Most people who know me are aware of my fondness for words – not that I prefer talking to silence, but I’m always interested in nuances and things making sense. This morning I read a page from Meg Wheatley’s book, Perseverance, that gave me pause and seems worth repeating. Her concluding paragraph is especially helpful for a Saturday of looking back to the past week and forward to the next.
There’s a fundamental distinction between guilt and regret. Guilt turns us inward, creating a cauldron of self-hatred that destroys us. People never act wisely from guilt – the intensity of emotions prevents discernment and right action.
Regret, on the other hand, does not disable us. It gives us the capacity to see clearly, to clarify our future, to change. We can vow not to repeat our mistakes, we can pay attention to what we’ve learned, we can focus our heart and mind on not causing harm again. We can develop greater insight into who we are, and move forward to become who we would like to be.
If guilt and shame are driving us inward, hopefully we can notice this direction and choose, even for a moment, to look outward. If we look out into the world, we will notice that millions of other people are, at this very moment, experiencing the same terrible feelings.
We can use this time of feeling badly about ourself to get beyond our self, and connect with all those other humans with whom we share this dark kinship. If our hearts open to them, what enters us is not more darkness, but the light of compassion. (p. 87)