Ottawa Citizen- Can Guilt Be Good?

Last week's "Ask the Religion Experts" question in the Ottawa Citizen was "can guilt be good?"

WSO's Balpreet Singh's answer from a Sikh perspective is below.  For the replies from the other Experts, please click here

"Guilt can be good if it prompts us to improve ourselves or leads to positive change.

As humans we are imperfect by nature and it is inevitable that we will make mistakes.  The feelings of disappointment, regret and repentance we feel are all part of what we call guilt. 

Although painful, guilt reflects the workings of conscience and the presence of values or morality.   It provides an opportunity to reflect on our errors and find ways of avoiding them in the future. 

Where guilt inspires action and change for the better, it can be a good thing. But where guilt is allowed to linger for a prolonged period of time, it results in sadness and results in stress and depression.  For this reason, it’s essential that action be taken to address guilt and prevent it from becoming chronic.

The role of religion and faith in our lives shouldn't be to intensify guilt but to help us proactively find ways of avoiding those acts that lead to guilt.  This includes avoiding actions which result in only short term pleasure but long term regret, whether that is indulging our senses in materialism or blindly pursuing wealth. 

The emphasis of the Sikh faith is to perform such actions that result in an enduring happiness and contentment.  For Sikhs, enduring happiness is only possible by going on the spiritual path and experiencing the ecstasy of God through meditation on naam (God’s name).

The Sikh faith teaches that God is ever-forgiving and every moment offers the opportunity of renewal and a new start.  Positive change should never be delayed, because the greatest guilt is that of looking back on our life at the end and realizing we should have done things very differently. That guilt is the most tragic, because at that point it is too late to do anything about it."

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