423. False Guilt

 

Real guilt is an awful feeling one gets after a moral failure. Unless you are perfect or a perfect sociopath, you’ve experienced it too.Either the feeler did something knowingly and willingly wrong, or he knowingly and willingly failed to do something right. In either case an internal conviction rises up like a physical nausea or a psychological gag of self disgust. The self loathing builds until something is done to correct or numb the guilt. Assuage (lessen) or expiate (atone), there’s a pair of words that get after guilt. Addicts favor assuaging guilt with a substance, but that’s a different post for another time. Atonement is the ticket for undoing the guilt inducing act. Here’s the problem, though, folks: false guilt feels the same as real guilt. It masquerades as real, but false guilt is built on false assumptions and incorrect beliefs. As long as the false beliefs persist, so does the false guilt. Truth cuts down that weed, however. No, let’s say eradicates the weed of false guilt. Let me give a personal example.

Decades ago I lived around a bendy hill from a pig farm in the sleepy hamlet of Five Forks. My wife and I owned Coco the sheltie collie. Coco ran loose most of the time. We didn’t tie him up nor did we have a fence. It was a long way between neighbors, so it wasn’t usually a problem, unless you were the guy in the black Fiat who ran over Coco and rolled him up like a prison cigarette one summer day. Oh,  but when the weather turns, there is opportunity for foul play of all sorts. One Sunday afternoon during a February blizzard, I opened the back door of our farmhouse to let Coco in from the blowing snow. In his mouth was a frozen dead piglet.

“Oh, no!! Coco has killed a piglet”, I exclaimed.

My wife asked me, “What are you going to do?”

I picked up my parka and gloves, my scarf and my checkbook. “I’m going to see what a baby pig goes for these days”, and off I trudged toward Farmer Hade’s pig farm. Though his acreage lay directly off our back porch, a stream and a wire fence prevented me from easily crossing over onto his property. I had to walk about a third of a mile by the road to get to his place. I imagined his two boys answering the door. I had them in school back then. Awkward. I wondered how dad would handle the demise of one of his many porkers. Should I pay per pound or a full $200 for a completely grown pig? Many uncomfortable thoughts blew across my brain like the cruel snowflakes that stung my cheeks.

I got to his driveway across from the barn where the 600 pigs were kept. It did not cross my mind how my dog had wedged his way into that wooden fortress. I had the proof: the frozen dead piglet in his choppers. I did not need an eye witness or video evidence. I walked up a few concrete steps and rang the door bell. Mr. Hade answered it promptly.

“What in the world are you doing out in this weather?” he shouted.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. My dog killed on of your pigs.”

He laughed at my dire statement. I wondered if it was the laugh of a crazy man who was on the edge of bankruptcy, one piglet away from disaster.

“Your dog didn’t kill any pig of mine”, he added. “Couldn’t. The barn is locked up tight and I got electric fencing at all the openings. They can’t get out and no critters can get in.”

“But my dog came home with a frozen piglet in his mouth”, I protested, wondering if I could get out for $50.

“He probably got one off the pile.”

“The P-P-P-PILE?” I stammered in the blizzard air.

“Yeah, when the sows roll over, they often crush one of their babies. We throw’m on the pile out back. That’s where he got it most likely.”

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Hade.  I’ll see the boys when school gets back to normal. Bye.”

I trudged home feeling a mixture of relief and stupidity. “The PILE??!! Unbelievable.” Still, the evidence was compelling. My dog did shoplift a dead piglet without permission after all. But the more I tried to convict myself of crimes against neighbor, property, and humanity, the less I could find to stick to me.

Stinking false guilt! It’s like tar on your skin waiting for the feathers of shame to stick to it, but the turpentine of truth can dissolve it in a few dabs. Sometimes just a few truth filled breaths will wipe away the stain of false guilt. For instance, the woman across from me spoke of her crippling guilt…

“I should have been there for my mom. She slipped off her diet again and wound up in the hospital with her diabetes.”

“And you drove eight hours one way to be with her, so I  don’t get the guilt part.”

“See, I left my home town for college and then my master’s degree. There weren’t many opportunities back home. My family feels like I abandoned them.”

“Okay, but why the guilt instead of pride in your success?”

“My sister has always been jealous, but she would never work to change her circumstances.  Lazy,really, like my dad. She lives around the corner from my folks now. They pay her bills to this day.”

“And why didn’t she take care of your mom’s health concerns?”

“She’s just the same. My dad too. They all eat what they want, as much as they want, whenever they want.”

“So theirs are self-inflicted wounds, yes?”

“I guess, but I’ve always felt it was my fault that they floundered. I should be there to rescue them somehow. I’m the only healthy one.”

“And your dad?”

“He sits and watches t.v. all day, every day.”

“So let me see if I have this correctly. Your family under-functions, ignores common health practices, and then calls you when one of them needs medical attention. Is that about right?”

“Well, yessss.”

“How’s the guilt?”

“Quickly turning in to anger actually.”

“Well how about that?”

 

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370. What Guilt?

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

Guilt:  a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime, wrong, etc. whether real or imagined.

In my business, since I work with human beings, I hear a lot about the subject of guilt, that nagging feeling of self loathing that convicts you when you have done something wrong or failed to do something right, assuming you were consciously choosing one outcome or another.  Growing up as a Catholic kid, I learned a lot about guilt and sin. You don’t even have to sin to be guilty if you believe in Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Eve that is attached to the human race. Then there are venial and mortal sins. Venial sins are lesser than mortal, as  you might guess. Mortal sins, unrepented of, lead to eternal damnation. Game over. Venial sins just put you in purgatory, which is like a moral rehab hospital in Catholic cosmology. You do your time and get cleaned up, purged, so you can be reunited with God. In the Middle Ages you could pay off your sins by paying church officials indulgences. I don’t think that program is still in effect these days.

Back in my St. Louis Catholic Elementary School days in the 1960’s I tried to be good or at least tried not to get caught being bad. A daunting task when you have three brothers and 150 boisterous neighbor boys trying to be heathens. The trouble was that the teachers and priests at St. Louis were excellent guilt peddlers to their young and not so innocent charges. All their work paid off on Fridays when Confession was held behind the secret curtain in a booth at the back of the fairly modern church, architecturally speaking it was modern. We would line up in two lines per booth. Little boys in crew cuts and flattop haircuts, white shirts, navy blue pants and a navy blue bow tie. Girls in white blouses and navy jumpers with white socks and saddle shoes. Quaking in anticipation of God’s justice uttered by an invisible priest on the other side of the purple curtain.

The confessional booths in our architecturally modern church were wired with sensor pads in the kneelers.  As you knelt down, a little light turned red outside to indicate “busy”. As you stood up, a light on the outside turned green, indicating “Go”, maybe to Hell if you had the wrong stuff to share. Now if you shifted your weight back and forth as fourth grade boys liked to do in order to have blinking lights bragging rights, the lights would blink strobosocopically into a blur of brownish orange. The goal was to run up more blinks than the guy before you had managed, without getting caught by the teacher monitoring you outside or the priest listening to kids confess sins inside behind the yellow lit sliding screen that smelled of incense and holiness.

John Digeorgi and James LaFrankie are the only boys’ names I can recall from those diabolical days. I’m sure one of us was pulled up by our ears in the midst of setting the blinking confessional light land record.  You see, it was a given condition that justice would be swift and harsh in those parochial school days. One legendary story came from the eighth grade class where Sister Josephine Stalin was striding toward a wayward bad boy with a paddle in her hand. The boy was trapped, away from the classroom door, so he jumped out the first floor window to save his fleshly behind. I don’t know if he ever came back. It doesn’t matter; the legend lives.

Anyway, I wanted to share the three guilts: True, False and Imposed Guilt. I defined true guilt above. It’s that awful, nauseating feeling that comes over you if you have a conscience, that motivates you to make the wrong you committed right again. E.g. you broke the neighbor’s window while hitting golf balls off a tee in your back yard. Hey, it happens. You feel fear, then some sadness, then maybe you try to think of who else can be blamed for the broken window, but there are ten other boys waiting to tee off or tell on you so you decide to expiate your guilt by knocking on the Coopers’ door and confessing your sin. Later you pay for the damage, thus ending the material and spiritual conflict.

False guilt, on the other hand, feels just like true guilt, but it is based on false information or incorrect thinking. For instance, when your unlicensed sheltie dog comes home in a blizzard with a frozen baby pig in his mouth… well, you know right away that Coco had run over to the Hades’ adjacent pig farm because we (yes, it was my dog) had no fence, no leash, and no sense. Okay? We lived like freakin’ hippies back then.

Well, because I knew the neighbor and had his two sons in school, I did the honorable thing based on limited information. I got my checkbook, bundled up against the blowing snow, and trudged over to their house, about a quarter mile away. I rang the bell, wondering what a pig cost ($200? maybe) and Mr. Hade answered.

“What in the world are you doing out?” he inquired.

“I’m sorry to tell you that my dog killed one of your piglets.”

He laughed a deep belly laugh and stepped back a few paces. “Come on in out of the snow. Your dog did no such thing.”

“Mr. Hade, Coco came home with a baby pig in his mouth. It had to be from your herd.”

He laughed again. “Not possible. Your dog could not get into my barn. It’s hotwired to keep predators out. He probably just got one off the pile.”

“The pile?” I asked, stunned at this turn of events.

“Yeah, when the sow rolls over on her young’uns, sometimes she smothers them. We just throw the dead ones on the pile out back.”

“Oh… I feel foolish. I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Oh, no, no problem.”

At least the wind was at my back on the way home. “The pile!!!” I was ready to write a check for big money. Stupid assumption! False guilt.Image result for i'm stupid face picturesImage result for math equations pictures

Finally we have imposed guilt. It’s also false guilt. The difference is that someone else imposes guilt onto you, usually with the words should or should not. E.g. your mother tells you, “You should have gone to law school, you little schmuck! Now look at ya. You’re a nothing, nobody, Georgie Costanza.”

The reverse is also used. “You shouldn’t have gone to Atlantic City, but you did, Mr. Bigshot. Now you’re broke and you suck!!”

The shoulding business is so common I have called its use, Suck Math. It goes like this–

You should do x.

–You didn’t do x.

Therefore, you suck.

The final product of suck math is “you suck”.  Oh, guilt mongers. I don’t have enough time to give you full treatment. See, I’m way over 1,000 words and feeling a little guilty that I stretched the attention span of my three faithful followers. And with their medication load, that’s just too much. So I’m just going to stop here.Guilty as charged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

197. “I love my wife”.org

So Gary from Sunday School has a bumper sticker on his truck that says, “I love my wife”. Harmless, right? I’ve seen them around. I often wonder why I need to know that other guys love their wives, but some folks find it warm and fuzzy and reassuring and desirable. Okay, women like these bumper stickers. Gary’s wife Suzanne noted that several women had pulled alongside Gary in traffic to say how much they appreciate the message on the bumper sticker. (I guess it’s a good pick up line, if you are lacking in scruples. Besides, have any of you Blogalitarians seen an “I love my hubby” sticker? For that matter have any of you had a member of the other gender say “I like  your bare bumper”? No! Of course not. It’s rude.) Anyhow, the other ladies at our table oohed and awed and made a big thing about the  bumper sticker and how all good married men need one. I knew where this was going…into the deep culvert of my deficiencies. The impulsive honey-marooned Erin got on Amazon Pronto.com and ordered a bumper sticker for her hubby Robert for Valentine’s Day. Right there in class!! And while shopping, got him a tee shirt and coffee mug to match, along with a subscription to the weekly magazine “What Women Want But Won’t Ever Tell You“. My wife noted that I did not sport any such messages on my tee shirts, mugs or bumpers, implying that I love her less than the other men at our table love their respective wives. I don’t like situations like this. Oxygen becomes unavailable to my nose and mouth. The room shrinks. Asphyxiation dulls my cerebral cortex and dims my eyesight. “MEDIC!” There is comparison, group think, guilt, and shopping all rolled into one volatile recipe. And trust me, these women know how to follow a recipe.  Thanks, Gary.

I do love my wife, but I don’t rent billboards to advertise it. Nor do I trust folks who feel compelled to do so. However, I recognize that feeling love is not enough. It must be communicated regularly and effectively. I fail to do this. Shame on me for not celebrating my beautiful and capable wife. On the other hand, if putting on a dollar bumper sticker gets me into the Husband Hall of Fame, then I don’t want to go. ( Where is the HHF anyway? Knoxville? Spokane? Sacramento?  Butte?) I actually bought my wife some flowers after church, not because of Gary but because I had meant to on the preceding Friday. However, I had a massive headache that lasted all afternoon and into the evening. Perhaps it was a guilt conversion reaction but I doubt it. I had been thinking of randomly buying her flowers for a while, as if a pollen-laden bee had been buzzing inside my old beehive brain. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d brought her flowers. This is never good for a married man to be caught without a fast answer for the romance cops when they get you under the 600 watt halogen lamp…”when did you last purchase flowers for your wife?” “Uh, uh, I don’t know. I think it was last Valentine’s Day.” “We need receipts or video.” “But, but….” Sadly, some men never recover, they decompensate and wind up as grave keepers in medium to small cemeteries, condemned forever to remove dead flowers from headstones of the deceased. Hygiene wanes, dental hygiene especially, and each year a rotted tooth drops out of their hopeless mouths. It’s medieval, Blogfleas.

So men, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, not even Neil Young, did it make a sound?  let me translate: if you don’t tell your wife regularly and effectively that you love her, will she know?  The answer to both questions is ‘you are a dead tree’ and the world is deaf to your would’ves, should’ves, and could’ves. They are just so much sawdust. Amen! (Let’s take a collection while they are confused.)

Now on Saturday I spent hours cleaning out our nasty garage at my wife’s request. Then I washed and waxed her car as a bonus goody. Did I happen to see an “I love my hubby” sticker on her bumper? Well, you know the answer to that. I’m not running out to buy one for her either. Not sure I want guys pulling alongside her motioning for her to roll her window down…”hey, lady, nice bumper sticker. Wanna see mine?”. Come on, the sword of justice cuts both ways.

 Range Rover

On Sunday I got online and made reservations for a “Summer of Love” concert on Valentine’s Day. I don’t expect any kudos for this because it is conditional on health and weather and calamity avoidance. Men, I don’t care if you have raised Barry White and Marvin Gaye from the grave and have them waiting in a candlelit living room covered with rose petals and champagne bubbles, just waiting to croon over your lady, what’s gonna happen holds no weight compared to what you failed to do yesterday. Step up and tell you wife, “I wanna be your bumper sticker Daddy”. No, don’t say that. Try some Barry White song titles, ” Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”, “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”, “You’re Gonna Miss My Lovin'”. Now if that doesn’t  work, put on your Marvin Gaye collection, “Let’s Get It On”, “What’s Goin’ On?”, “Keep On Getting It On”.  After that, you are on your own, men.

My dear wife of almost 35 years, I love you. Now in deep Barry White bass,  “Ahhhhh Luhhhhhhve YOooooouuuuuu, Baaaaby doll.”