The Man In The Mirror
Perrin, Loial, Moiraine and Lan continue to follow Rand's trail. Nearly every village they pass through has had some excitement out of the ordinary - massive fires, a village full of weddings, bags of gold being found, a new well, a completely dried well - until they come to Remen, where an Aielman is locked in a cage, with children throwing rocks at him.
What was he supposed to do? I could have stopped those children throwing rocks. I should have. It was no use telling himself the adults would certainly have told him to go on about his business, that he was a stranger in Remen and the Aiel was none of his concern. I should have tried.
No answers came to him, so he went back to the beginning and patiently worked through it once more, then again, and again. Still he found nothing except regret for what he had not done.
Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 322
Apart from having an abundance of basic human decency and irritation towards seeing other people caged; Perrin deals with a feeling towards which readers everywhere can relate: guilt towards not taking action. We've all had those moments that, once passed, we regretted what we could have or should have done or said. This isn't about the perfect comeback to 'win' an argument. This passage is a commentary on all those minute deviations from our principles that, over time, drive us towards a space we never intended to occupy. Perrin's self-reflection and critical (and brutally honest) assessment of his actions bind him back to his principles, preventing him from losing his integrity. As he faces the only judge that matters, himself, he systematically deconstructs the entire event; leaving himself bare to the regret of actions not taken. Make no mistake; this is incredibly challenging to do. Stripping away all the myriad of excuses that the mind can concoct, maintaining objectivity towards the event, and acknowledging the feelings about it without judgment each take a tremendous amount of focus and effort. When combined, it's quite the mountain to climb. This is a set of skills that develops only over time with consistent application. It's one of the reasons that leadership is hard. Even worse, in our results oriented organizations, encouraging such self-mastery often takes a backseat to simply 'getting the job done'; as that's the benchmark for success.
When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me that if I could look in the mirror and say that I tried my best, did everything I could, then that was success. Unfortunately, we all often claim to be doing 'everything we can'. One of my brand new employees was relaying a similar story: he was working a project and it was in a bad way. He told the stakeholder the bad news and that he was doing everything he could. The stakeholder replied: 'don't tell me you're doing everything you can until you're doing everything you can.' Brutal - but accurate. Often, our version of doing everything we can is just taking those actions that we can use to deflect blame when it all falls apart. To truly live up to dad's standard requires Perrin's level of self-mastery. Time to go back and free an Aielman in a cage.