I've been reading Souls in Transition--The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. It's the second wave of research about America's teens and young adults generated from the National Study of Youth and Religion. (If you haven't read this or the first wave compiled in the book Soul Searching--The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teens you're missing some of the most important info to come down the pike in generations.) Among the key findings of this book is something that really caught my attention. Apparently, it is a cultural imperative for young adults to claim that they have no regrets--not in their relationships; not in their choices; not in any aspect of their lives. No regrets. Ever. Nada. Zilch.
Regardless of the decisions they have made--good or bad--the researchers found a pattern of speech that jumped out like a universal mantra: "...but I have no regrets. It's made me the person I am today." Even for things like: dropping out of high school and having no job prospects at 21, or having an abortion at 16, or being addicted to drugs, or getting drunk and then raped.
Compared to some of the real, hard, impossible challenges that get thrown into these young people's lives, I've lived a charmed life. Granted, I've had my share of disappointments and struggles, but I've never been challenged in any of those ways. And yet, I have regrets.
I regret that I didn't stick harder to my first choice of studies in college: fine arts. I regret that I haven't been able to discipline myself and my finances so that I could travel abroad. I regret that I haven't been more involved in the lives of my siblings or their children. I regret that I sometimes take my husband for granted. I regret that I play it safe more often than not.
On most counts, I'm pretty put together and enjoy my life and work. Yes, all these bad choices have had some impact on who I am today but I still like myself and enjoy life (mostly). But is that really a good thing? I mean, should I really be giving myself a pat on the back for being undisciplined, lazy, uncaring or stupid?
Frankly, I think the whole "no regrets" mentality is more debilitating than cutting off your foot. Having no regrets stunts your growth--emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It screams of an unexamined life (props to Socrates). If anything, having regrets is the little holy gremlin in my mind that tells me that I'm being a) selfish, b) self-absorbed, c) stubborn, d) silly, e) sinful or f) childish. (I really did try to come up with another alliterative word here. Fail.)
It is regret that helps me to know when I've needed to make things right between myself and those I've hurt. Regret spurs me on to be more and better than I was a moment before. Regret gives me goals to work toward. Regret opens up the possibility of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. Regret is the mother of grace.
Somehow, we've managed to raise a whole generation of young folk who believe that their lives are self-contained, that their actions have no real consequence to themselves or others, that the miracle of grace IS the lie. That's our fault, not theirs. We're the ones who raised them. We were asleep at the wheel. And I regret that.
The views expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.
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