Post number 15 of 33 in The Ganymede Progression.

Guilt and shame are related feelings, which let us know that we have done something we feel is wrong. They are relative, and whilst some may feel no guilt or shame at certain actions, others may be eaten up by them. But if we understand them, if we recognise the opportunity they present to learn something valuable out our beliefs below the surface, guilt and shame can be useful opportunities.

The Force seems to know no guilt, no shame. The Force simply “is”. So why should Jedi think of guilt and shame as worthwhile experiences? Well, for a start Jedi are part of the Force. If we feel these things, then at some level they are of the Force, and the Force does feel them: through us. But going deeper, they teach us about our relationship to the wider world; to our actions.

Guilt feels like a primarily external emotion, a negative feeling about something we have done that will affect another. I’d actually prefer to describe it as an internal feeling, because in reality most of the times I’ve felt real guilt have actually produced a more pronounced emotion in myself than in anyone my actions have affected. Others are kinder than we realise, often “writing off” hurts as unintended, or just a fact of life. What’s that old adage… “Do not worry what others think of you. Chances are, they don’t.” I think that is wise, and we can realise that instead of being something caused by actual hurt, most of the guilt we feel is a consequence of the hurt we perceive our actions could possibly cause.

If I push a trolley out into traffic, I might feel guilt at being so careless. But more often than not people will avoid the trolley, slam on their brakes maybe. They might be annoyed, but not hurt. However, in my mind I might imagine a 10-car pile up, ambulances, fires, the whole shebang. Guilt takes the worst possible outcome we can imagine and pushes us to feel responsible for it. As such, it reveals more about us and our true attitude (that we should be careful when pushing trolleys, for instance) than our actual behaviour does.

At the same time, guilt can sometimes be a valid response to hurt we cause others. I genuinely feel this is far less common, at least for Jedi who approach the world in fellowship and collaboration and therefore act with strong intentions and dignity, than we might ordinarily believe. In all situations, guilt is a compassionate force, asking us to appraise how our activities affect others. Only if we take it to an extreme, that is, to begin to feel that what we imagine is what has actually happened, does it become problematic.

Shame would ordinarily be thought of as an internal emotion, and again I want to flip this around. For me, shame is more about external comparison. We feel ashamed of that which we feel doesn’t measure up to other people’s standards, expectations, values. We feel shame that we are not as good as, or that we are actively worse than, other people. A baby knows no shame, nor does a toddler. They haven’t learned to understand anything other than that which they themselves believe to be true, as truth. Their opinion takes priority in their minds. If someone tells my 2 year old daughter that playing with lego isn’t cool, it is a meaningless statement to her. She doesn’t evaluate in that way.

Evaluation is key, with shame. We weigh up ourselves, our own actions, against those of others. We find we don’t make the grade, and we feel shame. It is not a wise practice to engage in, because in reality we should not hold ourselves up to any standards other than our own. We have our own strengths and weaknesses, and so does everyone else. Each of us walks our own path. Intention, for me, is key. So long as our intention is pure, and we have the sense to learn the lessons of our occasional failures, we should not be discourages into shame.

As you can see, I believe the subtle differences between guilt and shame actually separate them quite easily. It is our confusion over the positioning of the elements which is key. We should never feel ashamed of who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done. We should perhaps allow guilt to modify our behaviour in the future. Guilt can teach; shame can only punish. In the Force, we recognise we always have room to improve and more which we can learn. By embarking upon our quest to live better, we recognise there is a better way to live. And we should not be disheartened, ashamed, if we feel we are not “getting there”.

The path is the destination, forever and ever. When we trip, the best thing we can do is not to waste time chastising ourselves for falling down; it is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and walk on, the wiser.