When others feel we ought to be doing something we are not inclined to, guilt has a way of being projected our way. “How can you stand by and do nothing”. At times we have all experienced feelings of guilt accompanied by a sense of powerlessness at the enormity of some injustice. Edmund Burke said ”All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing”, how’s that for a guilt trip. I am sure he didn’t mean it to be but it is something we’ve all heard; instilling a sense of obligation to get involved and do something to alleviate pain.
Admittedly guilt can be a great motivator. If we have harmed someone, we may feel so guilty about our actions we are driven to make amends to set the relationship back on course. Here guilt can be a good thing, a moral compass. We feel a sense of guilt when we have done something we ought not to have done; or not done something we ought to have done. Guilt is a consequence of our actions or inactions.
Watching the drama of Malaysian Airline Flight MH370 unfold I do not feel guilt when I hear of the trauma relatives of those on board are experiencing. Similarly, I feel no guilt at the way in which early settlers mistreated the indigenous people of Australia, or any other land for that matter. I am not responsible for their actions and feel justified that I have no need to feel guilt. Something other than guilt motivates me: compassion, my heart goes out to those who are living in the consequences of other’s behaviours. We have empathy for their struggles and pain. We do not have guilt, or if we do it is misplaced guilt which can be a disempowering emotion in which to loiter. Misplaced guilt is immobilising. We hear people say:
- The problem’s too big for one person to fix
- I have enough on my plate
- I’m too busy
- Others are more qualified
These are the words of misplaced guilt justifying lack of participation..
It is true I had no part in the travesty remembered as The Stolen Generation, or the child sexual abuse cases of days gone by, or even those that continue to be perpetrated within our communities. However, I do have a responsibility, we all do, to be a part of the reconciliation and healing of the brokenness experienced by the victims of these and other crimes. The tragedies may have taken place before my time, but I am living in the communities in which ancestors of the original victims reside. I am affected by their generational brokenness be it manifested as poor mental health, the cycle of abuse or addiction.
As a community worker it is my mandate to help reduce the impacts of generational abuse and addiction through mechanisms of support, community development and collaboration. I do not work alone. I do my part, you do your part, and together we make a difference. We are not driven by good guilt, we are driven by compassion and a sense that behaving in ways that ensure we are part of the solution.