Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Regret versus Remorse

Remorse was casually mentioned in my October 9 blog on Morality versus Conscience. Regret was mentioned in several blogs (e.g., 7 June, 26 June, 15 August). There have also been other related blogs: Apologies (17 August), Guilt (22 August), Mistakes vs Lessons Learned (10 August), and Honesty (29 July). Today’s blog aims to bring some context in these related topics.

Actually, I had to make a mind map to visualise the interconnectedness between regret and remorse as these two apparently simple words, hide a lot of emotions and other important stuff. Although regret and remorse come from very different directions, they do have something essential in common: the intention to “move on” in life. Without expressing regret or remorse, one may get “stuck”.

The American author and journalist, Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983), stated: “True remorse is never just regret over consequence; it is regret over motive.” This statement perfectly shows the interconnectedness and also its sheer difficulty in verifying this emotion. Remorse can easily be faked and might be nothing more than regret over getting caught.

Other issues that regret and remorse have in common are accountability and responsibility. In case you neither feel accountable nor responsible then there will be no regret or remorse. It is possible to feel accountable yet not responsible. Hence, no regret or remorse. Accountability may cause a serious emotion though: shame (regret) and guilt (remorse). I should even update my April 12 blog on human emotions and facial expressions as guilt – unlike shame – is not likely to cause blushing.

Regret is caused by making a conscious mistake or an unconscious error. Accountability for that error / mistake causes shame. Feeling responsibility for that error / mistake causes regret. Regret has 2 sides: towards ourselves (lessons learned) and towards others. Regret towards others may give rise to an apology. The reason for apologising is taking formal responsibility, accepting “punishment” as retribution for the error / mistake, and with the intention to bury the past and to “move on”.

Remorse is caused by a conscious sin. A sin is the violation of a moral code of conduct. Also see my October 9 blog on morality versus conscience. The seven sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. These 7 sins are the core theme of the famous movie “Se7en” (IMDb). Psychopaths do not feel accountable for their sins. Accountability causes guilt or a guilty conscience. Apart from politics, there can be no responsibility without accountability. True remorse requires both. Remorse may lead to an apology. The reason for that is redemption or retribution by the perpetrator and forgiveness by the victims. Forgiving yourself is the final stage of remorse. The ultimate intention of remorse is “moving on” with your life.

To some extent, regret and remorse have another issue in common: sanctions. Expressing regret or remorse is also – yet indirectly – expressing the willingness to accept the sanction associated with that error, mistake or sin. Often an “I am so sorry” is enough for the absence of further sanctions in case of an error or mistake. Nevertheless, the longer you wait, the more likely sanctions will occur. Time is a distinct factor in the truthfulness of the apology.

Repentance is not so much remorse for what we have done as the fear of the consequences.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

The Walker Brothers – No Regrets (1975) – (artists, lyrics, Wiki)


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