A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my cousin and she brought up how she hates it when people say they have “no regrets.” No regrets! We decided that people who really believe that are either a.) really shallow, and/or not self-aware enough to realize the consequences of decisions, b.) pathologically optimistic, or c.) super egotistical (ie., “everything I do turns out golden, regardless”). O.K., O.K., I get why people say “no regrets.” For some people it is a mantra, a kind of “seize the day” sort of thing, so they don’t end up on their deathbeds regretting too many things that they didn’t do. For others it is to convince themselves that everything happens for a reason, and it all turns out for the best. And for others it is to convince themselves or justify to others that it is alright that they acted like a total shit, because everything turned out for the best. In some circumstances it simply means that whatever the outcome of a specific situation is was worth the hell someone had to go through to get there. But do people really believe it when they say it?
Personally, I think that as a mantra the phrase is a set-up for disappointment. I understand that the point is to live life to its fullest, but why wouldn’t your mantra simply be “seize the day,” or “live every day like it’s your last,” or something? Even when things turn out well, you will probably regret at least some things. As far as the “everything happens for a reason” argument: I guess I do believe in fate, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. BUT! I don’t believe that we don’t have a choice in how it affects us. So, if you go through hell, and the outcome is ultimately positive, that’s all fine and dandy. However, often times you could have chosen a path that wouldn’t have put you through hell, may have had a different outcome, but the outcome could still have been positive. If someone says it about a specific goal; well, I guess I can understand that, like, “I went through hell to stop smoking (or lose weight, or whatever it is), but I have no regrets.” Although I do think that in a lot of those situations the hell we go through is the hell we create for ourselves, so it is still a choice. Obviously I’m not going to bother refuting the whole thing about using that phrase to justify being an a-hole. There is no excuse for being a jerk. Everyone acts like a jerk from time to time, but there is no goal that justifies it. Sorry.
For your entertainment, here is just a small sampling of things I regret (despite the fact that they had some positive outcomes):
- Starting to smoke. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! (However, I may have never met some of the people who are my best friends now!)
- Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college (With a couple exceptions from high school and being related, I would definitely not have met any of the people who are my best friends now!).
- Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college. Again. (No particularly positive results thus far…well, I guess I know what the edge of sanity looks like now! And I did meet one person I’m still friends with. Otherwise, I’m not using my expensive MA at all!)
- Caring too much about what other people think of me. (Results: Eating Disorders. Lots of mental anguish. Lack of confidence. Fear of failure Etc.. But, I guess it could have saved me from doing lots of stupid things, too. I will never really know!)
- Having Credit Cards. Well, I guess I got to go on a couple of trips thanks to these. Too bad the most recent trip that I can attribute to a credit card happened 6 years ago! Also, my hubby and I put some stuff for our wedding on credit. I had a pretty kick-ass wedding day; so I’d say that was worthwhile. Otherwise, there is nothing that I have used credit for that has been particularly memorable or necessary.
And those are just things that I regret doing! I won’t even get started on things I regret not doing!
I guess there is one possible way that “no regrets” is meaningful to me: that regret is a waste of time and life. Whatever choices are in your past are already in your past. They’re done, so there’s no use thinking about them. So, “no regrets” could just mean “The past is over. Live in the present.” I can get behind that. But I still think it would be more accurate to stick with the wisdom of the Beatles :“Let it be,” or just “let it go.”
What do you think of the phrase “no regrets”? What are your major regrets? Did they have some positive outcomes?