I’ve previously discussed the importance of truth. How can we expect knowledge and understanding if we distort the truth or favour stories and delusion?
There are diplomatic ways of being truthful. We need not use it like a hammer. Use the “sweet truth,” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say.
A friend recently sent me an article on trust research. They found a difference between feeling guilty, being “guilt-prone,” and being guilt-free.
The article observed that people who are guilt-prone “feel more responsible for others.” “guilt-proneness… captures the anticipation of guilt over wrongdoing, [causing] people to avoid transgressing in the first place.” They see this as a positive character trait. Such a person is more trustworthy as they can be encouraged (guilted) to be so.
Those who just feel guilty have been wrong doing. “People experience guilt as a result of committing a transgression, and that emotional experience elicits reparative behaviour.” This is the more typical view of guilt. It’s also one that suggests someone is untrustworthy because they act first and feel guilt afterward.
Worse is someone who doesn’t recognize consequences and thus doesn’t feel guilt even when trampling others. “… it suggests a lack of remorse and no intention to repair your transgressions.”
However, I would also note this is essentially child psychology. It is being motivated by what we wish to avoid rather than what we’re moving towards. If you need guilt for motivation, personal integrity is not very deeply rooted yet. There are internal conflicts between what we know to be right and unresolved needs.
Certainly, there can be areas of life where we need more work. In that context, guilt can be a good inhibitor or motivator to make amends. But it’s really not a good yardstick for quality of life.
The Yoga Sutra 2:36 says: “When truthfulness is established, activity and its consequence are closely connected.” When we’re truthful within, we can recognize the consequences of our actions on ourselves and others. The value of self-responsibility becomes clear. We can make good choices in the first place rather than making amends or trying to avoid consequences.
Not that feeling guilt is bad, but it should be a red flag something is off rather than a way to run your life.
Similarly, DON Miguel Ruiz, in the first of The Four Agreements wrote:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
This can be a hard lesson to learn as the surrounding culture can be very much about appearances, what’s wrong, and who’s to blame. Many act to uphold appearances rather than from their internal compass. With the recent advent of “fake news” we have an even deeper call to be impeccable and favour the truth to the best of our ability.
Otherwise, we’re culturing shadow and ignorance. That’s only good for suffering.