Friday, November 21, 2008

guilty as charged. and then some.

Today's guest post comes all the way from the Netherlands. It's by my real-life good friend and very first blog pal, Alexandra. More than three years ago, we made a pact to start blogs and accomplish our goals, one by one, and we're actually doing it! She even made the leap from New York to Holland and recently moved into a new home with her man, Vito. Holy paint chips, life can change a lot in three years!

This post is pretty timely, as I was just explaining to someone the other day that not only do I have Catholic guilt, but Indian guilt, daughter guilt and oldest-child guilt. Trust me, that's a heavy load to walk around with every day. I blame the Auntie Patrol.


In the Netherlands, presents are exchanged on December 5 instead of December 25. This is also due to the fact that the Dutch have "Sinter Klaas" (in lieu of SANTA CLAUS and of course COMPLETELY different from Santa Claus, even though both are big old men with white beards wearing big red coats). Anyway, this Sinter Klaas comes to Holland bringing gifts a bit earlier then Santa Claus, thus the exchange is earlier in Holland. Maybe it is a good thing after all, because the whole gift-exchange craze does take over Christmas completely and people forget why exactly they are exchanging gifts in the first place. But at the same time I think the anticipation is completely heightened when you get to see those gifts under the tree multiply through all of December!

I have been thinking about what gifts I would like to get and to give...every time I think about it, I can't help but to feel guilty, thinking about all those people in the world that need a gift more than I do. However, I want gifts too! I like getting them, besides I know it makes loved ones feel good to give ME gifts, just like it makes me feel good to give them gifts and see them smile. So why this feeling of GUILT???

I've heard of the various phrases, the "Catholic guilt", "Jewish guilt"—I'm not Catholic and due to my Jewish background, I always thought that "Jewish guilt" was when mothers scolded their sons for not calling them enough (every five minutes).

Well, maybe we can clear up some of this by going to the "experts." And by that of course I mean Google!


Here is an excerpt from that states that guilt, to a certain degree, is a positive thing as it moves us to change and improve our actions to get positive result. However sometimes guilt gets to a point that it simply discourages us to improve because we feel hopeless that anything we do won't be enough. The advice is to understand where guilt becomes a negative thing and basically nip it!

A simple test is suggested to distinguish good guilt from the bad:

"Ask yourself the following question: I did the wrong thing, I feel bad, I am sorry I did what? Is this feeling of guilt motivating me in a positive or negative way? Am I getting too depressed to continue doing the right thing (I am in "shutdown" mode) or am I determined to succeed the next time? The answer will help you decide what kind of guilt you are feeling. Keep in mind, if the guilt is unhealthy guilt, DON'T LISTEN TO IT. Fight it. Pull yourself out of the slump and do the right thing. You will see an immediate change in the way you feel."

Here is an example of an explanation of the "Catholic" or Christian guilt in a huge document from 1904 called "Explanation of Catholic Morals."

I just read the beginning paragraphs, and interestingly enough it pretty much talks about the same thing: Guilt is supposed to help you to act in a positive way. For example, feeling that we are indeed responsible for doing the right thing even though God will step in and help us along... but ONLY if we stand up and actually start doing something.

"God helps those who help themselves. A supernatural state does not dispense us from the obligation of practising natural virtue. You can build a supernatural life only on the foundations of a natural life."

So basically, in order to accomplish something good we actually have to take action and not just sit in the corner and pray and hope good stuff will happen and if it doesn't—feel guilty about it.

How does this all apply to my little guilt dilemma of receiving gifts? Well, from both the Jewish and Christian advice I realize that it's OK to not be able to cure world's hunger single-handedly. I should NOT feel guilty about not being able to do that. My "good" guilt should, however, propel me to DO something. Even if it's something small. I should not let the "bad" guilt get me so down and feeling hopeless about the situation that I just sit and do nothing...spiraling into feeling even more guilty and bad.

So! I can do the gift exchange but ask for a smaller gift and for a cash portion that can in turn be donated to my favorite charity. YEY! Problem solved!

...unless we consult those whose religion is Atheism... They would say that this exercise here we just did is simply rationalization of guilt:

"In psychology and logic, rationalization is the process of constructing a logical justification for a belief, decision, action or lack thereof that was originally arrived at through a different mental process. It is a defense mechanism in which unacceptable behaviors or feelings are explained in a rational or logical manner; this avoids the true explanation of the behavior or feeling in question."


Noelle said...

I was going to just absorb this information without saying anything, but if I didn't leave a comment, I would feel guilty.

SupaCoo said...

Oy vey indeed!!

Sphincter said...

Ah, crap. Now I feel guilty, too.

naechstehaltestelle said...

Dude, what do you think of Zwarte Pete? I can't deal with it to be honest. I know it's tradition and their thing, but every time I see people dressed as Zwarte Pete I just get hives. No one seems to understand my indignation, either.

cadiz12 said...

I had to look that Zwarte Pete thing up. i had never heard of it before. it'd make me uneasy, too, but any american would likely feel that way; it probably has a lot to do with the negative connotations blackface has in united states history.

Zwarte Piet