Chicken Nuggets and a Guilty Conscience

Who's on trial here? Source: Wikimedia Commons
A recent and wonderful blog post about schedules, deadlines, and donkeys has left me thinking about guilt. Guilty guilt guilt. I feel that it is my greatest enemy and perhaps my most constant companion. (Whoa! Sad, but probably true.) I have a monkey on my back and its name is Guilt. It might be time to kick this habit.

The funny thing about my pal Guilt is that it’s so hypocritical! Whenever I work, it’s not hard enough. My results? Not good enough. The hours? Not long enough. But on the other hand, if I’m working then I’m not spending time with my family. And that’s another great source for my Guilt habit. “The defendant claims that she just didn’t have enough time to prepare a home-cooked meal while helping her child with his homework and finishing that progress report. Do you know what she fed that poor child instead? Chicken. Nuggets. We find the defendant guilty.”

Sidetrack: How weird is it that judgements in a court room are either guilty or not-guilty? Shouldn’t they be guilty or innocent? A verdict of not-guilty kind of contradicts the concept that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Anyway, the weirdest thing about the Guilt habit (which by the way, I am finding is quite common among my peers in academia) is how self-serving it is. If you’re like me and finding yourself struggling with feelings of guilt and insecurity over every little detail of your personal and professional life, you might benefit from taking a step back and realizing how absurd it is to try and take on responsibility for all of these little things at once. It’s not all about you. I once received some horrible advice which is actually turning out to be quite helpful now just because I have finally realized how inaccurate it is. The advice was this: ‘Guilt is nature’s way of telling you that you’re doing something wrong.’ I have been operating under this self-blaming misconception for several years. But here’s the thing: Guilt is not a useful emotion. It’s is not something we love to share with others and it is not something we would like to receive. It does not improve your work ethic. It is unique in that it’s completely internal, unnatural, and serves no purpose that I can see. We have complete control over it, and yet at times it seems to control us. It is also an emotion with very little memory at times, but with amazing recall at others.

Exhibit A: “Why oh why didn’t I start that essay a week ago? I’m a horrible person.” At this moment your friend the Guilt-monkey has conveniently forgotten that last week was as busy as this week and that you persevered and handed in a fantastically well-written assignment or performed admirably at a committee meeting, and only now have you scraped together the time to write your term paper. Nevertheless, your professional history shows that you work well under pressure and habitually meet deadlines with polished and insightful prose. Moreover, the Guilt-monkey should refrain from casting aspersions on your character, as it is not relevant here.

Exhibit B: “Oh dear, I just remembered that ignorant/embarrassing/moronic thing I said a bajillion years ago and now I’m going to be thinking about it and acting extra-awkward for a week.” Here, the Guilt-monkey is demonstrating its epic ability to recall painstaking details of every individual moment you’ve ever been stupid, scared, drunk, or going through puberty. At this point it behooves you to point out that by the rule of double jeopardy, a person cannot be tried twice for the same charges. I’m sure you’ve been very penitent and repaid your debt to society. You’re a rehabilitated individual and you deserve the respect and understanding of others, not to mention a little admiration for how far you’ve come since those dark days. Also, if the offense is more than a few years old, you can apply to have it stricken from your mental record.

So, how is one supposed to drag themselves out of this vicious cycle? I actually don’t think it will be too hard. Here is a tentative four-step plan I put together for myself. I’ll let you know how it works out!

Step 1: Relax. I liked Nicole’s thought about owning a 25-hour clock. The extra hour is for guilt-free chillin’. But in the interests of not messing with the space-time continuum, I’m going to try to find one hour out of 24 instead.

Step 2: Start blaming other people for my mistakes. Kidding! But seriously, I won’t be so quick to shoulder the blame for everything. I’m going to have reasonable expectations for myself.

Step 3: Make a resolution (it’s the word of the day!) to forget about all those old offenses.

Step 4: Realize that feeling guilty is not improving my work ethic, my family time, or my health. It’s useless. Kick it to the curb!

Happy 2012 everyone! My best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive new year.

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