Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Is Guilt a Worthy Motivator?

There seems to be a divergence of opinion about guilt. It’s not a simple open and shut case. Some people think it’s good when guilt motivates behavior and others don’t. On the plus side guilt can be the catalyst for positive actions towards those who are less fortunate. For example, you see a homeless person on the street and give him or her food or money out of guilt. On the other hand you may want to quit your job or leave your lousy relationship, but don’t do so out of guilt—because you think you're hurting someone's feelings. In this latter example the price you pay for assuaging your conscience is self-realization. In an essay entitled “What is a Good Life?” (The New York Review of Books, 2/10/11), the late Ronald Dworkin, a philosopher and legal scholar, examined the relationship between self-sacrifice (for things like art) and happiness. There are no simple conclusions to such questions and there’s a difference to giving up everyday satisfactions for the pleasures of a higher calling or giving up the higher calling because of the obligations say to a family that one needs to support. Guilt is often the underpinning when people don’t go after what they think they want, though what they want itself may be a fantasy or delusion produced by the kind of overactive imagination that was Madame Bovary’s undoing. If Madame Bovary had been more tethered in by guilt she might not have made her disastrous choices. Hopefully good old guilt will stop our latest generation of robber barons from plundering the environment and leaving a path of destruction that will destroy the earth.

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