Monday, April 03, 2006

Thoughts on Guilt: The nature of and what we've made of it?

So I was talking with a buddy the other day and the topic of guilt came up. It got me thinking. Here are those thoughts in some semblance of non-chaotic transmission. So with no claim to great knowledge here are my thoughts and ruminations.

Here's what the Oxford Dictionary says:
• noun 1 the fact of having committed an offence or crime. 2 a feeling of having done something wrong or failed in an obligation.

Here's what I came up with (before I checked the Oxford English Dictionary)

The feeling of guilt is an indication that you perceive a personal thought or act as transgressing a law.
Now I shall try to unpack a bit of what I understand that to mean.

"The feeling of guilt" I say this cause though you may feel guilty you may not have transgressed an actual law.

"is an indication" It is informing you that your thought or action is contrary to what you believe you should do. This also informs you of what you judge to be a wrong act.

"that you perceive a personal thought or act" brings the awareness that you are judging this thought or act based from your own personal standards and perspective.

"as transgressing a law" by which I include the legal, social, religious, cultural, familial and personal laws and customs of the person.

So what is the feeling of guilt? It is an indication that you perceive a personal thought or act as transgressing a law or custom.

You may not have committed a crime or offence but do believe that you did.

---- End of Act 1 ----

So although feelings of guilt have a connection to the reality of being guilty they are not one and the same. Some laws and rules apply to some people; and some to others. For example there are Canadian laws by which all Canadians are held accountable to, and familial laws or customs that your family is held to, like put the toilet seat down when you're done. All Canadians are expected to abide by the federal rules but one's "house rules" do not apply to all house holds in the nation.

What are the feelings commonly associated with guilt? Shame, failure, not being good enough? What things underly it all? Is it fear? Is it based on our cultures ideal of perfect performance standards? What does it mean to each individual?

What benefits come from these fostered feelings of guilt in conjunction with one's self worth? A just society is good. (Whatever that is..) But I think it would be better if people participated in it based out of understanding, love, the common good, than out of personal fear and guilt.

Maybe we need to move deeper in our understanding. We use guilt as motivation. "If you do well then you will be rewarded" is a fine principle (though it could encourage people to seek external validation for self-worth) but if a person takes their value from it they are in trouble. For then I am not lovable based on the fact that I am lovable as I am but rather upon what I do. If this is seen to be the case then guilt can bring devaluing feelings and be reacted to as a very negative thing; then it is guilt mutated into a monster run amok inside.

---- End of Act 2 ----

The system of guilt is a pretty shabby motivator. Doing something cause you don't want to feel bad kinda sucks. It's better to do things cause you want to. But we have become so burdened down by others expectations for ourselves that we treat them with, I think, more validity then they deserve. We allow others realities and expectations to be our own. We don't see other people's expectations as requests but rather as things that must be obeyed. Join the system. Resistance is futile. I think it's all a little off if you ask me. Do you ever wonder why you support a system that doesn't work that well for you? You can resist it. That doesn't mean you don't relate with people. But realize your choice in their expectations. And when you relate with others realize their choice as well. Become a culture of respect; of invitation. Rather then a place that fosters unhealthy guilt, shame, and resentment.

This is all a journey of realizing the individual lovability of self, and of others. This is the journey of learning to more respect self, and others.

Now as to the question of is guilt good or bad? I think we often draw the parameters of questions too narrowly. Is guilt good or bad? Well how about it can be both and inbetween and more? I think guilt (or conscience) can be good in informing you that what you are thinking of doing goes against something you've been taught. It's a little hello saying "check this out." So when this happens we should look and say "where is this belief coming from" and "is it really that way or not?" As children we are given externals in which to operate. As we grow older one quest is to learn to listen to the internal living out of love and be guided by that. Moving from external to internal. As a child there were parameters such as "don't cross the road by yourself." As I've gotten older that one has passed to the wayside. Now I don't feel any guilt in crossing the road, but I do look both ways. There are other external guidelines that have passed away. There are also some that stick around that should move on, and some that are still solid and good, with an internal backing.

So where is this guilt coming from? Ie what is one of the bad extreme of guilt?

----End of act 3 ----

I think part of all of this guilt also comes from unreal expectations and the association that missing the mark, or "failure" means you are a failure. I disagree with this, but it is a pervasive mindset that is rampant in our culture.

I suppose now we enter the whole phase of metaphysics and the nature of man stuff. Are we mistakes? Accidents? Improperly made? Flukes? What is the value of self inheirently?

I believe we are strength and weakness; beauty in diversity. Are we to be perfect? or are we being perfected? Crawl then stumble; stumble then walk; walk then run; run then fly; fly then soar? This is the journey. We don't expect a child to express advanced algebraic equations, and if you want me to I'm going to disappoint you. We challenge them to advance based on who they are, while allowing them their process. Why don't we do that with each other? I think part of it is because they don't do it do us. Of course that's a poor justification for one's own actions.. but it happens often nonetheless. They did it first! As we get older we get more sophisticated with our excuses and justifications but I think it still can boil down to that.

---- End of Act 4 ----

Jumbled thoughts and ponderings..

Guilt and judgement walk hand in hand. When love and forgiveness enter the picture they bring new sight and understanding to the view of guilt and judgement.

We judge ourselves by our own expectations and beliefs of what we should do and should be. Are these realistic?

Want something to read that's pretty cool? Check out the book of Romans, chapter 14 in the Bible. It actually has some pretty durned nifty things to say about tolerance, respect, and understanding.

What are the rules/customs you've been taught? Do these external expectations reflect your internal reality? Do you realize that in all of them you have the choice to do it or not. You have the right to that decision regardless of repercussions? Some familial expectations are unfair. Some friend obligations are unfair.

---- End of Act 5 ----

Parting thoughts...

We are what we are; be that fully. Fall down, get up, keep going. It is not a personal failure to be fallible. It is normal and ok. People have their own ideas and agendas but to your own self be true.

Find self. Live out of self.

Be careful of the extremes of lowly lowly Sinner and high and mighty Judge. They are 2 sides of the same coin. They support the same system. Judge not lest you too be judged (by your judging self?). To the standard you judge, you too will be judged.

Please share your thoughts and comment on this..

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