My friend Drew is arguably the most important person in my life (that isn’t one of my children).
He is my more than just my best friend and partner here on ASH Multimedia; he is my quasi-therapist, my drill sargeant, my sounding board and the one person I can goof off with and be immature and silly and not feel badly. He’s been with me through some really crappy stuff and I’m so glad he’s in my life. He’s one of the few people I trust explicitly.
While Drew & I are very similar, we differ in one way. Drew believes that sometimes it’s okay to do bad things if the ends justify the means, while I cannot. So, imagine my surprise when Drew invited me over last night to tell me that he felt guilty about some things he had done a couple of weeks ago and one thing he had done earlier that day. He thought these things would somehow help the people in his life, but the guilt was eating away at him, so he had to tell me what he had done. I obviously forgave him, but it did open up a great discussion about guilt.
Guilt is a funny sort of thing. Sometimes it rots us from the inside, to the point where we are broken. Guilt is a natural part of life; we feel guilty that we didn’t live up to our parents expectations, we feel guilty that we let someone down. Sometimes, we let the guilt drive us to do hurtful and hateful things to let the guilt go, but all we do is add more guilt, as we projected our guilt on to the victim, blaming them for making us feel guitly, when in reality, our actions (on inactions) are what made us feel guilty. Maybe we weren’t giving all we could have to a partner/child/relative and we felt guilty, so to erase the guilt, we went about it the wrong way and hurt them even more. Maybe we’ve just effed up so many times that the guilt of knowing what we’ve done is consuming. Drew came clean because he felt like he had compromised my absolute trust in him. While his heart was in the right place, as his latest actions were (in his mind) to help people in his life he admires and respects, he knew he had done wrong and had no choice but to apologize.
Guilt is connected to empathy, which is why most psychologists will tell you that you cannot feel “guilt” if your action was the right thing. The thing is, if you are feeling haunted by an action, then chances are you knew it was wrong. You can only hide from that guilt for so long before the what ifs and the guilt consume you (much like what happened to Drew) and sadly, the only way to make the guilt go away is to face what you have done, like Drew did. I know sometimes when I screw up, the last thing I want to do is face the person who’s feelings I hurt, because can a simple call or text of “Hey, I’m an idiot, I’m so sorry” really make up for it? Of course, if someone truly loves you, they don’t keep score of what you’ve done. Chances are they’ve already forgiven you and just want to move forward. I didn’t see any point in dragging out Drew’s miscue, as he had already beat himself up enough over it. Nothing I could have said or done would have hurt him more than he hurt himself. That’s the thing about guilt; we spend so much time beating ourselves up over what we did that we hurt the people we’ve harmed even more by straining our relationships or even severing ties with them because we’re allowing the guilt of what we have done affect what we could be doing, which is be with the people we care about, enjoy them, love them.
I find it comical that a simple apology between friends spawned into this conversation and as I was leaving, we hugged and I know we both felt better. He was no longer feeling guilty and I no longer wondered why he sounded so sad when he called to convince me to come over. But as I left, he asked me if I would post this blog about our evening’s chat. It seemed like an odd request, so I asked why and he said; “Maybe other people are feeling guilty too.”
The truth is, we’re all feeling a little guilty for something, whether it’s stealing internet or (seemingly) destroying someone’s world. You can’t take those things back; you can’t unring a bell. But you can stop the residual echos by turning around and doing the right thing, whether it’s turning off the wi-fi and calling an ISP to facing the unfaceable, you can do it and chances are, you’ll feel better when you do.