Feelings of guilt belong to us as surely as night follows day. As a social mechanism, they are meant to stop group members from hurting each other, causing discomfort as a direct result of misconduct, and thus to reinforce in the individual the desistance from community damaging behavior. What was certainly never intended is the constant background noise of diffuse guilt, which modern man has to somehow live with these days. There is, after all, hardly any aspect of human existence that does not have unfulfillable requirements and thus permanent guilt attached to it. To make matters worse, these demands are often enough even contradictory. Let’s take a look at the wide range of purported inadequacies that achieve nothing but blinding us to ourselves, causing constant shame …
We feel guilty when we rest
Every minute of leisure, every day without tangible results is a lost day. Many of us cannot even sit still for a second, having been presented with restless industriousness as the principal virtue and end in itself – in fact, as the sole purpose and right to exist. Constant activity has prevalently become second nature. It may well be that we can’t even ultimately bear moments of calm. Too much-repressed dissatisfaction pushes to enter our consciousness as soon as we stop distracting ourselves. So deep is the uproar that we can only dissipate it earning perceived bonus points without cease. We are blameless, remaining ever good and diligent.
We feel guilty when we eat
Except for the lucky few who do not have to worry about their weight at all, we barely manage to forget about the calory content of our food. But even those who are not struggling with calorific value still have nutrition, additives, fair production conditions, environmental damage and genetic engineering to worry about. The supply of food gives much cause for ambiguous feelings – and so another basic need of ours is tainted with guilt.
If brought up with conservative values, we feel guilty if we have sex or even think about it
At least intercourse between properly married spouses is exempt from associations with guilt and disgust. Yet many if not most of us have been obiquously (and also largely subliminally and therefore unquestionably) bombarded with the message that any sexual activity is dirty, indecent and taboo. It is almost impossible, following this, to just cast aside this whole package of life directives and proceed to share one’s passion happily and carefree in marital bliss. It is not for nothing that advice and therapy are booming in this area, it is not for nothing that there are brothels, and not in vain does fetishism drive ever wilder blooms. Suppressed basic needs tend to pave their way and eventually come to the surface all the more uncompromisingly (and generally lovelessly).
While even the most elementary desires fill us with a sense of inadequacy every single day, we also find many other omissions and mistakes that lend themselves to self-reproach:
We feel guilty if our home is not tidy and presentable enough
In the 1950s, all kinds of technical facilities were launched on the market, allowing the new middle class to establish cleanliness, as was previously possible only with an armada of domestic workers. At the same time, however, standards grew to ridiculous (and harmful) heights. Fresh clothes every day, a sparkling kitchen, glass tables, on which one sees every speck of dust. We created work instead of reducing it.
We feel guilty when we are not happy and sociable
Extroversion has become the measure of all things. Those who prefer to sit at home and feel uncomfortable at parties are not accepted as they are but encouraged to change. Anyone who is depressed or even melancholy must also come to terms with constantly having to hide these feelings. Others feel annoyed when we do not function. And so we collectively strive to always be available, always lively, always funny and alert. What we fail to notice is how our relationships are impoverished and trivialized from the consistent exclusion of all sensations branded as negative.
We feel guilty if we are not successful enough
Although the heyday of self-expression on social media may have been overcome – hopefully – yet, the reflex to feel inadequate when others display their wealth is ingrained. This chic restaurant, that faraway holiday country, here a promotion and there a perfectly staged selfie … in this race, you can only lose, because you are not measuring yourself against one other person, but trying to measure yourself against everybody all at once. Man himself, it would seem, is not worth much anymore. It is his successes and status symbols that define him.
In sum, one can say …
The inner world that we have designed for us is nothing short of a limbo. Everything mammals are naturally inclined to do the whole blessed day is forbidden or shameful. At any given time, we have something we can and must feel bad about. The list of flaws is getting longer and longer, the repressed yet omnipresent feeling increasingly overwhelming. We are in constant debt, always falling behind – and therefore more susceptible to clear instructions on how to behave properly.
We transfer the religious principle of repentance to our school system and consider a fault-focused educational system to be conducive and necessary. We transfer it to the economic system and consider the ruin of families and entire countries by excessive interest rates as just. It is the fair price for loans that, in our minds, are linked to a life far beyond one’s means. How often they are actually used only to cover the bare necessities or to remain competitive escapes our moral compass and so we defend the concept with fervor and outrage.
What might a society be like that focuses more on learning from mistakes and the acceptance of imperfection than on being ashamed of them both for as long and as quietly as possible?
|8001194963_8d7ce85227_o-||Nadja Varga||CC BY-SA 2.0|