Once in college I was talking with a friend of mine about saying “I’m sorry.” In her family, she said, you didn’t say that – because you should try to live a life without regretting the things that you’ve done, and because saying I’m sorry doesn’t really do anything. If you were sorry for what you’d done you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.

It took me a while to get where she’s coming from, but I certainly understand her point of view better now. People can get too hung up on the words, the apology, and think that alone solves everything. Throw out an “I’m sorry” every time you do something wrong and you’re covered! Or people become afraid and live fearfully instead of purposefully, dwelling too much on past mistakes and not enough on improving themselves in the present. For whatever reason – laziness or selfishness or fear – people can use “I’m sorry” as a way out of changing their actions, their behaviors and habits.

But I still believe none of this negates the necessity of “I’m sorry.”

Why? Because it’s an acknowledgment of wrong, and ideally evidence of a change of heart. It says “I messed up. I did the wrong thing. I committed an evil. I may (or may not) have intended the evil at the time that I committed it, but I now intend never to commit that evil again.” A real, true, sincere apology evinces a recognition of wrong and the intent to not only right the wrong but avoid it in future.

The whole notion of living a life without regrets bothers me, partly because I’m too melancholic and pensive for my own good so I have a tendency to regret. But mostly because I’m concerned that such an attitude displays no sense of right and wrong. “I can do whatever I want; my choices are mine; if I choose to change my behavior it is only because I so choose and not because there are reasons outside of myself to do so.” Yes, our choices are ours, but we can make bad or evil choices and sometimes we do. We shouldn’t get stuck on regretting those choices, but we should own them as bad, and own them as ours. If we can, we should feel sorrow, and whatever we feel we ought to avoid such choices because they are evil.

So we need that “I’m sorry,” that regret, that recognition of wrongdoing, to help keep our pride at bay; to remind us that we’re not always right; and to encourage us not to make the same mistakes again.

Or maybe I just don’t understand the “life with no regrets” concept. What do you all think?


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