get the disgruntled to hit the “pause” button before acting irrationally, to set aside bruised egos before it’s too late, before the regret?

Tall order? Absolutely. 

So maybe we roll up our collective sleeves and begin with two undeniable “truths.” One truth is that it’s natural to be genuinely curious about the other side – including the “what were you thinking” folks – and why they believe what they believe, say what they say and do what they do.  

The second truth is that it’s natural to want to be heard without judgment, to express one’s views without being misunderstood, caricatured or worse, getting bludgeoned into submission for an unpopular yet sincerely held viewpoint or position. 

So how can we bridge the two, break free from this national mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? A good place as any to begin is by understanding “you” before trying to understand “them.” 

Maybe we take an honest look at the person in the mirror and ask “what on Earth was I thinking when I did what I now regret?” What was the context, the extenuating circumstances that motivated my regretful behavior?  What did I gain and lose as a consequence? What impressions about me did I leave with those who observed my behavior? How did my behavior impact me both then and even now? 

To be honest I too have had a few “what was I thinking” moments I’m not particularly proud of. I attribute them to a combination of the naiveite of youth, peer pressure, cheap wine and plain old idiocy. But the difference between the then and the now, fortunately for me, are cellphone cameras (think the January 6th insurrection, think selfies here) these days that can splash one’s stupidity in the evening news and across the globe.  

In the end, like me we can all recall our embarrassing “what was I thinking” moments and the frustration in knowing that often we don’t get a do over. Like toothpaste freed from the tube, once it’s out it’s out.

Okay, let’s now step back to your recollection(s) at the outset, your “what was I/he thinking” regretful moment. I won’t put words in your mouth but maybe it was that first drink, that first drag on a cigarette or marijuana joint, that bout of road rage, that getting caught on tape uttering a slur, that getting caught with the wrong crowd, that ignoring a pressing medical issue, that……that…that!

“Before you are wise; after you are wise. In between you are otherwise.”   – David Zindell

A departing rule of thumb – you can never regret anything unfortunate. 

you said or did if in fact you never said or did it!

Let that sink in!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at


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