Monday, 25 April 2011

U is for Undoing

As April’s ‘T for Tall tales’ message revealed, the nuances of language can provide a fascinating lens through which to see the world. 

Today I was reflecting on the word ‘undoing’.

The trusty dictionary definition conveys three distinct meanings:
  1. The act of unfastening or loosening.
  2. The act of reversing or annulling something accomplished; a cancellation.
  3. Ruin; destruction. Either the act of bringing to ruin. Or the cause or source of ruin; downfall: “Greed was his undoing”.

The first explanation doesn’t give us much to get excited about; it’s simply a literal description about the act of unfastening. The real intrigue comes lower down in the list. 

From one angle (the 2nd dictionary explanation) ‘undoing’ describes a desire to go back, to retrace your steps and change an event in time. Literally, to undo an action. So easy on the computer, so hard in real life. How many times have you wanted to rewind time and start again? Or step into a time machine and recreate your future in a way that seems more sensible, structured and trouble-free? To swallow back those mean things you said to a loved one during an argument or, even better, to be able to put forward that witty, wise and cutting remark that you only thought up after having left a frustrating conversation?

But if you had that opportunity, are there things you would truly undo? Or do all of our actions and words define us; whether they’re particularly good, bad, moral or malign?

Despite it being a hard pill to swallow at times and despite it feeling like the most difficult journey, we’d never learn if we made no mistakes. We’d never have the passion to inspire creative pursuits if we had no stories to tell. And we’d certainly miss having all that interesting stuff to talk about when we go to the pub with friends. Misjudgements keep us on our toes; blunders make us interesting.

So all of our actions define us, not just the ones we’re proud of. The question is, are you getting the balance right?

Which leads me to explore the second angle for viewing ‘undoing’ (the 3rd dictionary explanation)... That is, when actions and mistakes have gone too far and become “a person’s undoing”. Whether a vice such as alcohol, drugs or gambling takes over, or it’s simply a catalogue of behavioural errors, if we can’t press undo then before long it could result in our undoing, our downfall and our despair.

So where’s the balance button to keep us living and learning without going too far?


  1. We are defined by our actions, balanced or not.
    Thanks for your post.

    Visiting from A to Z,

  2. Truly a thought-provoking post. There are a few things I wish I hadn't said; maybe more than a few things. But overall, I don't think I would undo much because, as you say, we learn from our experiences.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author