Regret, Ignorance, and Absolution.
Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything, You are you and that is the beginning and the end – no apologies, no regrets.
– Henry Kissinger
I’ve always had a conceptual problem with having “no regrets”. Perhaps it’s a personal problem, but I doubt that. “No” is the part that’s troublesome to me. No regrets? At all? Seems alien to me, no regrets, this absolvency of conscience. I don’t think I particularly feel more or less about the past than most others, I’m average in a great number of departments and I’m really ok with that (hell, there’s areas I’ve chosen that path intentionally).
Mr. Kissinger is widely respected. I disagree with 3/4 of his statement, which is primarily why I chose to lead my post with it. “Accept everything about yourself”, do this. Do this with fervor and vigor and live every day as you and only you. I spent many years trying to be something I wasn’t generally unbeknownst to those around me and I only found myself in a “happy place” when I dropped the guise and realized who I was, what I can do, and focused on these things and quit trying to change me. “You are you and that is the beginning and the end- no apologies, no regrets.”
I am me, start to finish, but this statement implies that what I am is unchangeable and forever and that just flatly isn’t true. I can change me, it’s not easy, but I can. I’ve done it several times. Over the course of these nearly thirty four years I’ve resided on this rock I’ve seen and done a few things, though not nearly as much as I think many of my cohorts have done, and I’d like to apologize to some people. Unfortunately, some of those people, I cannot. I regret that. I regret decisions I made and now I have to live with them until my beginning becomes my end. No matter how I change myself for the better, which I strive to do at every opportunity, I have to do it in light of those regrets so I do not repeat those mistakes.
Perhaps it’s a different moral compass, perhaps it’s a nonchalant mindset, whatever it is, some people seem to be able to live without regret. I can’t help but see it as irresponsible, but those without regret wouldn’t agree with me, I think they’d see my regret as a waste. Mistakes are made by everyone, and a lesson can be learned by each and every one. A few of those mistakes can make an indelible mark upon a life. Upon several lives. Upon many, many lives. Tao teaches us that we are at the whim of fate, but we may shift that fate. A paradox, really. I truly believe that I could have ended up at the place I am now, with the wonderful family I have, through a myriad of choices over the years. Unfortunately for me along this road I’ve traveled there are several things I regret, a real, true regret that I would give anything to go back and change because while it wouldn’t necessarily do anything to improve my current situation, it sure would make me feel a hell of a lot better about how I got here.
Being afraid of regret can set you up for failure in a tentative life where you never do anything, nothing is accomplished, and then you die. Being mindful of regret, however, is smart. To me, rolling through life ignorant of consequence isn’t feasable. If you’re lucky, you can make one of those apologies Mr. Kissinger disdains, avoid a great regret, and move on your path to whatever fate may hold, but if not, regret can be a powerful tool to remind you to not make that same mistake again before that lamentation becomes an indelible mark on your own life.