To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

While I am still in the mode of writing things I have had on my mind awhile, before I catch up on them and start writing about more timely issues, I am going to express my thoughts about guilt.

Guilt is bad behavior: doing something you shouldn't, or not doing something you should. It has nothing to do with the way you feel about it. Guilty feelings are feelings of remorse about bad behavior. Ideally, guilt and guilty feelings should match up; it's what causes us to straighten up. Like, you spread some juicy gossip that you heard, and then you were all nice and smiley to the person the gossip was about, and then you asked yourself how you could be such a two-faced jerk, and you swore you would never gossip again. And hopefully you didn't.

Guilt without guilty feelings is sociopathic. Like serial killers or wife beaters who truly believe they are justified in what they do. Guilty feelings without guilt are neurotic. There are times when a person feels guilt over something she had no control over that aren't neurotic, of course. I had a neighbor whose child was born deaf, and she felt guilty about that; she thought perhaps she had caused his deafness somehow. I think she felt guilty because that was less horrible than the realization that parents can't always keep bad things from happening to their kids. Feeling guilty about his deafness was less scary than facing the fact that she was powerless to prevent it. So that's not really neurotic, it's just a parent trying to cope. The neurotic part might come in in a scenario like this: I watched a roundtable discussion one time about what to do about the homeless. A scenario was set up in which a homeless person lived on the corner outside an upscale apartment house, and the residents pressured the manager to do something about it. One of the participants said nothing should be done; he denied the existence of mental illness (really) and said that people were free to make their own choices. If she wanted to live on that corner, panhandle passersby, defecate in the alley, whatever, people just needed to tolerate that. When it was suggested that the people living in the apartment felt guilty when they saw her living that way, the same person said that perhaps they should feel guilty, but nonetheless, they needed to leave her alone. OK, I thought, that man is an idiot. If there is nothing a person could or should do about a situation, then they have no guilt. What's to feel guilty about? Very sloppy thinking.

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