I frequently see an interesting reaction in people who feel guilty. They get mad at whoever is making them feel guilty. The fact that it’s a rapid emotional response puts up a big warning sign that it’s probably not the correct or ideal response.
One of two things is happening. Either the guilt is justified, or it isn’t. That’s a cognitive decision to make, and, being in an emotional state, it’s not always an easy one.
People want to feel good about themselves, and, to oversummarize, we’ll just say that’s a multivariable problem.
But in particular, people who derive significant pride from a belief in their own intellect, hate being wrong more than the average human. This is a severe handicap for a human endeavoring to make hard decisions, because the world is hard to understand, and we often fail at hard things by definition.
The path to understanding then is to truly embrace one’s own ignorance. There is no greater intellectual freedom than to be comfortable with being wrong. Not that it’s ever going to be easy.
It’s hard enough to face being wrong when confronted with a simple mechanical or mathematical problem, but ethics is an especially contentious idea-space. And we have a certain genetic predisposition to be somewhat devious, to get away with as much benefit from the group with as little cost to us as possible.
I suspect it’s almost impossible to convince someone, even ourselves, of a particular ethical framework; life experiences impress that upon us, or fail to. Mine comes mostly from a fusion of religious and military ideals, which I simply absorbed through living in religious and military worlds, mixed in with a healthy portion of what I know of far-eastern philosophies that just intrinsically make so much sense to me.
I often fail to meet my ideals. At these times, I feel guilty, and I feel ashamed. So I do whatever is within my ability to not do those things again, and if I honestly can say to myself that I’ve done that, then I feel better.
I accept that I will likely continue to make mistakes until my last breath. The higher you set your personal bar, the more you will trip over it.
But there is an intrinsic joy to it as well.
I don’t need to make a lot of money. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to be the best at anything. I don’t need to get the girl or the boy(although it is lonely). I don’t need to win(though honestly I never really wanted to). I may have missed many opportunities in life, and ruined many others, but the opportunity to be closer to my virtues happens every day.
Guilt is just the messenger. It isn’t always right(some are skilled at manipulating people this way), but it usually is, and it’s almost always worth at least hearing out. Guilt, fundamentally, is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a beautiful and wondrous thing.