A Word, or Two, About Guilt…
I think the word “Guilt” used to have more meaning. Like “depression” or “genius”. It lost a certain gravity with overuse, perhaps. The good old American Heritage (not having access to Webster’s at the moment) has this to say about “guilt”:
1) The fact of being responsible for the commmission of an offense. (references blame)
2) LAW, Culpability for a crime or lesser breach of regulations that carries a legal penalty
3) Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong
4) Guilty conduct, sin
So there is, actually, Legitimate Guilt. One could say it is a signal, like pain, that something has gone awry. Except we happen to be responsible for that state of affairs and the guilt is our call to action- time to take proper steps! We have not honored one of our values, have hurt another, and it is time to amend behavior, acknowledge responsibility, make a heart-felt apology…whatever the case may be. And let me caveat (yes, I am verbing that and ruining the language, I take full responsibility) this post by saying, this is a discussion of day-to-day human interactions. We are talking about taking someone’s yogurt from the office refrigerator, not giving them credit for their idea, maybe even sleeping with their girlfriend. This does not include #’s 2 or 4, let’s say.
But how does this fit in with all the talk of guilt I hear? There is what I call Haute Guilt- speaking loudly about how guilty one feels over whatever one should be doing something about but has absolutely no intention whatever of doing anything about. This includes anything from refraining from indulgence in a physical pleasure of some kind to volunteering to sending money to Haiti, but the main part is that others hear you expressing it.
There is also Negation Guilt. I find this a little hard to narrow as I hear it in so many forms. Mostly it is a form of allowing a person to always be out of the present moment and always feel bad about themselves. If they are answering email, they should be doing laundry-how could they? If they fell asleep while reading a book of substance, my god! They played well at their show, but they missed a chord. Everyone feels soo guilty. They could have done better!
Then there is the saddest guilt, Mop Up Guilt. The kind empathic people sometimes can’t help but feel when they are around people committing heinous acts without a shred of conscience. It is as if the actions create the entity of guilt. If the person responsible won’t feel it, those not guarded against it sometimes will. Especially if the truly guilty party is a family member. Or a member of a shared cultural or ethnic group. If your brother has been found drunk again on the neighbor’s lawn and feels no remorse?
Finally, I want to mention Wallowing Guilt. This is Legitimate Guilt that has not been addressed. Similar to a wound that has become infected it begins to affect ability. It lowers self-esteem, prevents the setting of healthy boundaries, keeps connection and intimacy at bay. Make no mistake, feeling this kind of guilt is a choice, even if the wallower isn’t completely aware of it. But Wallowing Guilt actually allows others to control the wallower. If you have wronged someone and haven’t made it right, don’t you cringe when you see them? Mightn’t you go overboard in other areas that actually get you into trouble because you are feeling bad about that particular unaddressed incident? The other person involved could be getting some extremely mixed messages. Good communication is really completely out the window when guilt is prolonged.
So these are just a few examples that I have noticed in the sea of guilt that seems to be rising in the world. I wonder if other people are noticing this kind of thing in themselves or others. I like to wonder what sort of purpose a thing serves and what it is connected to. I like to not reach conclusions but just wonder…This is making me think about responsibility. I am thinking about cultures in which, if you have it really good, you traditionally verbally downplay your luck so the gods won’t hear you and take things away. I am wondering about unconscious forms of sacrifice instead of directness and the roles class plays in the way people communicate.
I’m wondering about a guilt-free day…
Is cold turkey safe?