7 reasons not to feel bad about yourself when you have acted immorally

…We feel so bad about ourselves when we think about the injustices and tragedies to which we are likely to be contributing to with our actions or omissions that we prefer not to think about it, and distract our attention with more pleasant matters… Guilt makes people associate morality with negative emotions, and these do not draw us closer to ethical behaviour, they distance us from it. If we associate everything that has to do with ethics with negative emotions, it is not surprising that so many people seem to feel aversion to any speech or argument that mentions ethics. Morality can be pleasurable, it can draw us closer to others, and it can contribute to having a more meaningful and happy life, but for this to be possible we must learn how to enjoy it, and feeling bad about ourselves will not help. (7 reasons not to feel bad about yourself when you have acted immorally)

This excellent piece is aimed at a Western audience conditioned by centuries of religious guilt. The Buddhist tradition carries much less of a burden of guilt but also comes to similar conclusions about morality and ethics. In Buddhism, an appropriate sense of shame is considered essential for moral behavior. But the word shame as it used in the Buddhist tradition does not carry the same sense that it would in the Western tradition. Shame in Buddhism means the feeling and awareness that one has done wrong. The linked essay uses the word regret instead of shame, and from there follows a formula similar to the Buddhist one:

the desire to have acted differently, the intention to repair the damage done, and the determination that in the future one will not act similarly.

In Buddhism, once one has experienced shame (regret), one should apologize if possible to the person(s) or animal(s) one has offended, explain (but not excuse) to them why one did the offense, make amends to them if possible, and vow not to repeat the same action again.

I linked the essay above because it is well-done, is similar to Buddhist thinking, and because it makes a good case for people to see morality as a happy thing, a thing that frees us from lower subjective and self-righteous states. The real you is not the bad thing(s) you have done but what you would do today if faced with the same decision.

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