Monday, January 11, 2016

Regret: The Silent Killer - Brad Jersak

Various diseases have been labeled “the silent killer.” For example, “hypertension” is called the silent killer because it increases the risk of heart disease and strokes, two of the top causes of death in America. Other emotional and spiritual diseases could compete for that title: fear, shame, resentment and bitterness would be high on the list. But the silent epidemic we’ll examine now is regret. 

It’s not that regret goes unnoticed. Oodles of motivational posters decrying regret litter the Internet. I say “litter” because they largely represent a worldly wisdom that exhorts us to move beyond regret, but only leave us feeling worse—regretting our regrets. Sampling this pseudo-sage advice, obvious patterns emerge.

Three Anti-Regret Slogans

1) Thou shalt never regret. Henry Thoreau wrote, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” Or “Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in” (Katherine Manfield). 

2) Thou shalt (not) regret what you didn’t do more than what you did do. “The mistakes I’ve made are dead to me. But I can’t take back the things I never did” (Jonathan Foer). “Our biggest regrets are not for the things we have done but for the things we haven’t done” (Chad Murray).

3) Thou shalt (not) regret not being yourself. “One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself” (Shannon Alder). “One of my main regrets in life is giving considerable thought to inconsiderate people” (Jarod Kintz). 

What are we hearing? You should not have regrets. Or, you’ll regret regretting, so let us “inspire” your willpower: just stop regretting! Why? Because regret is for losers. Those who have “arrived” boast, “I regret nothing!” They forget that Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, first coined the phrase. Here’s the double bind! If you have regrets, you’re lame; if you don’t, you’re a sociopath! 

Shaming Regret?

All of this amounts to shaming us for the torment of regret, attempting to punish the disease out of its victims. As if regret were a bad choice. As if my regrets were completely in my hands. What if we made mistakes in all sincerity? Should we now feel ashamed for feeling the grief over the consequences? What if our dreams were stolen by others? Should we feel nothing for our losses?

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