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The Tested Virtues Of Shame And Guilt

Updated on August 28, 2011

Shame And Guilt Gives Us Permission To Be Selfish. . .

-There is but one attribute that separates us from sanity and madness: Guilt

In a Hub I wrote previously, titled: The Virtue of Selfishness, I explain how selfish thought in of itself isn't necessarily evil and if used properly, can actually be a healthy method for personal growth. This personal growth then subsequently makes the individual more capable and productive, allowing him or her to inadvertently and competently help others.

I then go on to explain that selfish thought shouldn't be harmful to others provided a person analyzes every situation. Deliberately acting on your own self interests means avoiding horrible consequences that often result from posing harm and force upon other people. Still, it would be foolish to argue that a selfish man deceivingly acting upon his own interests hasn't caused much destruction in our world. Our history is violent. Man has made war very much a part of his life and death. The question we then must ask is the selfish thought causation or coincidence of human violence, greed, and destruction?

On the surface, it's apparent we can blame human violence and war on selfish interests. Our politicians often tout they start wars for those very reasons. "We're looking out for number one," is often the causis belli used by any warmongering nation. Understand that there's no way to profit from war. The idea that we can "creative destruction" our way to progress is bogus. The idea that war is good for the economy is a myth often perpetuated since grade school that needs to vanish. War is never good for the economy. The concept that destroying whatever we build as economic muscle is foolish. It's the equivalent of arguing that a car spinning its wheels in the muck is progressing because it's "working harder." There are no winners in war, only losers and bigger losers. War is grossly inefficient. Given these scientific reasons, a leader who declares war is not acting upon the best interests of his nation or himself. So what causes many leaders to act so willingly and willfully against their own self interests? Are they just so selfish till the point they're incapable of acting upon their own self interests? Does that even make sense?

No, it's something else that compels man to war, violence and greed, or rather, something missing: The virtues of shame and guilt. Its guilt that allows us to hesitate from taking foolish actions that may harm others and then eventually harm ourselves. It's the feeling of shame that befalls us when we commit such deeds that allows us to repent and subsequently better ourselves when we make mistakes. You see, it isn't a selfish though that caused the violence; it was the lack of guilt and shamelessness accompanied with it. A man acting selfishly without guilt will succumb down the path of madness every time. The formula goes as follows:

Selfish thinking + narcissism = psychopathic

Selfish thinking + guilt = thoughtful introspection

War doesn't lead to peace; it's the shame and guilt of war that leads to peace. Without shame or guilt, the war will perpetuate and linger, regardless of the results of any said military campaign. You see, it's not the selfishness that's wrong. Selfishness is a neutral human emotion just like any other; much like anger, what results depends on how you wield the emotion. There are no negative and positive human emotions. I explain this in my Hub titled: Human Emotions. All emotions are a compass to help guide you through life.

Unfortunately, shame and guilt have been lost recently in our society. We've taken the path of narcissism, the antonym of both guilt and shame. With a combination of selfish thought and narcissism, the individual spirals downwards down a path of self-destruction that has the potential to harm many innocents along the way. We've been taught that wonderful human emotions such as shame and guilt are "too negative," and that our personal amusement must take priority. Immediate gratification is the mantra. This creates individuals who feel so empowered till the point they think they're incapable of no wrong. One could call it a "God complex." It's a dangerous narcotic that leads to irrational selfish thought rather than the healthier rational selfish thought I wrote about in the Hub titled: Don't Sacrifice Yourself For Me. . .

This is why I believe in the concept of a God, despite practicing no known religion of any kind. By believing in a God, it keeps me grounded so I don't delve down the path of narcissism. It reminds me that the "God job" is not up for grabs, so I can't have it. I chose to believe in an abstract God rather than say an idol, where I could hypothetically run the risk of doing deeds proving harmful to myself or others in flimsy attempts to please such an idol. I reject practicing a religion to avoid the comparative battles such as "my God is better than your God", "my people are closer to God than yours", or "we're God's chosen people." No, there is just one God, and then there are billions of insignificant little humans. It's a thought process that works well for me, and probably saved me from destruction. I do believe it can work for you as well. The thought process can be quite liberating. Essentially you're freeing yourself from societal expectations and allowing yourself to think selfishly towards your own betterment, while simultaneously keeping both your feet on the ground.

-Donovan D. Westhaver


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for this article, I needed it. I used to be selfish and narcicistic, which led to my life hitting rock bottom, which eventually led to an awakening.

      I have been concerned that these days I feel too much guilt and am still too selfish, but now I see I need not be so worried as it may not be where I end up, but is leading me in the right direction.

    • Midianite profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Nice hub, you definitely are the cynic you claim to be : ) - and a rational thinker at that. Can't wait to read more of your work

    • DonDWest profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

      The problem with the philosophy of "treat others the way you want to be treated" is that we don't always know how others want to be treated. We're all different, what's good treatment for you could be considered insulting for another.

      For example, I believe in brutal honesty. For me, the truth is king. Now, if I applied the same rules to others, trust me when I say from experience, the results were not the best.

      This is somewhat explained in my Hub the Virtue of Selfishness. Healthy selfishness allows people to go about their business and respect each others privacy. Often when you make it a mission to help others, you fail. Well meaning people making the problem worse is as common as grass. It's always those who "help people by accident" who produce the best results.

      It's for all these reasons I've taken a purely monotheistic spiritual view on life.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      If,everyone believed that it's better to do to others what you expect them to do to you selfishness would be non existant.Then That concept is something only the spirit would understand since a spirit doesn't need things like we do.I think we are being tested by our needs.


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