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Holten: I hate that feeling of guilt

Kevin Holten1 / 2
2 / 2

Do you feel guilty? If so, don't feel guilty. It's a common occurrence.

Most of us feel guilty if we're not busy doing something, drink too much, spend too much of our hard-earned cash flippantly or just after we've consumed an entire pan of brownies.

Then too, some of us have really sensitive guilt meters while others have none at all. I recently hit a bird with my pickup truck and felt guilty. Then I ran over a snake and didn't feel guilty at all.

Of course, guilt is a member of the regret family which also happens to include auntie Anguish, cousins Contriteness and Contrition, sisters Shame and Sorrow and that irritating little brother, Robby Remorse.

I'm sure you're familiar with the whole gang. They usually show up right after you've eaten too much of your son's Halloween candy, bought your fiancé some of those cubic zirconium things instead of a big diamond or cheated on your third wife with your first wife.

Perturbing little pests that can mangle a morning, defile a day, soil a Sunday, wreck a week, and ruin a good party.

They're like an overweight ship anchor, a flat tire in mud or an over-exuberant sorority housemother.

Mr. Dictionary says "feeling guilty" is an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes -- accurately or not -- that he or she has compromised his or her standards of conduct or some kind of moral standard and that's when the fun begins, because only time and penitence can dilute the self-perceived dishonor. Religions have built dynasties on that whole penitence thing.

Of course, come to think of it, that could be the benefit of a feeble mind. There's no room for guilt. Or, on the contrary, it might be filled to the brim with guilt and that's the problem.

Do you think O.J. Simpson feels guilty? How about Charles Manson? If they do, they mask it well.

I was living in Los Angeles during the Simpson trial and word on the street was that the jury would acquit because they felt that if a white woman cheated on a black man, she deserved to die.

You see, sometimes justice runs a little off course. In fact, it happens all the time.

But most of the time, we feel guilty enough when we should feel guilty so that we shouldn't have to feel guilty when we don't have to feel guilty. False guilt often stems from a lack of communication more than anything else, which can be at the center of most problems in the world including everything from the beginning of wars to not getting exactly what you thought you ordered at a restaurant.

My son, who lives in Southern California, attended a wedding in Jackson Hole, Wyo., this weekend so I thought of driving down there just to take him and his girlfriend out to lunch. That was before I realized that I can fly to California for the same cost that I can drive to Jackson Hole, given the current price of diesel fuel. Naturally, I felt guilty for not going to Jackson Hole and I would have felt guilty had I gone because, for the same price, I could spend more time with him in California. That's where Mr. Guilt really gets you. He is good at putting you in a no-win situation.

As Maureen Johnson said in Girl at Sea, "Guilt isn't always a rational thing. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not."

The trick is to differentiate between when you should feel guilty and when you shouldn't. It's a little like trying to determine the difference between a slough and a pond.

Most people have just decided to feel guilty all the time because it's easier than deciding if you should or not. Others have decided to never feel guilt but then, they have no soul.

In the end, Mr. Guilt might be an irritant but he's also a barometer that alters attitudes, saves situations, forges futures and lengthens lives.

Nevertheless, it was Voltaire, the French writer and activist who most accurately determined when you should feel guilt when he said, "Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do."

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at