In the first chapter of The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life, we focus on using regrets as learning experiences and stepping stones for the future, many people believe that if they have the chance, they would willingly get rid of unhappy regrets and memories of things that did not go well for them. In the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which the protagonist, Clementine, chooses to undergo a procedure on her brain to forever wipe out memories of the past. She was so much in pain after the break up with a man with whom she was very much in love; she decided to undergo the procedure that would wipe out memory of him, even though it would also wipe out all other memories of her past. Her ex-lover found out about this treatment she sought, and went to have a treatment to help him forget too. However, he stopped the procedure in the middle and changed his mind. He realized that with erasing the painful memories he also would have erased the beautiful memories of some of the happiest moments in his life. He chose to keep all the memories so he would not forget them, despite some of the ones that were painful.
In his book Overcoming Life’s Disappointments, Harold Kushner also refers to the biblical story of the Waters of Lethe. In Biblical times, in the river in the Underworld, this was a land in the Afterlife in which you can drink the waters and forget everything. Once they drank, there were no memories to reminisce about since the good memories that far overshadowed the bad were also gone. He poses this question to his readers: “Would you really want to wipe out all your memories so you can considerably cut down on the painful memories or regrets?” Kushner’s point is that painful memories accompany pleasant ones and we need both to grow and be fully human.
This ability to use our regrets and our less than stellar memories as important building blocks for a meaningful and full life brings meaning to all our experiences in our lives, and that is what makes us who we are!