Guilt? – by Michael T. Pullen

Why do we feel guilty? Is feeling guilty bad? What do we need guilt for? Is there such thing as too much guilt or perhaps too little guilt?

Catholic guilt. Jewish guilt. It seems that there is plenty of guilt around, enough that we blame our heritage for it. So is guilt really that bad?

I have a nine year old boy and a six year old girl. It is interesting to see when they are feeling guilty. My daughter sneaks around and tries to avoid eye contact and my son pretends it was an afront to his personal being. Guilt in this case is the recognition that they have done something wrong. How wrong? Enough wrong to feel bad about it. Enough wrong to try to avoid it. Is that bad or good that they feel guilty for what they have done?

I have worked with many people who just do not feel guilty when I would. “Just ask for forgiveness later. Do not worry about it.” They go ahead and do what they wanted to do and do not show any sense of guilt for it. It does not have to be something illegal it can be as simple as doing something after the boss has said they did not want it done. For me, I feel guilty on those occasions.

Then there is the extreme. I went to a show with Ira Glass for “This American Life” this past Thursday. He told a story of a Florida judge that made petty thieves walk outside the place they stole from with signs that say “I stole from this place.” They interviewed one 19 year who stole soda, candy bars and a thing of milk. She had no remorse and no feeling of guilt at all. Even after walking around for 2 hours with a sign. “All I stole was milk for my baby,” she would say. Would some sense of guilt be good in her case?

Isn’t the sense of guilt a barometer? Doesn’t it measure your sense of importance of the rules? Doesn’t a well learned set of rules provide that measure of guilt that keeps you in check? If the guilt goes away, how likely are you to follow rules? If you have too much guilt, have you an unhealthy relationship with those rules? Why feel guilty? Do we need it for a well functioning society?

mTp With Intention


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