I eradicated the words “shame” and “guilt” from my life. I truly believe that they endure as two of the most pessimistic, negative, and shackling words in existence.
Merriam-Webster defines them as:
Shame– a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety; a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.
Guilt– the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously; a feeling of deserving blame for offenses.
Many times I think our consciences (and certain institutions) use shame and guilt as barricades designed to keep us on the narrow path. However, the effect proves more deleterious than a thoughtful barrier. Instead of keeping a person on track, guilt and shame serve to hold one bound.
Not that I purport we should allow ourselves to run wild over the earthen expanse, entertaining no sense of right or wrong or of our responsibilities in the world. On the contrary, I believe humanity requires strong doses of accountability and truth to maintain propriety. But, truth and accountability differ from shame and guilt in more than simple semantics.
Truth-the body of real things, events, and facts; sincerity in action, character, and utterance.
Accountability– the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
Having sincerity of character and truthfulness in actions and speech remain critical for forward progress. We must not hide ourselves from the reality of the situation or the actuality of our part in whatever went amiss.
How often do we re-write the facts of what really happened?
Yet, the power of truth lies in our releasing the need to skew what happened in our favor and objectively admitting our wrongdoing.
A lack of accountability contributes to the injustice in the world today. At times, people feel so eager to point fingers and assign blame all the while not holding their own water within situations. Tactfully (and lovingly) pointing out someone’s lack of accountability, not as shaming, offers an opportunity for growth on the part of the offender.
The difference between shame/guilt and truth/accountability is subtle.
For example, let’s propose that someone fails to keep a personal commitment to themselves. Inner shame and guilt say to the culprit, “You’re a failure. You shouldn’t even try. You don’t deserve better.” Truth and accountability declare, “You faltered, so maybe you need someone else’s help with this issue.” This illustration portrays a fine line but an important distinction.
Being open to the truth and accepting accountability produces resolution and progress within our emotional and mental selves. Shame and guilt serve to keep us mired in the quicksand of defeat and despair.
So put shame and guilt to bed, however, don’t be afraid to seek or speak the truth and admit your mistakes and shortcomings gracefully. While letdowns disappoint, each experience forges a new opportunity for personal development and relational growth when we allow (or force) ourselves to see the truth and own our involvement.