No Regrets, Really?
February 8, 2011 12:39 PM   Subscribe

What do people mean when they say they "have no regrets?"

I'm genuinely puzzled every time somebody (usually a celebrity) says something like this. I would think having regrets is a natural part of human life...especially when it comes to hurting someone else.

I do not know why someone would NOT have regrets about being a jerk or asshole at at least one point in his or her life. I can understand how a saint would not have regrets, but the people who say such things IMHO, aren't exactly saints...usually just normal people.

Is there some other meaning I'm missing when someone says they don't regret a single thing they've done? Or do they SERIOUSLY not feel regret?
posted by The ____ of Justice to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a very interesting take on this issue by Bryan Caplan, an economist. His argument is that because he loves his children, he does not regret any prior actions, because even small changes to his past would result in different children.
posted by bove at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't think they're saying they don't regret a single thing they've ever done.

They're saying they don't regret the big decisions, or at least the things that are obviously big decisions.

Think of it this way: What they're really saying is, "If I could keep my life, or redo it, I wouldn't redo it. I like it how it is, and I'll accept the bad parts of it because I see them as integral parts of the whole."
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:42 PM on February 8, 2011 [19 favorites]

Generally speaking it means that they wouldn't change anything they'd done or experienced on the way to being where, or who, they are.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:43 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

To me, someone saying that they have no regrets means that they feel like everything they experienced in their past has had some meaning in their lives. So, they are who they are today, because of these experiences. A good person will learn from that and become a better person, rather than dwelling in the past and never moving forward.

I don't think it means that they aren't aware of the shitty things they've done in the past. Just that they've chosen to move on and hopefully not do it again.

Regret is a different thing, to me, than just feeling bad about something.
posted by cabingirl at 12:45 PM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.' - The Gay Science, Nietzsche, §341
posted by phrontist at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2011 [17 favorites]

No regrets = "I have made mistakes, but I accept them as part of making me into who I am now."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2011 [21 favorites]

I think what is really meant is "It was worth it", or "If I could decide again knowing what I now do, I'd still do the same thing (or like to think I would)", or "It may have been hard but it was for the best", or "It might seem like a mistake, and maybe it was, but I'm still happy, things still worked out well"

Ie, it's unlikely to be literally true. (except in the sense of how some people will refuse to acknowledge regrets or avoid thinking about what might have been, but those behaviours themselves are red flags that there would be regrets.)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2011

Generally speaking, it means you've made peace with the outcome of prior decisions and events.

It's really more of a conversational hedge, though, in the flavor of "I don't really judge, but..." actually meaning "I am about to say something judgmental."
posted by mikeh at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The worst parts of life have given me the greatest opportunities for growth. I wouldn't take back the bad things that I've gone through, because they made me who I am today. I don't think people mean "man, it was awesome when I punched that guy in the face" when they look back at the shitty things they've done, but rather they realize how much they (hopefully) learned from that mistake.

However, one time when I was seven a lady offered me a "roll" at my grandma's house and I said no, not realizing she meant a cinnamon roll. I regret missing out on that cinnamon roll to this day.
posted by something something at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2011

I would think having regrets is a natural part of human life...

In my own experience, the only regrets I have are the decisions I failed to make.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:54 PM on February 8, 2011

It means two things, depending on the presumed source of regret.

1. A person who has made some decisions that didn't work out well for them.

Eg, took a risk to start a business, but the business tanked after a few years and now they have to sweep floors to pay their bills. This person might say "You would think I might regret having taken that risk, but I don't. It was a valuable experience, etc"

2. A person who has treated others badly.

Eg, someone who famously mistreats employees and family. This person might say "You would think I might regret having been an asshole, but I don't. I got mine! Everyone else can suck it."
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2011

I don't know what people mean in general, but I know what I mean. When I say "I have no regrets" I mean that I have come to a place with myself where I know that I genuinely did the best I could do. Are there things I wish had gone differently? Yes, there are. But I also know that I genuinely did my best and there's nothing to be gained from beating myself up about it.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:58 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

To be clearer:
In 1, the presumed source of regret is the bad consequences for themselves of their actions.
In 2, the presumed source of regret is the bad consequences for other people of their actions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2011

They mean they're always moving forward and not dwelling on their regrets. It's a non-literal statement that expresses a general sentiment.
posted by John Cohen at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2011

Honestly, it doesn't mean a damn thing.

I have no regrets, man. I mean, I've always given 110% and tried to do things my way. I am who I am and people just have to accept that.

Translation: Oh shit, there is a microphone in my face. Say something fast!
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:01 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

A more sophisticated version of a similar idea has been expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche:

"I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer."

(The Gay Science, Section 276)

"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it."

(Ecce Homo, Section 10)

Although I would not quickly conclude that 'no regrets' adequately summed up the idea. I humbly suggest that something would need to be said against resentment as well.
posted by edguardo at 1:14 PM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

In the series How I Met Your Mother, a woman tells Hopeless Romantic Ted "A man regrets the women he didn't sleep with. A woman regrets the men she did sleep with. I have no regrets."
posted by Billiken at 1:18 PM on February 8, 2011

I'm pretty sure they mean that they don't wish things had turned out any differently for them, not that they don't regret hurting others.
posted by monkeymadness at 1:44 PM on February 8, 2011

You're right. It's 100% filler, and means "I messed up badly many times, but I don't feel like I need to apologize to anybody."

Now ask yourself what kind of person says that -- in light of the fact that every single one of us would do things differently given another chance -- and you'll probably understand the purpose of the phrase.
posted by circular at 1:45 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I am happy with where my life is now and who I am, and therefore I accept these past mistakes as part of how I got to here."
posted by bluedaisy at 1:49 PM on February 8, 2011

The Simpsons Movie
Comic Book Guy: I've spent my entire life doing nothing but collecting comic books... and now there's only time to say... LIFE WELL SPENT!
posted by MrMulan at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's something along the lines of, "I'm a human being, I've made some mistakes, but I'm OK with that because I'm not perfect".

Also, what stoneweaver said.
posted by Solomon at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2011

If I were to use that phrase it would be in the sense of this Avett Brothers lyric:
I made decisions some right and some wrong
And I let some love go I wish wasn't gone
These things and more I wish I had not done

But I can't go back
And I don't want to
'Cause all my mistakes
They brought me to you
with "brought me to you" being the person I am now. I like me as I am now, and since different decisions would have resulted in a different person, then I have no regrets.
posted by MsMolly at 2:10 PM on February 8, 2011

I always figured it was intended to mean "I'm fine with where I'm at now, and altering the past would mean altering who I am." But I also can't help but think that when people mean it that way, they're committing a fallacy of one sort or another. For one thing, not all of the crappy things that happen to us in life build our character in any important way. There are plenty of them without which you'd end up pretty much the same. And, even accepting that some bad things change who you are, that just means that you might have been a different person who is happier (or that the people you've hurt would've been different, happier people). Not necessarily, obviously. The point is just that "I have no regrets" sometimes sounds like the person is imposing some kind of necessity or destiny back into a contingent life story.
posted by Beardman at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2011

It's a way of acknowledging having done foolish or bad things while politely and selfishly declining to apologize for them.
posted by The World Famous at 2:13 PM on February 8, 2011

What do people mean when they say they "have no regrets?"

They're just bragging and rubbing our face in it -- BASTARDS!
posted by mazola at 2:22 PM on February 8, 2011

I am on Team Edith Piaf here.

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé

Am I sorry for shitty things I did to others? Sure. Do I wish I had done fewer injurious things to myself? Absolutely.

But I don't regret anything. I did what I did and I need to learn from my mistakes and keep moving on. Fuck the past, as the song says.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there some other meaning I'm missing when someone says they don't regret a single thing they've done?

They're probably banging a supermodel.
posted by mazola at 3:17 PM on February 8, 2011

I could say I have no regrets. That doesn't mean I've never made any bad decisions or ever done anything mean. In high school I started hanging out with some new people and started making fun of people who I used to consider friends. That was dickish of me to do. Do I regret it? No, I no longer have any strong emotions about it at all. It was about 14 years ago. I've long since made my peace with it. I felt bad about it once, but not anymore.

There's nothing I've done that's so profoundly horrible that I still feel bad about it today. If you can't forgive yourself for mistakes eventually, you're eventually going to find it hard to cope with all those little things eating away at you.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:20 PM on February 8, 2011

Or, in other words: Bad mistakes, I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I've come through.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 3:43 PM on February 8, 2011

I'd like to think when someone says they have no regrets, it means that in that moment in time they truly believe that their life is happy and satisfactory. Despite the bad things that happened, those are the things that led them to their happiness the day they make the statement.
posted by joni. at 5:46 PM on February 8, 2011

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