No. 29

There is a little five letter word called "guilt" that most people suffer from at one time or another, and if it's not dealt with and handled properly, the consequences can be devastating. The primary reason guilt is so difficult to deal with is because complete freedom or release from guilt often involves some deep soul searching, a confession or at least admitting our shortcomings. To confess or admit we are wrong goes against basic human nature and this is especially true for the person who has poor self-esteem. The British statesman and author Edmund Burke (1729-1797) had this to say about it, “Guilt is never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them. It leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.” I might also mention in passing that Edmund Burke was highly esteemed and one of the foremost thinkers of his day. I believe you will agree that guilt is a load too heavy to carry.
Here it might be appropriate to ask you a couple of very pertinent questions. What's inside a person who feels guilty that causes him to feel this way? Are we born with a mechanism that makes us feel guilty, or is it an instinct or attribute we have to develop? Personally, I think it's both. We are each born with a conscience, which has been defined as "the faculty by which distinctions are made between moral right and wrong, especially in regard to ones' own conduct." In other words, because we are each born with a conscience, we therefore have the inherent or built-in capacity to know whether what we do is right or wrong. It's how we use this built-in faculty that has a lot to do with whether or not we feel guilty. I believe this little allegory will help you see what I'm saying.
Our conscience, figuratively speaking, can be compared to a triangle inside our hearts. When we do something that we instinctively know is wrong, the triangle turns and the corners prick our heart and it hurts. When we continue to commit acts we know are wrong, the triangle keeps turning and before long the edges are rounded off and worn smooth and it no longer hurts. At this point, it is often said, "he has no conscience." This isn't true; this person still has a conscience, but it's become so dull from misuse that it no longer makes him feel guilty or has any bearing on his actions.
If we are to live happy, successful and well-adjusted lives, we should feel guilty when we lie, steal, cheat or commit crimes against an individual or society. Otherwise, we will be totally insensitive to the needs of the people around us. The power of guilt is evident when we see people who have committed serious crimes and they feel such guilt for what they have done, they actually want to be punished. It's very important for us to deal with the day-to-day problems and decisions that are the source of much of our guilt; however there is a deeper and much more serious root problem that brings about the worst guilt of all. This is the awareness, deep in the innermost part of our beings, that God has given us tremendous talents and abilities He wants us to develop and use to serve Him and our fellow human beings. When we don't develop and use what He has given us, it creates a void. As a result, we experience a form of deep-seated guilt that gnaws at us regardless of where we go or what we do. There is only one solution to this problem and that's to put our heart and soul into those activities that we deem worthy of our time. It's even better if we can find some real purpose in life. It's only when we do our best with what God has given us that we feel good about ourselves. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)