Attorney Steve Grow
October 30, 2011
The pain we call guilt comes from many sources. All healthy guilt originates from the pressure of truth. It guides you toward the solid ground of understanding and accepting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Guilt originating from any other source is unhealthy. It draws you away from solid ground and disorients you. It leaves you open to manipulation.
We are born with a high vulnerability to sin. We are all tempted frequently, beginning as infants and throughout our lives. As children (and also as former children) we can hardly help imitating the words or actions of others and what we see on the media. Bad examples and advice surround us. Good examples and advice are few and far between. Authorities direct or advise us to do things we shouldn’t. They confuse us by saying one thing but doing another. We live in a monkey-see-monkey-do world.
Think about the good form of guilt for a moment. Suppose you say or do something truly wrong. Your undistorted awareness causes you to understand wordlessly that you goofed. You will feel pain, rooted in the pressure of the truth about your failure. The pain lasts with more or less intensity until you understand your error, are sorry for what you did, and experience a natural cleansing. Through this process, the truth itself guides you to greater wisdom about yourself and your surroundings.
This corrective process helps keep you in balance and on course. It proceeds naturally at its own pace without effort on your part so long as you don’t resent any of the following: the pain, what you are shown, the light that shows it to you, or the time required for the process to complete itself naturally. If you resist, evade, shut down, or resent this healthy process, you add a new layer of guilt and may even increase your pain. The pressure of truth will never abandon you, but you may flee from it in any number of ways.
For example, say you do (or don’t do) something and start to feel uncomfortable and antsy. Perhaps you’ll deny what you did—e.g., “I didn’t hit that guy.” Perhaps you’ll deny that it was wrong—e.g., “Sure I hit the guy; it was a good thing, the best thing I ever did.” Perhaps you pretend that the real cause of your pain was something else—e.g., “What is bothering me really is that I don’t have a shiny new car, or need to eat something, not the fact that I hit the guy!” You might pretend that the pain itself is the only real problem and seek oblivion from it in drugs, booze, overwork, picking fights, etc.---“I hurt, but there is no reason why I should; perhaps I need a stiff drink, or some medicine.” You might pretend that you were helpless to do otherwise—e.g. “I couldn’t help hitting the guy.” The possibilities are endless.
Since the truth doesn’t support you in one of these escapes, your discomfort will drive you to seek from your environment some sort of support or comfort for the approach you have taken. In our example, you might seek another person to agree, or pretend to agree, with you—an alibi witness, a friend or expert to confirm your diagnosis that you were right in what you did, a car salesman offering a shiny new car, a nice expensive restaurant to serve you a good meal, someone to give you a stiff drink or pain pill, someone to agree that you had no choice. Depending on your level of pain, you might be willing to pay a lot for one of these fixes or confirmations.
Notice that none of these secondary needs arises if you respond to your original guilt pang properly. Meanwhile the truth itself continues to apply a gentle pressure which you feel as pain. Now you also feel a pressure that is trying to correct your error in seizing on a false solution to the original pain. Pain from the original error also persists. To you it seems like one big pain. No matter what you do, this pressure doesn’t go away, even if you lose your awareness of it.
It takes energy to hide from the truth. As you add error to error, more and more spiritual energy is diverted to maintaining your defenses against what is true and right. You need lots of money to meet these needs, so you have to work more. Your anxiety and tension levels rise, though you may not see it. Fearful, weakened, disoriented and anxious, you are increasingly subject to suggestion and manipulation. You are ripe for the plucking. You will attract manipulators as manure draws flies. Because of your neediness, you can be manipulated quite easily. Do you see now why all who sin are slaves?
Let’s follow one of our examples a little further. Suppose you seize on the notion that your anxiety comes from not having a shiny new car. To seek relief, you go car shopping. You enter the show room, the professional home of a talented car salesman. The weaker and guiltier you are, the easier it will be for the salesman to take you to the cleaners. This might happen in a few simple steps.
Step 1. The salesman estimates how needy you are. If necessary, he pumps up your anxiety level. By discerning that you have a guilty secret, he can heighten your anxiety, even if he has no idea what the secret is. Be suspicious if you sense someone trying to make you more anxious. All too often, he is setting you up.
Step 2. The salesman then communicates the following proposal to you in words, gestures and/or body language: He won’t press for details of any guilty secrets. He will support your story that you really need the car. And he will tell everyone how you negotiated skillfully, drove a hard bargain, and picked out the perfect vehicle. In return, all you have to do is make a purchase you don’t really need, pay too much for it, and tell everybody that you got a great deal. Who could pass up a deal like that? (The reason your negotiations might take a little time is that some of the bargaining is going on a little below your level of awareness, as your dark side hints and signals to his that it understands what he wants and is willingto deal.)
Step 3. You strike the bargain, and each carries out his part.
Step 4. If you feel guilt about your dealings with the salesman, you again have an opportunity to resolve that guilt in a healthy way. But it is all too easy to handle it in an unhealthy way. Next time, you might seek relief from your discomfort at the doctor’s office or the liquor store. Or, you might return to the scene of the sale and buy another car from the same salesman.
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There you go again…
Never underrate the ability and willingness of God to help guide you back to the better path and get you off this treadmill. You must cleave to reality and right and let go of your erroneous views and practices of evading healthy guilt. It is never too late to begin. The thief who repented on the cross enjoyed full privileges in heaven. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will set you free if you embrace it and allow it to have its way with you.
© 2011 Steve Grow - All Rights Reserved
Steve Grow holds degrees in physics, law and philosophy. He is a retired lawyer who practiced business law for many years. He studied philosophy and cognitive psychology at the graduate level, including working with one of the world’s leading scholars on the work of Aristotle. He was co-editor in chief of his college newspaper. He has observed and wondered about history, psychology, religion, politics, journalism and good (and bad) government since childhood.
He believes that, now and always, the central problem in politics is monitoring and governing those in political positions—so that ordinary people are the ultimate governors and can hold those in office fully accountable. Ordinary people deserve, and need, full legal protection of their privacy. In contrast, all activities of those in government should be open to full scrutiny at all times. In a certain sense, ordinary people should be “ungovernable” and accorded a broad measure of privacy – on the other hand, politicians and their actions should be open to monitoring, closely watched and constrained. Anyone with a contrary view, he believes, is an enemy of freedom—wittingly or unwittingly.