“Guilt is not a very constructive emotion.” — Paul Keating (The Redfern Park Speech, 1992)
I came across this quote yesterday and I found it interesting. I think everyone would admit to having felt guilt at some point in their lives, and at times it can seem almost natural. But is guilt a good thing? Inspirational media talks a lot about not feeling guilty but people who don’t appear to feel guilty after committing a crime are condemned. So where is the line drawn? Is guilt a good thing or is it a negative thing?
I wrote last year about how the world can at times be seen in shades of grey. However I do believe that there are some absolutes which the majority of the world would agree on. It is when we feel as though we have crossed a line, whether one imposed by ourselves or our society, that guilt becomes associated with our actions. For that reason, I think that at times guilt can have benefits, forcing us to recognise when we have done the wrong thing and feel sorry for it. But at other times it becomes easy to get trapped in a cycle of guilt, waking up in the middle of the night worrying about a choice you made five years ago, and I don’t think that this is helpful. It is impossible to change the past but you do still have to live with the consequences in a healthy way.
I’d agree with the quote, guilt itself is not a constructive emotion, however it can be a motivator for other emotions which are more constructive. What may have begun as guilt for the blessings that you have, can turn into generosity and compassion for those who have less. Guilt can make you do something to rectify the problems, whether small or large, which exist in the world.
Guilt does have benefits at times, helping us realise we’ve done something wrong or motivating us to do better things, but too much of it is detrimental. It’s about finding a balance in life rather than constantly avoiding or embracing it.