Question: Sometimes I have to make decisions that adversely impact others. Then I feel guilty about this. Should I have this reaction or not?
Answer: Guilt is one of the most unproductive emotions we can have as humans. Why? Because often it’s used in a manipulative fashion by others. As entrepreneurs it’s important that we not buy into the guilt game. Acting upon guilt may produce very undesirable results because rational thinking is often abandoned.
It’s relatively simple to avoid the guilt-trap. All we have to do is operate with integrity at all times. This needs to be an intentional process whereby we create a set of values for ourselves and write them down. It is these values by which we will live and by which we will measure all our actions. As entrepreneurs we have to continually make tough decisions. And sometimes these decisions may not be favorable for everyone involved. But if upon reflection we determine that we have been true to our values then our integrity is intact.
I refuse to allow guilt into my life because I live my values. Yet, I’ve had plenty of situations where others try to make me feel guilty. Sometimes it’s as subtle as someone saying, “Well, I sure would have done it differently,” to as direct as, “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.” I both cases a quick check against my values confirms that whatever the issue, I handled it with integrity.
The mantle of guilt is easy to assume unless we are well-grounded in our integrity. Guilt has actually become institutionalized through certain religions and endlessly stereotyped as in “You haven’t called your mother for weeks.” Along with guilt we often find its kissing cousin . . . shame. By getting us to feel shame over our actions or inactions, the guilters are attempting to coerce us into doing something that they want us to do.
Should we feel guilt and shame if we do not operate with integrity? That likely depends upon how far out-of-bounds we might be. An illegal or immoral act may warrant such emotions. But if our transgressions are minor in nature and we recognize our mistake as a result of back-testing our actions against our values, then what point is served by succumbing to guilt and shame? The more productive response will be to learn where we went off track and not do it again.
Clearly defining our personal values and living to them shapes our integrity. And through integrity we have no use for guilt or shame.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.