More often than not people profess that one should not regret anything one has done because, after all, it got me to where I am now. And strangely even when ‘where one is now’ ain’t so great, bizarrely one draws inspiration from the idea that I would not be who I am were it not for everything that preceded, and I guess not profoundly embracing this notion is blasphemous dribble suggestive of self-annihilation. I don’t agree. I’m so totally with Kathryn.
Do you honestly believe that Biban Janković does not regret slamming his head against the goal post (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boban_Jankovi%C4%87) that caused his paralysis and premature death? What if the late Jyoti Singh (see India’s Daughter) could turn back the clock and not enter the bus from hell? Would she not have chosen to? You can be sure that Stanley Tookie Williams ((http://www.biography.com/people/stanley-tookie-williams-476676) regrets his delinquent ways! Indeed, it was his regret that moved him to change his ways, and though from a prison cell, inspire young hooligans on the fast track to a life of crime, to learn from his mistakes! Regret implies agency – Kathryn is right about this, no? We cannot regret what we cannot change. I can’t regret being born into a world bent on (still lingering) patriarchal sentiments, any more than I can regret the vicious tragedy that befell the lovely Jyoti Singh. These events were not within my power to effect. But this is not the same as decisions made under my watch, as I surveyed my life. The premise is fallaciously employed retroactively to suggest that because I cannot change the past, and therefore have no control over altering events already transpired, that regret is a futile occupation. Of course, I did have agential authority over events that, despite the initial suggestion, one quite naturally evokes a sense of regret for (“Damn I wish I hadn’t eaten that 2nd piece of cake!” or “Shit, I wish I hadn’t betrayed my wife and pissed my family away!”) which is obviously not the case with regards to those events over which I never had (or could have had) such authority over. Still, many might argue that what is done is done. The past cannot be undone. I cannot claim (or be assigned) agential authority over that. True enough. Except for one thing. Regret is an emotionally charged response to a situation which is perceived to have been under one’s control to effect. This is why often cries of self-admonition – “I wish I hadn’t!!!!”- can be heard over and over again. Sometimes regrets linger and are replayed ad nauseam as one wrestles with the emotional overtures of events one could (often easily) have altered….but didn’t. Regret does not reflect one’s impotency to change the past, but one’s weakness, ignorance, idiocy, delusion, to have acted in a way that one now understands to have been under (or could have been) one’s control to do otherwise. That’s why I don’t regret what is perceived to have been beyond my control to act otherwise (eg. under coercive threat).
And we do actually believe this. Regret is the moral backdrop (perhaps) of all organized human life where moral culpability plays a fundamental role in the assignment of blame and incurring punishments and penalties. We don’t send sociopaths to jail because they are deemed ill-fit and devoid of the moral sentiments from which a sense of moral culpability is drawn. The point is twofold: (i) Iff one is sound in mind, is one assigned moral culpability (eg. mentally challenged, temporary insanity, psychoses, etc.) ; and (ii) only in cases such as these does one recognize in oneself acts of wrong doing and the ensuing predictable (and I dare say, expected) feeling of regret! The corollary of this view is that such individuals (especially those suffering from psychoses) are beyond rehabilitation because they are beyond redemption. Herein lies the crux of the matter: regret charges one with both the responsibility and motivation to alter one’s ways. It says, in effect, I could have acted differently, if only I had known x, believed y, was willing to see or accept z, and/or had the courage to act accordingly. With foresight in my grasp, I can now tend to these shortcomings in self, and begin my journey towards my own transvaluation of values (well not quite as Nietzsche might have hoped, but perhaps Derek Vineyard’s existential plight in American History X offers some insight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsPW6Fj3BUI) and the negotiation of self (so very unlike that more convenient idea with which this blog began where one embraces who one is just because this is how I happened to turn out!!! 🙂 ) more authentically and viscerally realized. It is as Kathryn says, regret only means that I acknowledge in myself the power to be better, the emotional stability to accept my fragility, and the desire to change and make past wrongs right.
Regret at will, I say! It is the healthy choice. And make no mistake, this too is a choice! 🙂