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The problem is guilt. Depression, anxiety, hostility, fear, tension and, in more serious cases, psychosis are really ailments of the conscience -- symptoms that result from violating the conscience’s promptings and refusing to live honestly and responsibly. On this basis, the only way to have the good life is to live a life that is good ( Richard O’Connor ).Thou it walks though our everyday lives, it forms many shapes, twists, turns, lurking in the shadows, used often times to control us, shape our lives and thoughts or destroy our very souls, to burst into the light a form all of its own. Used in religious teaching to terrorize the sinners into repentances, the old to keep the young in compliance, mothers often use guilt to control the wayward child. Guilt often shapes our morals and controls our actions, sometimes causes complete mental collapse or building character, guilt, either way, can be a strong factor in the everyday lives of people. Guilt results from the actions we take, the results of actions we did not take or the behavior we display.

In the story “ Luck” Twain’s theme is based on the life long feeling of guilt one man feels for his role in the life of another (66). Had the Reverend not, at a younger age, tutored the hero, Lieutenant-General Lord Arthur, his life would have been different. The Reverend explains that in the beginning had he not performed the harmless act of pity, the ignorant younger Lieutenant-General from shamming himself in the classroom and allowed him to falter in the testing of subjects, the Lieutenant-General would not have continued on the path of a Military career. The Reverend than must continue to tutor the young man because with each step the he feels his initial act to have caused the continuation of a pyramid of greater follies. This leads the Reverend to a forty year pursuit of following the young cadet from school to the entire length of a military career as he puts it to “ I am responsible to the country for this, and I must go along with him and protect the country against him as far as I can. So I took my poor little capital that I had saved up through years of work and grinding economy, and went with a sigh and bought a cornetcy in his regiment, and away we went to the field” (67). As written in “Luck” the guilt lasted forty years, a lifetime of repentance for the act of simply tutoring a young man. Guilt is good for you, provided it lasts no longer than five minutes and that it brings about a change in behavior(O’Connor ). Had the Reverend shed his feelings of guilt after the first tutoring or not experienced them at all, the entire life of both would have changed, the excess baggage of guilt weighing him down.

In Buddhism such type of guilt is categorised as a disturbing attitude one doesnt see the situation clearly and may well be a tricky form of self-centredness.

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A personal opinion within the Western mind, I personally believe that guilt has such a prominent place because of the Judeo/Christian background of our culture. The concept of being born onto the earth with an original sin - for which we are not even responsible - easily puts a feeling of guilt in our minds (I am bad, even without doing anything wrong). Furthermore, the presentations in several Christian traditions can give one the impression that one should feel guilty and ashamed even for simply having fun. I believe that this type of guilt is even a learned, socially imposed emotion; Tibetans do not even have a word for it! If that is correct, it is not even a basic human emotion, but a culturally imposed type of mental frustration. (Rudy Harderwijk)

As we see in the story of “The things they carried” (O’Brien 77 ) emotional guilt for the action of daydreaming and not paying attention to the world around him leads Lieutenant Jimmy Cross to the burden of carring the death of a soldier on his conscience. “That hatred springs more from self-contempt than from a legitimate grievance is seen in the intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience” (Eric Hoffer ). Had he paid more attention to the surrounding about him would Lavender be alive, could he have seen the bullet that killed him. I think not, however, guilt plays on the mind, the rational ideas seem flung from the reality of thought and blame must be squarely placed. God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won’t” (Alfred Korzybski). In the story “First Confession” the religious teaching of an old woman called Ryan corrupts the young mind of an innocent child with Hell as the first place in her heart, she terrorizes the children of her instructional class with the eternal flames of damnation, than continues on to beat them with the Ten Commandments (O’Connor 60)

“One definition of psychiatry is, significantly, treatment of souls. A growing measure of responsible opinion argues convincingly that had religion been doing the job it should have done, psychiatry would never have arisen as a profession”(Marie Luecke).

As the thoughts of the young man, Jackie, continue to center on the grandmother and the family turmoil caused by her, the religious teaching of Ryan further confuse him and add the burden of guilt about his thoughts, causing fear of his first confession.

“One of the most common psychological mistakes people make is feeling guilty over thoughts or emotions. Sexual fantasies, for instance, are harmless. Angry feelings, thoughts of revenge against those who hurt us, are unavoidable. But many people think less of themselves for sexual or aggressive feelings. This is unfortunate. We cannot control our thoughts or feelings, and it makes no sense to feel guilt over that which we cant control.” Guilt, when applied to behavior, is the little alarm system that tells us when we are not living up to our own standards. Where our standards come from, and how much ours are like others, are beside the point for now. Guilt is what we feel when we have let ourselves down. Without it, we would be in an amoral world in which everyone could act on the impulse of the moment. Guilt, not agriculture or the wheel, may be the foundation of civilization. The use of guilt here is not referring to the mere fact of being guilty of something, it refers to seeing or projecting ones mistakes, while not knowing what to do about them or refusing to correct them.

In this definition, guilt is a negative, paralysing emotion, based on non-acceptance of oneself or the situation, and it does not lead to change or improvement.

Guilt is usually a negative focus upon oneself I am an evil person. I cant bear myself. I am unworthy. While this response may appear in a religious guise, it often turns out to be a form of self-deprecating laziness. This can even lead to self-hatred, and certainly contributes to lack of self-confidence. Instead of recognising that ones actions are incorrect, one gets the feeling as if one is unworthy, as if I is intrinsically bad. (O’Connor)

“The Necklace” by Henri Maupassant , continues with the theory that guilt can change a person, wrecking havoc with the conscience of the one involved . Here a women, vane, selfish, dissatisfied with her position in life, suffers the loss of a necklace, and must repay the debt. The guilt of the burden placed on her family compiled with the lowering of the familys’ financial status changed Mathilde to a women of working class, without the vanity , lossing with it the selfishness displayed earlier and the willingness to help her husband, she became strong, hard and rude, her hair unkempt, rough, red hands. Life is so peculiar, so uncertain. How little a thing it takes to destroy you or to save you(11).” The sense of inferiority and the sense of guilt are exceedingly difficult to distinguish” (Sigmund Freud). The use of guilt in this context, improved the character of Mathilde, working as a person of everyday life, no longer daydreaming of a grandiose lifestyle, content, perhaps, in her new ways of action, haggling at the market place, washing the floors herself, no longer worrys over her appearance and no longer dissatisfied with her husband.

Many say guilt is an excuse to blame others for our misfortunes, Milton states that the guilt is payment for a moral sin. Encyclopedia Britannica defines guilt as

Guilt (Guilt) (?), n.[OE. gilt, gult, AS. gylt, crime; probably originally signifying, the fine or mulct paid for an offence, and afterward the offense itself, and akin to AS. gieldan to pay, E. yield. See Yield, v. t.]1. The criminality and consequent exposure to punishment resulting from willful disobedience of law, or from morally wrong action; the state of one who has broken a moral or political law; crime; criminality; offense against right. Satan had not answer, but stood struck With guilt of his own sin. Milton.. Exposure to any legal penalty or forfeiture. A ship incurs guilt by the violation of a blockade. Kent.Therefore, guilt should be worn as a penance and not removed from life. We should have to bear the burden.

However, the actions we take, the results of actions we did not take, or the behavior we display, should not cause us a lifetime of guilt, but the learning experience necessary to continue on our path, ever growing in the ways of life, to command the skills and knowledge that come only with the brief kiss of guilt, the lingering memory of the touch long after the contact.

Works Cited

Martin Paul “Guilt” http//www.freedomsnest.com/fn/hoffer.html ed. Last

updatedMarch 4, 00 last accessed 1, July 00

Brock,Ted and Brock, Winnie,eds., The Christian Century The Christian Century

Foundation http//www.christiancentury.org. Religion Online last updated 11, July

00 last accessed , July 00

Luecke, Jane Marie, The Christian Century, Brock and Brock May 1, 175, pp.


O’Connor, Richard The Positive Aspects of Guilt http//www.mental-health-

matters.com/articles/authbio.php?authID=11 ,July 00 last accessed ,July


Harderwijk,Rudy “A View on Buddhism” http//buddhism.kalachakranet.org/index.html last

updated may 00 last accessed 1,July 00

Roberts, Edgar V., and Jacobs, Henry E., eds. Literature an introduction to reading and writing

Upper Saddle River Prentice Hall ,001

Maupassant, Guy De “The Necklace.” Roberts and Jacobs 4-11

O’Brien, Tim “The Things they Carried.” Roberts and Jacobs 77-88

O’Connor, Frank “First Confession.” Roberts and Jacobs 60-65

Twain, Mark “Luck.” Roberts and Jacobs 66-68

Zimmerman, Mark eds. Encyclopedia Britannica Authors Directory Chicago, Ill. Encyclopedia Britannica, 00 http//encyclopediaindex.com/index.shtml , July 00

That hatred springs more from self-contempt than from a legitimate grievance is seen in the intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience.

- Eric Hoffer

Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.

- Eric Hoffer

There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.

- Eric Hoffer

The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.

- Eric Hoffer

Propaganda...serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.

- Eric Hoffer

Fair play with others is primarily the practice of not blaming them for anything that is wrong with us. We tend to rub our guilty conscience against others the way we wipe dirty fingers on a rag. This is as evil a misuse of others as the practice of exploitation.

- Eric Hoffer

Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent.

- Ayn Rand


Guilt, not agriculture or the wheel, may be the foundation of civilization.

by Paul Martin 1st quote

Sister Jane Marie Luecke is professor of English at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. This article appeared in The Christian Century, May 1, 175, pp. 55-57. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

The Positive Aspects of Guilt ( nd quote)

By Richard OConnor, PhD

Mental Health Professional


Last updatedMarch 4, 00

http//buddhism.kalachakranet.org/index.html Rudy Harderwijk

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