I don’t like guilt.
I’m not talking here about people being found guilty or not guilty in a courtroom.
And I’m not talking about the times when I feel badly for dumb or harmful things I have done.
No, I’m talking about the stance of making people feel guilty for things they have done, choices they have made or – worst of all – for being who they are. People are often made to feel guilty for choices they make that really are not harmful to anyone, they just happen to offend someone’s feelings.
For example, take divorce. Sometimes people have to get out of marriages because they are violent, or destructive to the psyche, or just plain wrong. I know of couples who find they love each other as friends, but should not have gotten married. I get it. People are human – we make mistakes. To try and make someone feel guilty because over time they realized they did something wrong is just, well, wrong in itself.
In my life I’ve encountered enough people who think they have done things wrong, and in so doing think they are somehow unworthy or less than others. Often they have been convinced they are not as worthy as others because they made a mistake. Or they were born differently. Or they have a funny, quirky habit or two.
What’s the point?
I mean really, what’s the point of making someone feel guilty for something, other than to make the person who’s inflicting the guilt feel better? And in the end, do you really feel better if you make someone else’s life miserable? Frankly, I don’t think you should. Not at all.
Guilt postpones correcting unpleasant, wrong, hurtful, or horrible situations. We find ourselves wallowing in guilt that someone else has inflicted on us (because, let’s face it, guilt comes from believing we have let others down somehow) and often we find it hard to get out of it. When that happens things just tend to spiral downwards. And no one gains from that.
Challenging someone to change their life patterns because they are hurtful or destructive can be quite an okay thing. But the emphasis should be on helping them improve, not just making them feel bad for who they are, or for what they’ve done.
Let’s take the example of someone who is abusive of people they work with. They need to be called on their behaviours, held to account, and invited to change. If they will not, they should face consequences – like losing their job. But making them feel guilty simply postpones all that, because it tends to send them into a spin of “I’m bad, I can’t help it” and that seldom leads to positive change.
Inflicting guilt often gives people an “out” when what they should be doing is dealing with behaviours or patterns that are harmful. That is, of course, if they have in fact done something wrong. Inflicting guilt on someone just because you don’t like what they’ve done is even worse, because it’s not about their behaviour, it’s about yours.
So let’s re-examine guilt, and in its place find positive things we can do to make the world spin a little more smoothly.