Having been raised both Arab and Catholic, I have a deep-rooted relationship (I don’t know if that’s the right word) with guilt. Both communities emphasize, highlight, maybe exploit the human affinity for guilt. While I have been raised this way and often find myself feeling guilty, I have been aware of this since I have been self-aware and reflective of my life and relationship with my being in this universe; so around the age of 18, I began to question this. While I have not always been able to shake the feelings of guilt as they arise, I try to explore them, understand where they come from, and challenge myself to think if I agree with them or not; if that’s the standard I would hold a friend up to, and therefore hold myself to that same standard.
So what is guilt? How we should feel? How we should behave? But…according to who? Religion? Society? Our mother? I don’t have the answer of how we should live, how we should feel. I don’t believe that there is a standard or a rule book. I think my guide is to always be kind, not hurt myself and others, and be true to myself. The fact is, I can’t feel for you or her or the next person. I feel for myself and I can be aware of your feelings but I can’t know what will hurt you or someone else. I can be kind and aim to not hurt others but maybe what I think is kind is in fact hurtful to another? So I guess, be true to yourself.
Ron, my bartender at Luxe in San Francisco (bartenders tend to be some of the wisest, least judgmental people out there), over various pours of bubbly, told me today that it is a sin and we are doing ourselves a disservice when we are self-degrading. We oughtn’t apologize for who we are or play down our strengths and skills. Not only are we hurting ourselves when we do so but we are depriving the world of our (objectively speaking) strengths as individuals, the rest of society is missing out on our skills. For example, if Einstein had not pursued his innate inclination to physics and mathematics, we may not have many of the great inventions made capable by his theories that we do today. (Very broad example, but I hope you understand the point.)
Maybe we should exchange guilt for gratitude? If we live in gratitude we may be less inclined to feel guilty. If when we start to feel like, I shouldn’t, maybe we could feel, I am so grateful to be able to enjoy this, I wish this for everyone.
I will leave you with some wise words from Ron, “There isn’t a way to happiness, happiness is the way.”