I’m not sure if this is unique to my generation or not, but I’ve found that it is really unpopular to admit to having regrets. I remember the last semester I was in high school, we were having a discussion in English class about the book Tuesdays with Morrie. I said to my teacher, and to my whole class, that I don’t see anything wrong with having regrets.
My teacher and most of my classmates looked at me as if I had just said a curse word.
To most people, the word “regret” has a very negative connotation. In the world of Facebook and MySpace, countless teens post as their statuses or headlines “No Regrets”. We hear songs on the radio like Angels and Airwaves’ Rite of Spring, or even Rascal Flatts’ Here, all about the past heartaches, mistakes, pain, and poor choices. But the resolve at the end is always the same: “No Regrets”… “I wouldn’t change a thing”, etc.
Well, let me be counter-cultural for a moment and say that I am not afraid of having regrets. There are things in my past I wish I could change. And I think it’s harder to admit that than it is to slap a headline on your MySpace that says, “No Regrets”. I really believe that, if everyone was truly honest with themselves, we’d all admit to having regrets.
The arguments for the “No Regrets” claim are out there. “But Mary,” you may say, “If I hadn’t done x, y, or z….I would never have learned [insert valuable life lesson here]”. That may be true. But I think it’s very dangerous to start thinking of past mistakes as positive events. For example, if someone gets drunk and gets into a car accident that injures or kills someone else, they will have (hopefully) learned to not drink and drive…but it would have been better had they learned that without actually making such a terrible mistake.
It is healthy to realize that we have messed up in the past. What is unhealthy is pretending our past is perfect because it “made us who we are today”. Regret is the realization that we have done something wrong, and knowing that if we had the opportunity to go back, we would have done things differently.
I regret any decisions I have made that caused myself unnecessary pain. More importantly, I regret every time one of my actions ever caused someone else pain.
However, as I’ve said many times before, we cannot change the past. We should not dwell on our past mistakes but rather learn from them. And we can take away lessons from a mistake in our past while still acknowledging it as one.