Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Regret can be one of the most powerful emotional reminders that change and growth is necessary. I have come to believe that regret is a kind of package deal: it is a function of empathy, a call to courage and a path toward wisdom.
Like all emotions, regret can be used constructively or destructively, but the wholesale dismissal of regret is, perhaps, misguided and menacing. “No Regrets” doesn’t mean living with courage; it means living without reflection. One of the earliest forms of embracing regret is seen in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the play, Lady Macbeth says, “What’s done is done.” She encourages us to learn to live with regret and not without it. This helps us learn to embrace the flawed and imperfect things we create while forgiving ourselves for creating them. This is where the focus shifts from the bad that is done to the better than can be done.
To live with ‘No Regret’ is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life. I'm not suggesting that we must live with regret, but I do think it's important to allow ourselves to take chances, to experience and learn lessons, to feel it’s guilt without wallowing in it.
Regret exists on a continuum and, perhaps, what should be made more transparent is that people regret failures of kindness. Kindness has neither a perfect time nor place. Kindness is simply that moment when another human being is there, in front of you, and you respond . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
And so, I’d like to change the mantra to: ‘Never Regret regret’.