“Guilt is a good reality check. It keeps that ‘do what makes you happy thing’ in check.” Edward Burns
By Mary Kay Seales
Growing up in the 1950’s in the U.S., it was common to hear at any dinner table around the country, “Clean your plate! There are children starving in China!”
I don’t know whether there were children starving in China, but it did work at making us feel guilty enough to eat our peas.
In fact, I’m a child of Catholic guilt from head to toe, through and through. Of course, Catholics aren’t the only ones instilled with a deep sense of guilt, as Rick Paulus writes in “The Difference Between Catholic and Jewish Guilt“:
“The sense that every move you make is wrong, that you’re letting everyone down, that you’re going to burn in hell eternally. I’m speaking, of course, about Catholic and Jewish Guilt (definitely with capital Gs).”
I’m not dissing Catholic guilt, mind you. Guilt is a beautiful thing in its place. Why not feel guilty when you have done something to hurt someone else. I love Catholic guilt. It just becomes a problem when someone starts to decide what you should feel guilty about.
Of course, we can all agree on the biggies – murder, incest, and adultery (I think). But then there are the issues of sex, marriage, and money, where things start to get complicated.
And why does a seven-year-old need to go to confession?
Guilt can be a terrific force for good. This guilt, in part, is probably what drove me to join the Peace Corps, to save the world; to take off for Haiti and work with children; to form a neighborhood program for the local homeless shelter.
We want to do good because it’s the right thing to do, but we also want to make sure the balance sheet is stacked in our favor for Judgement Day.
But that guilt also means that when I come to the French Riviera, I feel I should instead be heading off to help refugees somewhere. Or at least having adventures that involve some kind of suffering – climbing Kilimanjaro, hiking to Everest Base Camp, tramping through the rain forest, or eating sheep eyes in Afghanistan in respect for the local culture.
“Whether things are good or bad, or you’re simply eating tacos in the park, there is always the crushing guilt.” Alec Baldwin, 30-Rock
I always wonder if I’m the only one on the French Riviera who feels guilty as sin for being here, who feels like a travel wimp, an adventure traveler sell out, gone soft.
When I’m here, in all this beauty, this blue sea stretching out forever, the taste of the salt water on my lips, the heat of the sun searing through me, I feel as close to Paradise as ever.
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