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Do we need guilt and shame?

Guilt and shame are weaved into the fabric of our societies

We operate under the presumption that emotions like guilt and shame are not just integral to societal functioning, but also crucial for us to maintain our individual moral compass. For instance, the absence of guilt and shame would undermine a significant part of Catholicism's foundation, as its core principles revolve around the concepts of original sin, contrition, confession, seeking absolution, and the belief that Jesus sacrificed himself for our transgressions. Without guilt, the practice of confessing your sins to the priest and asking for forgiveness would be completely unnecessary.

Our would we know who are the good guys and bad guys?

How could we distinguish the victim from the victimizer?

We could even lose our ability to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the movies. We know that the bad guys don't feel sorry for the bad things they do. They even feel happy about it and laugh. But the good guys are really sorry that they have to do the bad things that they do. And they always make sure they share that guilt with their colleagues.

How would parents and teachers be able to ensure correct behavior?

Without endorsing and articulating phrases like "do what's right," "follow your conscience," "you're an exceptional student," and "I'm disappointed in you," how could we effectively guide? These statements and directives inform our youth when they should feel pride and when they should experience guilt.

How would parole boards decide who deserves to be paroled (or not)?

Without considering whether an offender expresses guilt and remorse, each parole board member would be hindered in their ability to determine if a murderer should be reintroduced into society. The fundamental question is, "Are they devoid of regret, or do they genuinely feel remorseful for their actions?"

  • Remorseless = stay in jail

  • Feel guilty = let's give him or her another chance

This rule of thumb would disappear.

How could a wife or husband decide whether to give their spouse another chance after cheating?

If they don't genuinely appear to feel regret for their actions, how could we determine whether or not to give our partner another opportunity? We perceive guilt and remorse as indicators that the same mistake won't be made again.

How would we know whether someone is a decent human being?

Whether or not someone feels guilty, or would feel guilty if they did a bad thing, is a fundamental criteria we all use to decide whether another (and by extension, ourselves) is a decent member of society or is "just an animal." 

Society would fall apart

In short, we know that a decent society (or any society that could call itself civilized) would fall apart without the use and threat of guilt and shame.

Many pundits agree

My former wife's brother-in-law, a psychologist, headed up a group of psychologist in Massachusetts. I witnessed him blaming and shaming his teenage son about something. When I chose courage to ask him about it, he reassured me that blame was a needed and valuable tool for safeguarding that others do what they should.

Brené Brown, renowned speaker, comes out strongly in favor of the adaptive use of guilt.

Even the seminal and preeminent modern-day philosopher Ken Wilber considers shame and guilt, on occasion, to be necessary tools for the healthy development and growth of society and of human beings.

"Do I need guilt and shame to be a decent human being?"

Even if guilt and shame are necessary for a functioning society, do you personally need it? 

Imagine that you could not use the "tool" of self-criticism. Imagine you could not threaten yourself with feeling guilty if you did a bad thing.

Oneself and Now running wild?

Would you then start ignoring what others feel, want, and need? Would you become cruel and insensitive? Would you be like a psychopath who was just out for themselves? Would your Oneself take over and ignore what your Others may have wanted? See Damages caused by Oneself.

Would you become unreliable with yourself, unable to make and stick to your plans, even more than you already do? Would you procrastinate on things, even more than you already do? Would your Now dominate your life because your Next could no longer use criticism (or the threat of it) to try to get what your Next wants and needs? See Damages caused by Now Indulgences.

Most of us believe, either explicitly or unconsciously, that we would.

Looking for the benefits of guilt

A fundamental and unvarying principle of human behavior is that every recurring behavior has supporting benefits or intended benefits behind it, even though that behavior may also incur huge costs. It would not recur otherwise. Behavior, as used here, includes any actions, thoughts, feelings, sensations, or beliefs.

The almost always benefit of guilt: beating others to the punch

The most pervasive benefit of guilt and self-criticism, rarely recognized as such, is "beating others to the punch." This makes us feel safer and more in control. You're essentially trying to give the message to others, whether in reality or in your imagination, who are or could be blaming you, "Look, I'm already feeling bad about this. I'm already beating myself up. You don't have to be so hard on me because I already agree with you." See Undoing guilt.

It's even possible to feel guilty about not feeing guilty because we think that would mean we were really a bad person if we weren't feeling bad for doing bad things.

Another provisional benefit of guilt: treating others well

Consider the benefits that usually flow out of treating others well. If you are still living inside the Old Ethics, so that you're lacking both Now-Next Integrity and Oneself-Others Integrity, self-criticism and an attachment to avoiding the disapproval of others may be helpful or even necessary in supporting you to treat others well, which is likely to return benefits to you.

To the extent, however, that you have adopted the New Ethics, step by step strengthening both your Now-Next Integrity and your Oneself-Others Integrity, then self-criticism and the attachment to the approval of others will fade away, just as the use of the telegraph and Morse code disappeared with the advent of the telephone and better means of communication. 

A third provisional benefit of guilt: treating your future self well

This benefit could prevent you from backsliding and keep you on the track of self-improvement.

This benefit, to the extent that it exists, lives only inside the Old Ethics, where your Next, the good guy, is always insisting that your Now, the sometimes bad guy, tolerate the processes of whatever Next wants to improve on or wants to avoid backsliding on.

Again, as you adopt and integrate the paradigm of the New Ethics, raising your Oneself-Others Integrity EQ, but more essentially your Now-Next Integrity EQ, then the "need" for self-criticism and attachment to the approval of others dissipates naturally into obsolescence. Find out your two EQ scores by taking the appropriate quizzes at Quizzing for life and fun.

Other concerns about a world without guilt and shame

Belonging or enjoying a sense of community

How about our need to feel like we belong? 

  • belonging to our family

  • belonging to our team, being a team player

  • belonging to our country

  • belonging to the expat community when living abroad

  • belonging to those of us who believe a certain way or believe in a certain cause

  • belonging to those in our church, temple, synagogue, with the atheists, or with the spiritual people

  • belonging to those who are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, or non-voters

  • belonging to those who are black, white, hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, or whatever

  • belonging to those who are men, women, gay, lesbian, cross-dressers, or whatever

  • belonging to those of us who are saving the planet

  • belonging to a certain age group of people

  • belonging to those who are fighting Big Pharma

  • belonging to your tribe

  • belonging to some group who see themselves as being victimized in a certain way

  • belonging to a group with whom you share some commonality with being different from "most people"

  • or even just belonging to humanity


Would we be able to satisfy and fulfill our need for belonging without at least the potential for self-criticism and the attachment to getting and maintaining the approval of those we "belong to"? Would we be able to belong to a group unless we were unwilling to risk that others in the group might see us as disloyal? Would we be able to belong to a group unless we were unwilling to risk the possibility that others might exclude us from that group?


The Catholics call it excommunication. The military calls it dishonorable discharge. Parents call it, "you're no longer my son (or daughter)" or "I'll never speak with you again." It's also called "the silent treatment." Often the primary motive behind ghosting another is either blame or guilt.

With the Old Ethics, the attachment to avoiding blame, shame, and exclusion is probably necessary to satisfy our need for belonging. But within the New Ethics, which focuses on Now-Next Integrity and Oneself-Others Integrity, that necessity becomes obsolete. We can still satisfy our desire for belonging within the context of being non-attachment to belonging, being willing to choose courage to ensure that we're taking care of ourselves in relationship to any group to which we want to belong.


Would you be giving up the benefit of anger? Anger, at times, may be helpful and needed to take care of yourself or others you care about, even within the context of having a high Oneself-Others EQ. 

The issue arises when we conflate anger and blame, treating them as synonymous. However, anger can occur independently of blame. I first experienced this phenomenon personally in 2020. If you question the possibility of expressing anger without attaching blame, take note of toddlers. These young children, who have not yet learned the concept of blame, often express anger as a strong method to communicate their desires. Their display of anger has not yet been tainted or fused with the notion of blame.

Rest assured, as you live more inside the New Ethics, you will not be giving up your option to express anger when it may serve you in taking care of yourself or someone you care about. Also, if someone else is angry with or even blaming you, you can listen without defense to see what you might learn to serve your relationship with them. All this is available to you within the context of the New Ethics.

The habit of corrupted motivations

Certain natural good motivators can be driven towards distinction when we rely on motivators that are often used inside the House of Good and Bad.

Bad motivators pushing out the good

Here's an example. Within the context of the Old Ethics, many parents and teachers rely on the stimulants of praise and external rewards, for example money for good grades, and criticism and expressing disappointment, as well as external punishments, for example, taking away the student's mobile phone. These motivators are applied according to whether the student performs or doesn't perform regarding the learning of certain subjects that the parents and teachers think the student should learn.

These extrinsic motivators will most often suppress any natural intrinsic motivators, like the inherent joy and curiosity associated with learning and accomplishment.

For ourselves and for others, we have bought into and become addicted to the need to use praise and blame, both to motivate ourselves and to motivate others. After we've indulged in this addiction, especially over many years, it's hard to imagine that we would do anything beneficial without the external, or internally adopted, motivators of praise and blame.

Consequently, it may take a while, step by step, as you increase your Now-Next Integrity and Oneself-Others Integrity EQs before you can feel safe in letting go of those old dysfunctional and suffering-inducing methods that you thought you needed to motivate yourself and others.

The new world with the New Ethics

As guilt and blame become a way of the past to motivate yourself, you'll also notice that when others, who are still inside the Old Ethics, try to guilt you, you won't feel defensive. Your machinery won't blame them for blaming you. It doesn't mean that you can't learn and perhaps adjust your behavior based upon what you discover from their expressions of blame. You might even find yourself feeling compassion for their suffering because you now know, not just conceptually, but also in your heart, that there is nothing to defend when others blame you. And, as an extra bonus, when you don't respond in defense to another's upset with you, their upset is likely to dissipate sooner and it's more likely you can maintain a great relationship with them, if you like.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

The training provided by The Center for Nonviolent Communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg, is one tool that can be used to assist in learning the language that implements non-blaming and non-shaming communication.

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