No regrets, no reflection

Regret is a bad word, apparently. Many, many times, I’ve said said I regret something, and been reprimanded. People aren’t shy about telling you that you that they regret nothing. “No regrets!” they say. They sometimes qualify it by admitting they haven’t been angels but insist that regret is not part of their experience.

“I’ve made some mistakes, but I have no regrets.”

Apparently people associate regret with weakness, or being a failure. If I told someone, “I’m a failure” or “I’m too weak to live on this planet” then I would expect a reprimand followed by a little pep-talk, but to say that I regret something seems completely natural to me. It’s the absence of regret that worries me. If you truly have no regrets, then you’ve truly done no reflection about how your actions have impacted other people, or, for that matter, how you’ve suffered from some of your own actions.

I regret, for example, being overweight for the better part of two decades. I regret perhaps not all but much of the time I spent in relationships that I knew were doomed. I regret the time I spent running away from my passions instead of embracing them. I regret those things. I wish I’d acted differently, and, if I could do it all over again, I’d do things differently. That’s what regret means.

Another reaction I often get when expressing regret is that the mistakes I’ve made are all part of making me who I am today. And that’s fair enough, but I’m skeptical that who I am today is the best possible version of who I might be otherwise. Yes, my mistakes taught me lessons, and some of those lessons couldn’t be learned any other way. But I regret the things that I knew were bad ideas and did anyway. I regret the lessons I had to learn twice.

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