This morning as I was about to depart from my Saturday morning breakfast group one of my friends asked me to leave a bit of wisdom from my book, Love Your Life. I carry a working copy in the breast pocket of my jacket with the title exposed and occasionally people will ask about it.
I pulled the booklet out and randomly opened it and said, “Point at a line and I will read it to you.” Without looking he randomly chose Sage tip #74, Only obey your own guilt and shame impulses. It was strangely apropos to our previous conversation because I had committed a social sin and had criticized something he had said, which was a bit unpleasant for everyone at the table.
My thought, when I amplified the original statement from the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece suggestions for a good life, was that a normally developing individual should hear what other people have to say about various subjects, including moral ones, but they should have enough self-possession and self-control to think for themselves as to what they should be doing and not be doing. They should be the sole arbiter of what their actions should be and how they should feel about those actions because only they would have a complete understanding of what precipitated those actions.
The guilt for an action lies solely with the perpetrator of an action, and therefore that person is the only one to make the judgment or feel the emotion of guilt. Similarly, it is this person who carries the habits within themselves that generated the action, and they are the sole person responsible for creating those habits and therefore they are the one to feel the shame if that action is inappropriate.
If the guilt is judged to be legitimate, it is their responsibility to respond in some compensatory way and to do what is necessary to modify the offending habit in such a way that it doesn’t happen again. If they fail to do that, they are setting themselves up to feel guilty again and to feel shame again and thus it behooves them to attend to doing what is necessary to generate an appropriate response and form it into a functioning habit.
Our self-generated habits are the way we control our future actions.