When did the notion we should not have regrets become fashionable? Who is responsible for the idea that one should conclude one’s years with a mental stock take of the pluses and the minuses of one’s life and that there should be nothing that remains a matter of regret? When did people start presuming to tell others what should be the priorities in their lives?
A whole industry has grown up around the generation of emotional guilt; people styling themselves as “life coaches” and receiving payments for their “mentoring”. What ever happened to being grown up? What happened to people taking their own decisions and being confident enough to say, “I am responsible for my own life”?
There was a time when people would have concluded their years in a Frank Sinatra frame of mind. Of course, there might have been an odd moment of regret along the way, but at the end there would have been confidence in having done things their way. Of course, it was certainly not the full truth, the bad moments were probably worse than had been acknowledged, but what was the point in being maudlin? There was no way of changing the past, and what was the point of regret?
Perhaps regret is part of the consumer culture: life itself becoming a commodity for which we feel we need to complete a consumer satisfaction survey at the end. Perhaps it is part of an endemic emotional immaturity: whatever happens must be someone else’s responsibility; if something happens to me, it is not my fault and it is perfectly reasonable for me to phone a radio station and tell a whole nation of my unhappiness.
A church newspaper says that people’s chief regret at the end of life is that they did not spend more time with family and friends, perhaps it is, or perhaps they feel that is what they are expected to say. Since 1986, I have spent many hours with people at the end of their lives and it is not a regret that has often come up in conversation; maybe that is because those with whom I have sat have been a self-selecting group, who are content with the approaching end, or maybe it is because they know their expressions of regret are never going any further than the bedside, least of all be quoted in surveys reported in a newspaper.
It might be a platitude to say that the person who made no mistakes never made anything, but regrets are part of life. If the years were passed in an emotionally sanitized world where sensitivity was the order of the day and where no hurt was ever caused, then maturity would never be reached.
Time spent on life coaches and reading surveys is time wasted – and wasting time, of which there is a very finite supply, is the greatest regret of all.