It is a long recurring theme, the call to have no regrets and/or to live one’s life without regret. Both the young and the middle-aged seeking to find their lost youth herald this idea as a measure of courage and personal growth.
It is one of the more laughable ideas that I’ve heard issue from the mouths of fools and people trying to sell me something. It also would be dangerous if generally achievable.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that only the severely mentally deficient and/or damaged, the most shallow of narcissists, and total sociopaths could ever hope to achieve a life with no regrets. Let’s concentrate instead upon those deluded fools who might attempt this largely in vain.
Relationships & Loneliness
People who foolishly try to live with no regrets and who “never look back” are, by and large, doomed to lonesome lives which are interspersed with relationships that fail utterly and with what might be called disconcerting regularity. They will end up without true friends or helpmeets.
Humans do not long maintain relationships with people that they do not trust; they certainly don’t maintain true friendships or loving relationships with individuals that have proven themselves to be unworthy of trust, and regret is part and parcel of trust.
If one feels no regret, one can not truly feel contrition and cannot be trusted by his or her closer companions to strive to behave to their benefit or, at the very least, strive to avoid behaving directly to their detriment.
Societal Condemnation & Ostracism
The issues that individuals have with the perceived selfishness and self-centeredness of those who live without regret extends themselves to society as a whole, though the reasoning is somewhat different. Society relies on regret for one’s transgressions as a basis for punishment, rehabilitation, and eventual return to fold.
Without regretfulness this system breaks down and those individuals without such emotions, or who strive to suppress them, will be ostracized by their societies as a whole. At worst they will be vilified and incarcerated; at best, and only if they have extensive material value to their society, they will be treated as an eccentric and kept “at arms length.”
Existentialism & Nihilism
While touted as an act of courage and self-actualization, this desire to live without regret more often than not seems to stem from an individual’s descent into existentialism and nihilism. Fatalism, cynicism, and despair leads many who espouse this philosophy to feel that there is little or no lasting meaning and, therefor, there is little or no point in regretting their actions or the consequences for others caused by those actions.
After all, if life has no intrinsic, objective meaning or purpose and actions do not carry with them a weight of objective morality or moral impact, then regret is pointless.
Final Thoughts & Opinions
Firstly, if you’re not suffering from an extreme form of autism, an extreme combination of anterograde and retrograde amnesia, or have suffered catastrophic brain injury that dramatically limits your cognitive abilities, then you’re highly unlikely to be able to live without regret. Those few could manage such a feat with any regularity or success would be the extreme narcissists and actual sociopaths.
Secondly, you’re likely to severely screw up life by trying to do, whether you achieve any real measure of success or not.
Thirdly and finally, refusing to regret one’s action is not courageous or a step in personal growth. It is merely a fool trying to either convince themselves to do something foolish or the self-same fool later trying to run away from their failures and misdeeds.