Making Room for Regret
Three things prompt my sharing Kathryn Schultz’s TEDTalk on regret. The first is one of the lectionary readings appointed for this Sunday, Jeremiah 31:31-34, that talks about God forgetting Israel’s sins. In a column I wrote on this passage for preachers, I suggested that we might all take a leaf from God’s notebook and a) trust that God really does forget our sins and b) maybe we should try to forget them – and those of others – as well. But Kathryn’s talk, entitled “Don’t Regret Regret,” reminded me that some things are worth remembering – including some of our regrets. Why? Because our regrets can teach us something about ourselves and even be a guide to being a better self. As she says, “Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.”
The second reason I appreciated her talk was how it challenges our culture’s dictum of “living without regret.” That the best we can do, according to the culture, is to go for it – whatever “it” is – no holds barred, refusing to look backward or acknowledge our losses. Regrets – along with the larger category of taking responsibility for our failures – might keep us from the unrelenting focus on our goal of self-actualization our culture invites. Christians should know better, as in our best moments we remember that forgiveness is the essential ingredient to a life lived well.
The third factor that drew me to Kathryn’s presentation is that I’m working on a book on stewardship, and I find that her presentation helpfully informed my own sense of, not just what matters, but what will most likely matter to us in the future. We spend a lot of time worrying about money – do we have enough? how can we get more? what should we do with what we have? and so forth – but it turns out that very few of our future regrets will be about money. The number one regret that most people have, in fact, is about our education – missed opportunities to grow, challenge ourselves, and be enriched. So, again quoting Kathryn,
If you’re sitting there stressing about large cap versus small cap, or company A versus company B, or should you buy the Subaru or the Prius, let it go. Odds are, you’re not going to care in five years.
So what do you regret? What do you do about it? How can we learn from regret while not getting stuck in it? Kathryn has some great suggestions, and I’d be interested in hearing yours as well. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Kathryn’s talk.
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