A life without regrets

Lindsay Lohan recently had the words ‘Live without regrets’ tattooed onto her wrist.

She is not alone in this sentiment. It seems that every time I read a an interview of a celebrity with a, shall we say, colourful history, they invariably say that despite their weekly trips to rehab, regular forays into prison and string of messy relationships, they have no regrets whatsoever.

Saying that one has no regrets is akin in popular culture to saying ‘I love the person I am and I accept it’. This taps into the zeitgeist where self-esteem is the ultimate goal, and has become a cool and ubiquitous mantra.

To me, it sounds like a defiant gesture. In Lohan’s case, it could be that she’s using her tattoo to tell the press and the public to put her past behind them and let her get on with her life, which is entirely understandable. Or she may simply be happy with how things have worked out.

History repeating

Unlike Lindsay Lohan, however, I do have regrets.

I regret that in my university days I spent more time at the Rampant Lion than the library. I regret that I wasted countless years and tears on dead-end relationships.

But when I say I regret these things, it’s not that I dwell on them; neither do I let them get me down. I accept them and am in the process of making peace with them. No, to say I regret them is to say that if I could go back in time, I would act differently.

American philosopher George Santayana famously said that, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Regrets should not mean a negative attitude towards the past, but rather a more mature attitude towards the future. Experience can teach us much, but only if we are willing to learn from it.

Life in a bubble

But what if we have learned so much from our mistakes that we truly have no regrets about them?

This question pre-supposes that we live in a bubble, discrete from the rest of humanity; that our decisions have no impact on anybody else but ourselves.

Lohan was incarcerated for driving under the influence. Suppose she had run over and killed someone, would she still have no regrets? Everything we do has a knock-on effect.

Unless we have lived a perfect life (and who has?), we will have hurt people other than ourselves. And we will also have turned our backs on our God.

Grow up

It’s only by having regrets about our choices that we can turn and be forgiven and make better choices in the future. But that guilt about messing up need not, indeed should not stay with us, but rather be replaced with gratitude for our forgiveness.

If we are to move on and grow in maturity, we need to set aside our pride, admit that we have made mistakes and learn from them. We can’t change the past, but for everyone’s sake, let’s be grown up enough to learn from it.