REGRET: an introspection of dissatisfaction about a disadvantageous event

Regrets are introspections of dissatisfaction about events and choices that in hindsight are percieved as disadvantageous. They vary in intensity according to the significance of the events experienced, and are an essential element in the error-driven process of learning from experience. At an everyday practical level they are awarenesses that certain choices and happenings resulted in undesirable consequences... and hence future behaviour will need to be modified accordingly. The student pilot regrets getting caught in severe weather conditions, and resolves to learn to interpret the meteorological forecasts more intelligently. The enthusiastic but inexperienced gardener regrets planting blackberries for their fruit, and is forced to weigh up the aggressive thorny growth habit against the gourmet delights of the produce. At a more emotional level they are unhappy retrosprective reflections... usually about personal circumstances or erroneous choices... that have supposedly altered the direction of one's life in a deleterious manner.

It is utterly pointless and futile to assume that events might have been otherwise as they were, and to agonize over the supposition. Firstly it neeeds to be fatalistically remembered that decisions and events... that are woven into the fabric of the past... were what they were precisely because of the circumstances that existed at the time when they happened. Things were as they were and what happened was what happened. There is no way such an eventuality could be different. The choices, the throw of the die, the states of mind, the thoroughness of the preparation, the entire chaotic perturbational universe... was as it was. Whatever miniscule perturbation influenced a knife-edged balance of choices to tip the one way rather than the other... that was what happened at the time. Supposing that it could have been different is entirely erronious. It is certainly true that similar future events can be influenced by trying to ensure that supposed excesses or deficiencies are remedied... that's how a student pilot learns to correct the flight properties of a stalled aircraft... but nothing could have altered the circumstances surrounding the first stall and recovery experience.

Sometimes the illusion that the past could have been otherwise results in an obsessive and crippling psychiatric condition where regret assumes overwhelming proportions. The belief that the neglect which resulted in the death of a child might have been avoidable, or that the uncontrollable anger that fuelled a homicide could have been diverted, feeds upon itself in introspection and engenders a mental state of 'guilt' that displaces and disrupts everyday practical behaviour. Life visits both fortune and misfortune on every individual. Whatever the consequences of such an event are, crippling attitudes of regret and 'guilt' are quite futile and unhelpful. This not to say however that there should be no social consequences. On the contrary. Unprovoked aggression and homicide is socially inappropriate and unacceptable and should invoke social consequences. Although the initiative of revenge may in fact achieve a more equitable and instantaneous 'justice', the pragmatic social perspective seems to necessarily resolve around the fact that neither individuals nor society can influence the past, but preparation and planning can influence the future. It is not possible to correct an unacceptable event that has happened, but by introducing training and education, the frequency and magnitude of future situations where that might occur can be reduced and minimized. We are forever attempting to ensure that such and such an event 'will never happen again'.

Many regrets are pointless and fruitless erosions of the positive eventualities of the present. Individuals who brood about wishing that a choice had been different should reflect that everything about their present life would be different. They certainly would not have any of their present circumstances of friends, children and relationships. Would those who regret such distant choices be prepared to deny all the circumstances and relationships they now experience? An obsessive regret about the previous choice of a now estranged spouse, often overlooks the subsequent reality of deeply loved children that resulted from that selection. In many situations, you cannot have it both ways. If you actually could undo the past, you would annihilate much that was positive along with the percieved negative. Dwelling upon some regret is very likely to be a very myopic and microscopic exercise, which excludes and ignores the broad perspective. It may be possible in some circumstances to make a further choice which reverses the former, but for the most part, the literal reversal of events and choices is existentially impossible. One cannot unharvest an apple, unfell a tree, or undo the consequences of suicide.

Creative action has the potential to redirect future preparation and choices and to dilute the intensity of some regrets. Whilst it is increasingly impossible to reverse ancient choices without disrupting innumerable other eventualities that are favourably viewed, the possibity may be present to recover from regrets about relatively recent choice opportunities. One can normally easily correct a poor decor color choice or landscaping plant location... with nothing more than money and effort. A choice to do some action which has been left undone may perhaps bring satisfaction. Making a parachute jump or visiting the antarctica may be perfectly achievable goals on a bucket-list of unrealised adventures... with adequate health, money and determination of course. Even though many events have irreversible consequences... and hence any regrets held about them will be unrectifiable... nevertheless, opportunities sometimes arise wherein choices can be made to ameliorate the effects of regretted historical choices. In some circumstances, creative action has the ability to dilute regret in proportion to its focus and quantities. The childless couple can donate resources to childrens hospitals, the former juvenile vandal can become active in volunteer construction projects, and the closet homosexual can tenatively explore alternative horizons by joining the local monoecious flower appreciation society. Submerge those regrets that are susceptible to dilution with positive action, and transmute those that are not into the archives of personal experience. Ultimately however, the only release from obsessive introverted regret is death. 'Forgiveness' only works if you have a 'soul' and most individuals are unable to provide evidence of possessing one.