This morning I was in a room full of businesswomen having a rare old time networking. The amount of noise and laughter was testament to how much we were all enjoying being there and as we went round the room introducing ourselves it was clear that there was a vast amount of skill and talent in that group.
The organisers had asked us each to ask a question of the group to see if any helpful answers were forthcoming.
And this group of apparently strong, bright, independent, feisty women had one big issue that a lot of them were struggling with.
That number 1 issue was Guilt – “I try so hard to be the perfect wife, the perfect mum, the perfect business owner, and I don’t do any of them properly” said one lady, to nods of sympathy and understanding from all around.
“I tend to start work after lunch and then go on till around 10pm”, said another, “but I feel guilty that I’m wasting time in the mornings and I should be working proper business hours”.
Now, I used to suffer HORRIBLY from Guilt, to the extent that I often thought I should have been Jewish or Catholic and then it would have made sense.
But I made a conscious decision to give up Guilt as a waste of time and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Just this once, and purely in your interests, I’ve decided to invite Guilt back for a visit so that I can interview him and you can get to know him properly and find out what makes him tick.
Me: Guilt, thank you for joining me
Guilt: Well I’ve been waiting long enough for you to call. If you were a real friend you’d have rung ages ago but I suppose you’re too important to bother with little old me any more.
Me: I see you haven’t changed. I’d like to start by finding out a bit about you – what motivates you?
Guilt: I see it as my job to ensure that people abide by society’s morals or ethics, and to keep people in their place. The more things a person feels guilty about, the less he or she is likely to want to rock the boat and step out of line. In order for society to function effectively we need everyone to do as they’re told – you could see my role as a kind of policeman of the conscience, that’s why I’ve had so much consultancy work from a number of organised religions down the centuries.
Me: And why do you feel it’s important to keep people in their place?
Guilt: Well because that’s how society functions, isn’t it? If there are no rules then you quickly descend into anarchy and people get hurt. We can’t have that, can we? So if everyone knows their place and knows what’s expected of them and what is and is not allowed, then we all stay safe.
Me: And who decides what is and is not allowed?
Guilt: Well, the leaders of whichever society you happen to live in. So for example a civilised society will have a law that states that murder is illegal. If someone commits murder, it’s my job to ensure that they suffer an appropriate level of guilt to ensure that they won’t do it again. I ensure that everyone has a clear idea of society’s laws and expectations and I make sure that people operate within the boundaries of those expectations. I like to think of it as a form of public service.
Me: So, if we concentrate on British society in 2011, which laws and expectations are you enforcing by ensuring that so many women feel guilty because they’re not perfect?
Me: Well, I know lots of women who are continually racked with Guilt because they’re trying to live up to an unrealistic standard of perfection. Who decided that it was appropriate for you to insinuate your way into people’s day to day lives and make them feel guilty for just being who they are, and doing their best?
Guilt: I think you’ll find that what I’m doing is encouraging them to maintain their standards…
Me: Are you really? Encouraging women to maintain their own personal standards by making them continually feel bad about themselves? It’s an interesting take on it and a huge leap from making people feel bad about real wrongdoing isn’t it? And are you really encouraging them to maintain their own standards, or are you really making them feel that they have to maintain impossible, unachievable standards that they will never, realistically, be able to achieve and quite possibly don’t want to anyway?
Guilt: Well now you’re just twisting my words!
Me: Am I? If your function is to stop us from transgressing ancient ethical and moral codes, then what right do you have to come barging into our everyday lives and making us feel bad for wanting to go to work instead of staying at home all day with our kids, or wanting to stay at home with our kids instead of going to work, or wanting to work during the hours when we feel most productive, or wanting to express our own opinions and beliefs? What’s that got to do with maintaining moral and ethical standards?
Guilt: With the greatest of respect, I don’t think you understand. What I’m trying to say is…
Me: Is it not the case that really you’ve just got drunk on your own power, and that, for you, this is now far more about keeping people subjugated? What’s the REAL danger to society if all these vibrant, talented women were to throw off the shackles of guilt, rediscover their self-confidence and go out to realise their true potential? What are you afraid of?
Guilt: But….but….that would be GHASTLY! If I let people do that then they would start calling EVERYTHING into question! They’d start being more demanding of their elected officials, they’d turn on the media, they’d insist on greater equality, they’d do all SORTS of awful things!! We can’t let just ANYBODY start expressing their opinions and changing the world!!!
Me: And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you have it. Most of the time, the only purpose Guilt serves is to deflect you from making the most of yourself and your opportunities. Oh dear. Guilt appears to be…yes, he’s ripping off his microphone and stalking out of the studio…oh dear.
What a shame.
Guilt has left the building.
If he comes knocking at your door, don’t let him in, will you?