The more I think about guilt the more I’m convinced that it’s one of the more influential emotions in my life. That’s not to say that I spend every waking minute consumed with it but I am acutely aware of how often I feel it. Or maybe that’s just me.
Guilt works on a grand scale too. How many of our actions are determined by the avoidance of guilt? How much do we try to do the right thing in situations because we can’t face the guilt of doing the wrong thing? Perhaps in many ways morality is simply the pursuit of a guilt-free life.
In those circumstances, where the potential for guilt keeps us on the straight and narrow, there is actually some clear use for the emotion. But it’s not always the case, and it’s thinking about these negative aspects that made we want to write this post.
On a recent visit to some relatives we were talking about the possessions someone had in their loft. Specifically they had a large collection of slides, a projector and a screen. The slides were of a, now deceased, family member and largely consisted of their old holiday pictures. Because it’s so time consuming to set up a slideshow and actually look at pictures in this format my immediate thought was that they should scan them all to disk.
Their response was that they never actually wanted to look at the pictures. After all, why would they want to watch a slideshow of someone else’s holiday? It occurred to me that what they’d said was ridiculous and illuminating in equal measure. I mean, who really does want to spend their whole evening looking at pictures of someone else’s holiday, no matter how close you are to them?
But here’s the problem. This person and their slide collection were stuck in a kind of limbo. They didn’t want to put on a slideshow, or indeed scan them for future viewing. Equally they couldn’t bring themselves to throw the slides away. They just couldn’t face the inevitable guilt.
So we’re in a ridiculous situation. One which makes me question the whole notion of “sentimental value”. Are we keeping things, mementos, souvenirs because they really mean something to us? Or are we keeping them because we’d feel guilty throwing them away?
The things is, if the person who owned those possessions, or who gave them to us, or of whom they remind us were here now, do you think they’d insist on us keeping all that stuff? Or do you think they’d tell us to get rid of it, start afresh? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that.