The broken compass of regret

From the streets to success: Dong’s transformation has been inspiring, but something deep inside holds him back from claiming his pride.

A lovely celebration graced this week – the wedding of two Blue Dragon alumni, now both young adults who are setting out in their careers.

As happens at these events, staff and kids all headed out to be part of the ceremony. Moments like these show how close the whole Blue Dragon community really is.

Along the journey, I had a chance to meet up with another of the Blue Dragon ‘old boys’; a young man named Dong who also married recently.

Dong and his wife Phu manage a beautiful garden cafe. I spent some time talking with them and watching them at work. And sampling their drinks, of course!

A hard start to life

Dong has come such a long way since his difficult teenage years. 

When we first met him, he had been living on the streets on and off for several years. He had become so self reliant that even when he broke his leg he walked alone to a hospital to seek help. 

Without any love or care from family, he was constantly in survival mode. 

A street boy sits alone – Image generated by A.I.

And we know that when anyone is in survival mode, their behaviour will be challenging. 

In the two years he was with Blue Dragon, Dong often got into conflict with other kids. He resisted fitting in and his efforts to study were mixed. 

At times he did spectacularly well, like the effort he put into his barista training – which is now paying off! But then he would suddenly disengage, seem uninterested, and sabotage his own success. 

All of which is totally normal for a teenager dealing with complex trauma. 

So when Dong moved on from Blue Dragon, he took with him the benefits of care and counselling, as well as his job training. 

But he also took with him the secret pain of regret. 

A strange emotion

Regret is a strange emotion. Having it makes us human – it shows that we can reflect and gives us an opportunity to learn from the past. 

But as a compass to transform the past into a better direction for the future, regret is a broken instrument. It is so often wrong – as it is for Dong. 

As we talked, Dong shared with me his regret over mistakes he had made at Blue Dragon. Like the time he got into a fight with his best friend. And the time he quit one of his classes because of a conflict with the teacher. And the time…

But Dong’s feeling of regret was misleading him. None of this was a matter to feel bad about, and certainly nothing to apologise for. 

It was all part of the natural, bumpy process of healing. 

There’s probably none among us who doesn’t feel the pain of regret for something that we shouldn’t. Some, like Dong, carry far too much pain.

Regret serves an evolutionary purpose and is part of what makes us human. But we all need help at times to fine tune, or even reset, the compass. To make sure it’s leading us on a true course. 

I hope that my time with Dong helped him to see that nobody at Blue Dragon judges him for anything that happened while he was with us, dealing with his very complex childhood.

More importantly, I hope that he can see that he doesn’t need to judge himself. 

As he mixed drinks and served customers alongside his wife and their staff, I saw a young man with so much to be proud of. 

I hope that he can see that, too.  

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation protects children from trafficking and exploitation.

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