Guilt & Shame: Something to Think About

“The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.” – George Bernard Shaw

Shame and guilt are are tough and touchy subjects to write about.  Unpopular subjects to talk and think about for many.  Guilt and shame make us feel bad, and we are by nature pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures.  So who wants to voluntarily feel bad or ashamed about the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve done?

But what if guilt and shame–feeling these feelings and acknowledging them, and even examining them, instead of trying to avoid feeling them and burying them–might be a good thing? Especially in the long run.  What if?

One of the problems with guilt and shame is that so often when we feel guilty and ashamed it’s really not because of ourselves–it’s because we have a push-button recording going off in our heads–an unexamined automatic recording or voice telling us that we’re no good, or that we’re a failure or that we’re worthless, et cetera.  Maybe what we did was indeed wrong or heinous or bad, and maybe we should get tough with ourselves about it.  But it should be we who get tough with ourselves, not some archaic remnant voice of our parents or father- or mother-figure mercilessly ripping us a new one. That archaic voice is part of the unexamined life and needs to be examined, deconstructed, brought to light.  That voice is not nearly as important or relevant as what you really think about what you did and why you think that way.  The real question is ought you feel guilty or ashamed of what you have or have not done?  In the presence of your heroes or those you aspire to be like or to become, or even in the presence of God, ought you feel ashamed or guilty?  Have you let what’s best in you down?  Are you better than what you’re showing?

To me, that’s the essence of Shaw’s quote and the best possible reading or interpretation of it.  That’s the essence of beneficial guilt and “healthy shame.”

What do you think?