Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Possibly Regrettable Philosophy

"Live without regret."  I see that quote all over the place: on people's Facebook profiles, in advertisements, spelled incorrectly on Hayden Panettiere's back.  In some ways, I think it is a good sentiment.  We have to forgive ourselves for our own transgressions; we cannot torture ourselves forever over past sins.  Nor should we dwell on decisions or actions that seemed good at the time, but we realize now were mistakes in judgment or just plain bad luck.  Also, it can be a good reminder to make every effort not to do things today that we may regret later. 

However, I have a feeling that many people who espouse the regret-free philosophy don't mean it those ways, or at least, don't only mean it those ways.  Most times I have encountered this quote, it has been coupled with photos of crazy drunken hijinks or quotes about the pleasures of debauchery.  And when taken in that context, its meaning is not of forgiving oneself or keeping one's actions in check, but of shamelessly indulging in immoral behavior and refusing to feel remorse over it.

For when we look up regret its first definition is just that: sorrow or remorse.  And if the "live without regret" philosophy is, at its core, a decision to never feel sorrow or remorse or guilt over doing a bad thing, then it's not the mantra for me.  I do live with regrets, many of them.  The sins I have repented, I have forgiven; the unwitting mistakes, I have moved past -- but it would be ridiculous to say that I feel no sorrow or remorse for anything I have done in my life.  What sort of way would that be to live?

Now, to live without egrets...that would just be a shame.
I suspect that many of the folks who "live without regret" do so because they want to live life to the fullest.  That is my desire, too -- to live a life full of joy, full of beauty, full of goodness.  A life full of love, the only thing which makes us full.  One of my absolute most detested famous movie quotes is from Love Story: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."  Rubbish.  We may wish we never had reason to apologize to the people we love, but heaven knows we sinners fail constantly, even in the relationships we treasure most.  So if my life is full of love, chances are I'm going to have some regrets to go along with it, like it or not.

What do you think?  Do you like this quote? Am I being (regrettably) overly-critical about the whole affair?


  1. I agree with you in the way that most people misunderstand or misquote this quote. I try not regret things in the past that cannot be changed and that is how I interpret the quote.

    Your posts always give me something to ponder and I appreciate that! Also, I'm glad you like the print! I never received an email notification that you sent me a message on fb so I apologize for never responding.

  2. I think you are right on. That quote does seem to be coupled with bad behavior. I think sometimes that regret is a part of learning and acknowledging that you did something wrong (sinful) - but we shouldn't hold on to that regret forever. I used to regret a past relationship that I had which was very abusive and caused me to compromine much of my morals, but I have been able to move on and to be grateful for the lessons I learned. I would never have met my husband if that previous relationship hadn't have turned out the way it did, so I have learned not to "regret" it.

    But then again, maybe I'm confusing regret with shame or guilt. I don't even know what I think...

  3. Totally with you. In fact, my cousin and I were just talking about something which I think would be a lot better off if people didn't follow this philosophy.

    If I've agreed to something (a playdate, a favor, etc.) I do not go back on it. Sometime I might be late due to a nap, or have to cancel due to illness. But so many people cancel out on their obligations at a whim and then don't bother to feel guilt or apologize for how they've let someone down who was counting on them. Totaly shameful.