I wouldn’t say that guilt consumes me, but there is no denying that it appears in my life every day. Guilt is the little voice in my head, the shadow that mimics my every move. I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of feeling guilty.
Guilt is not a pleasant feeling by any means. Unlike those clichéd emotions featured in drugstore greeting cards, guilt is not meant to be pondered. If you even begin to think you are guilty of something, you probably are. But if guilt makes you churn inside, what is its purpose?
From my years of experience, I have come to realize that guilt is an internal system of checks and balances. It is a mental lifeguard that keeps our thoughts and feelings that haven’t passed the swim test out of the deep end. Guilt is immediate, much like the pain you feel when touching a pan that just came off the stove. It pops up from behind you every now and then, saying, “Excuse me, but I don’t think you should do that.” Guilt is a handy tool to use in the judging of emotions, but it is a sensitive instrument that responds to even the slightest of stimuli.
Maybe it’s because I’m Catholic. The Ten Commandments are not unique to Catholicism, but for some reason, we seem to feel guilt more often and more acutely than those of other denominations. Perhaps guilt is the one topic in Sunday school that is included in the teacher’s editions but not the student textbooks.
I feel guilty when I throw out direct mailings from colleges that I am not the slightest bit interested in attending. Why? I don’t know. Guilt just happens. The same feeling occurs when I throw away food, but I can understand guilt’s role in that situation: there are starving children in third world countries. But when I discard of spoiled milk? It’s not like it could be consumed as it is. But I feel guilty I didn’t drink it in time, that I couldn’t save it from being wasted.
Don’t get to thinking that I am just some self-imposed sinner who feels terrible about the most insignificant of things. I feel guilt when I should, like when I talk back to my parents. Due to guilt, I usually end up apologizing to them rather quickly. Those are the times I feel grateful for being guilty. Guilt tells me how I should feel and what I should do, even when the rest of my brain does not want to listen.
I believe in guilt, in all of its forms. Guilt is a necessary precaution, much like the act of unplugging major appliances before a storm. Although ninety-nine percent of the time the storm is harmless, it is for that one percent chance of damage that you prepare. Guilt is unproductive much of the time; it often causes nothing but unneeded worry. But don’t ever ignore guilt, because as ironic as it seems, guilt can save your soul.
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