Being bad has it’s bonuses and all. I’m thinking in particular about the feeling you get after a long, enjoyable session of cannibalism. The only thing about being bad is that it tends to suck is the guilt arena.
Kidding about the cannibalism, by the way. Cannon balls are hard to digest. Buddump chssss, moving on:
I may be taking a small liberty here, but I’m going to assume that I have no psychopaths reading this article. I say this because I may reference the idea of having a conscience from time to time and I don’t want it to confuse anybody. Although, whether psychopaths have a conscience or if they have freely chosen to remove theirs via some kind of conscience-ectomy is an issue still up for debate. My brother is doing his master’s thesis somewhere in the neighborhood of that issue, I believe. I have talked about conscience before so I will be brief on this point. Here goes:
We all have a conscience.
That took way too much work. Anyway…
Ultimately, after you have done something you think is bad, there are only two ways to eliminate the invariable feeling of guilt. They are: 1) Recant and apologize for your transgression to whichever party has been offended, give it time and “sin no more”, if you forgive the religious connotation, or 2) Recant ever thinking what you did was bad. It should be noted that both ways are incredibly effective. Only one of them is a slippery slope upon which Mankind may tumble unto death and misery.
The trouble arises when guilt starts doing unpredictable things like making you feel sorry for ever have been born. Or perhaps a better example: right now as I type I am feeling guilty for taking the time to write. You may feel guilty for trying to relax after a hard day of work, or spending two dollars on a Tim Horton’s coffee once in a while.
How are we supposed to be good people when we feel like bad ones for doing things we objectively know to be harmless, or even helpful? I may know intellectually that it is good practice for me to write this article and that I am fulfilling the daily quota for my personal challenge, but the immediate experience of writing it doesn’t go so intellectually smooth. After all, I could be working on all this wedding stuff that keeps piling up, or I could be returning a few emails that I keep ignoring, or I could be out for a walk enjoying the nice weather on my day off. There always seems to be something else out there trying to vie so fervently for my attention that even when it comes to doing the tasks I know I love—like writing—or that I know have to get done—like writing—I feel guilty. Is there anyone else in the same boat? Indeed there are, for I am a man, and I am of Mankind. My experience always has some sort of underpinning universality to it.
So we have stumbled afoot another balancing act of the human mind, I’m afraid. We must have enough intellectual humility to recognize when we are feeling guilty, to stimulate change over the right things, yet enough intellectual stubbornness to reject our guilt when we know it to be misinformed. The bottom line is that guilt is not, and should never be, our only source of right and wrong. Just think about the implications.
This means that the feeling of guilt and the use of reason are more like handmaidens than enemies. We need both just as surely as we need both food to eat and air to breath. One without the other results in death. In this example, guilt without reason means intellectual death, and reason without guilt means emotional death.
Sometimes we have to sit down and think desperately about our feelings. It won’t surprise you to know that this is a problem for some people.
See, some people choose to live life based merely on how they feel. This is not only the death of reason, but it is a dangerous philosophy. It is the slippery slope. The sad part is that you and I both know people like this. They go to school to get a degree in Psychology and wind up changing their major six times along the way before dropping out altogether in order to move back home to play video games. They are the serial daters who go spelunking headfirst into the sexual depths of a relationship before they are intimidated by the reality of their partner and decide to run-away. In fact, these are the type of people who run away from anything uncomfortable into the arms of familiarity, apathy, and moral erosion.
Are they doomed to be this way forever? Absolutely not. But they are the people Alexander Hamilton is talking about when he says, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”
Emotions like guilt are not pillars with which one should erect a monument. Only the power of reason is strong enough to stand firm against the tides of emotion. Emotions are a mystery, I think, but using our trusty tool known as reason, we can know more about them than they could ever know about themselves.
So then, what do we know? And what does this have to do with you being a horrible person?
Simply, my friends, we know that curious thing called humanity has a penchant for self-destruction as well as for creation. The only way to stop feeling like a horrible person is to stop being one. That means, out of all the balls we have juggling up in the air, the ones labelled guilt and reason are never to be dropped. They are each to be held in their own time and each to keep their gravitational pulls toward one another. The are each to be measured, and each to flow along the same trajectory. Only this act of juggling will show the fullest beauty and complexity of who we are.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t drop the ball.