Guilty as a Scapegoat

Guilty as a Scapegoat

A goat sent into the wilderness after a Jewish chief

priest symbolically laid people’s sins upon it

Self-awareness is what makes us human. It is an essential part of a happy, balanced life. A frank and honest appraisal of yourself from time to time is a healthy, life-enhancing exercise. Staring at yourself all the time is the opposite. Navel-gazing is narcissistic and self-destructive. It focuses on the seemingly inevitable instead of on what is aspirationally possible. Like most things in life, a balance between the two extremes allows you to sleep at night. 

Peace is a good deal more than absence of war.

My generation was largely brought up on guilt. When I look back at what children were beaten for, what they were told would lead to eternal damnation and how they were persuaded that some trivial ritual would expunge all wrongs and transform evil into good, I have to smile. Early childhood, up to the age of seven, is very formative. If you are labelled and boxed before your eighth birthday you will find it difficult to adjust later on. 

But not impossible. The work we have done over many years suggests that people can restart themselves at any age. Younger gives you more time to enjoy the new ‘you’ but if older it allows you greater confidence to take what may seem a risky step, even though it usually turns out to be a great success. Never let the guilt you were induced to bear when young confuse your life. Those who accused you of being guilty were often wrong. 

We are all guilty of doing bad things accidentally or deliberately. Guilt is there to make us realise the error, give us a chance to correct it and then get on with life. Long lasting guilt is tedious for the person suffering it and for those who have to bear the burden of it all the time. Obvious as this is, getting rid of guilt is not at all easy. It requires patience.

Dreadful events in which people are physically and morally destroyed should never be forgotten. Memorials to the wickedly treated are useful reminders of how both individual and collective humanity can be brutal and wrecking. Acknowledgement of past human badness is necessary to overcome the guilt associated with it. For all that, extended personal guilt is not the best way to ensure better behaviour in the future. That comes only from an acknowledgement of our duty of care for each other – put into practice.

The best remedy for handling personal, persistent guilt is to fill your mind positively with several of the good things you have done recently. Memories of enjoyable times and events are always helpful in mitigating pain, sorrow and loneliness. Whether you have given others physical help, financial support, moral encouragement or just a kind thought and word, good always heals the giver as much as the receiver. 

Guilt needs a makeover. We cannot measure our good and our bad to arrive at some irrelevant score. Nor are we scapegoats, designated to carry blame. 

We are able to put the bad behind us and remember the good. 

It is the only way we can praise whatever God we believe in.  

And if we believe in none, it is how we praise ourselves and overcome our guilt. 

Good morning 

John Bittleston 

Do you have a more effective way of dismissing guilt? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

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10 May 2023