Word studies. I have been doing a few of them lately because there is such rampant embracing and regurgitation of totally ignorant and socially accepted sentiments running a muck in social media. I keep coming across these picture memes and quotables that I imagine were generated by entitled, hormonal, co-dependant teens or college kids who've never encountered a dictionary. What really blows my mind though, is how the social masses lap up these trite little proverbs as "truth." Seems like everyone is drinking the koolaid so I realize challenging popular word-sentiments could incite an onslaught of hater feedback but this needs to be done, people. Words are powerful and vocabulary sometimes has to be rescued from our abuse and lackadaisical tossing it about. So the first word I'd like to unpack is none other than, REGRET.
re·gret[ri-gret] verb, re·gret·ted, re·gret·ting, noun
verb (used with object)
to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.): He no sooner spoke than he regretted it.
to think of with a sense of loss: to regret one's vanished youth.
a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.
Notice, self-hate, self pity, feeling shame, condemnation or a belief I am less-than is not in this definition?! So, what exactly, is so wrong about feeling sorrow or remorseful for something we've done? Has humanity degenerated so much that it's considered demeaning to feel disappointed in ourselves? I've heard it said "never regret" because the choices we've made are what "make us into the person we are." Well, aren't sorrow, disappointment, remorse, admitting fault the very convictions that spurn us to do and behave better, to learn and grow from our actions, which in turn "make us who we are"? I thought life lessons were a good thing.
To illustrate my frustration, I've put a few of these picture memes into personal context. (I hope you'll still respect me after I've exposed myself.)
- I'll never regret throwing that puppy down a flight of stairs, over and over again, because at one time it was exactly what I wanted. What 6yo wouldn't think that was hilarious?
- I'll never regret that time I stole swimsuits from a department store after drinking that classy Boones Farm Strawberry Hill, getting strip-searched, handcuffed, arrested and fined because at one time it was exactly what I wanted. I did my time in the slammer, why do you think I'm so hard, durr.
- I'll never regret calling my best friend stupid, ugly and fat because, it made me smile. Why, I even said it with a smile! ...I can't understand why we're not still friends :(
- I'll never regret kicking my 9mo-pregnant mother in her belly because, it made me smile. She had it coming picking a fight with 14yo me, right? Homey don't play that.
- I'll never regret slapping my kid that one time in the car and giving him a bloody nose because, it was just love. Who was I to spare the rod? He shouldn't have moved his face.
- I'll never regret forcing my nephew to sit at the dining table for 6-hours because he refused to eat his soggy cereal because, you know, it was just love. Discipline equals love. So, yeah.
Love, smiles and desire justify my bad deeds? Really? Is that the message we're trying to preach to our generation? The truth is, we all know a lot of jerks who could learn a little from the sting of remorse, disappointment, dissatisfaction or sorrow for their actions. We have all met arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic people who refuse to apologize or concede they were wrong about anything. It's nauseating. But that's what humans become, self-absorbed, when we pridefully or indignantly refuse to accept personal responsibility or be accountable for the decisions we make that hurt others and ourselves.
(oh, the irony.)
I believe the sentiment of what these "No regret" cliches and idioms are really trying to relay is, "No Shame", or "No self- condemning." Because, Shame is really the 'dirty' word we're all afraid of, isn't it? In fact, shame is so taboo you'll rarely hear the word uttered from someone's lips, let alone acknowledged in today's self-enlightened and self-empowered society.
But under the smelly prickly layers of shame, stripped down to it's essence, shame is simply just another emotion. A universal, natural human response when we are in a situation where we feel rejected, stupid, or unlovable--whether we did something directly to cause it or insecurity has snuck up and got the best us. Shame is debilitating and destructive. Unlike regret or guilt--emotions that usually produce positive results like atonement, reconciliation and resolution--shame is rarely discussed or acknowledged and when it's not dealt with swiftly and properly it can quickly devolve into self-hate, express itself in wrath and multiply itself in retaliation. Shame is such an ugly feeling that I believe society has repackaged it into a euphemism we wont choke on, "regret." However, regret and shame are not synonymous and it's unfortunate the two are so often lumped together when they are actually the antithesis of each other. Kind of like apart and a part, the two have completely opposite meanings, yet so often we see them being used interchangeably.
Listen, I'm not the grammar police but I have a healthy respect for vocabulary, words have the power to change things and we should be careful with them. I'm also not the authority on expressing emotions, but I know a feeling when I feel one. Regret, is also just an emotion, a feeling of disappointment, sorrow or sadness that let's our heart know we messed up or missed the mark somewhere. I see regret is a positive emotion I learn from, over and over again. However, regret is not static. Regret can be redeeming but I agree with the sentiment that it is unhealthy to carry it around with us. At the same time, I don't believe regret is something we can hold on to. It's meant to be reconciled. If we can feed it, pet it, nurture it, "it" will grow into something else much more sinister.
Regret is the catalyst for positive change, unlike shame. Regret is like a cocoon that produces a butterfly and shame is like a maggot that eats away at us until it morphs into a fly that proceeds to crap on us, over and over again. Shame attacks our character, causes us to spiral into dark places where it can be hidden, it ferments and multiplies into something toxic. Regret challenges our behavior and causes us to want to do better. But whether it's shame or regret, we are the ones who ultimately decide where we end up, not our emotions.
I think understanding the difference between these two emotions is important. Because if I align myself with the popular slant on regret, then what I'm really saying is; life is all about what makes me happy at the moment, what I want, no matter what the cost--and that's just not true.
We're all humans here, so those days we stumble or forget what's most important and hurt ourselves or the ones we love, accidentally or intentionally, what do we have to offer as restitution and what, exactly, is our motivator to do or be better next time? To regret is to express our humanity. If we are unable to feel regret we would also lack empathy and compassion that connects us to others. It is regret that causes us to desire to undo a deed or take back the tears and pain we caused others. All we have to offer are our apologies, contriteness or the simple act of forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes.
If I am too stiff necked to feel remorse, be accountable or feel disappointment when I make mistakes or hurt others, that just makes me a jerk. Regret isn't something we should be ashamed of or too proud to admit and we are not a weaker humans for feeling or experiencing it.