There’s something manipulative about guilt. I’m not certain what it is, but I’ve seen others resort to it in an attempt to force me into doing things I don’t want to do. And sometimes, well, maybe more often than sometimes, I may resort to guilt to force myself into doing something my better judgment warns me against. This useless emotion has been on my mind, lately, boring its way deep, raising colliding questions in my head, questions to which I have no satisfying answers. What I know is that we humans are a manipulative bunch. And guilt is a potent weapon of manipulation, which assumes many forms.
Imagine this scenario: our turning away from one beggar or another instead of stopping, opening our purse or riffling in our pocket, and parting with a dollar. Most of us, I’m certain, have done this at one time or another. There are many valid reasons why we would act in such a manner. The beggar appears young and strong, we reason, competent enough to hold a job. Or, what if the dollar is spent on feeding an addiction? What if the purse is snatched away when one stops to retrieve the dollar? Well, you understand what I’m getting at. Reasons abound to support our act. Then why do we spend the rest of that day wallowing in guilt?
Here’s another example: A friend asks you for a loan. It has happened before. You know the consequences. Call it a loan, call it what you may, but you might as well kiss your hard-earned money goodbye. But that’s not the worst of it. Let’s say you decide to oblige. The next thing you know you’ve lost a friend. Why? Perhaps your friend is embarrassed to tell you that he or she is unable to repay your loan, so it would be easier to avoid you. Perhaps, the money is more valuable than the friendship. Whatever the reason, it happens all the time. So, next time, having learned your lesson, you decide to hold on to the friendship as well as to your dollars that are dwindling fast in this economy. Then why do you feel so miserable and guilty?
Guilt is an especially potent form of Jewish self-flagellation. Generations after generations injected guilt into our blood, and perhaps we are doing the same to our children. Are we? I wonder about this, too, whether I’ve contaminated my own children with this poisonous emotion. If so, “mea culpa,” it was unintentional. You realize I’m using “I think” and “I’m not certain” and “unintentional” a lot. Because I honestly have no idea how to deal with this sneaky, passive aggressive worm that is a master at wriggling its way into the deepest folds of your subconscious, so that a ton of therapy and wads of precious dollars fail to undo the damage. So, shame on you! Next time you come across a beggar in the street, open your purse or dig into your pocket and part with not one, but a couple of hundred dollars. Do it! Make an investment in your guilt bank.