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Guilt is the most damaging concept ever devised by man. Shame is a valid, healthy emotion. It is the emotion that results from a recognition of having done wrong. Guilt is not an emotion, it is the cognitive self-assessment of ones worth, or value. Shame says “I did wrong”, guilt says “I am wrong.”.

The proper response to shame is not to match your self-worth against your actions, but to make your actions match your self-worth. Others will assess their value of you by your actions, and so the only way to assure that their assessment matches your own is to have your actions match it first. But their assessment is not the main reason to do so. Doing so is the first requirement to being a man capable of acting.

Diminishing your self-worth is pure poison, diminish it far enough, and it’s fatal. A guilty man cannot function as a man, he becomes a puppet, willingly letting others make his decision for him on the basis that he is not competent to make them himself, and not worthy of being the beneficiary of his own actions.

The greatest tool that those who would rule men have is the ability to turn shame into guilt. Your own self-interest cast as “selfishness”. Your own personal tastes and dislikes, cast as not being in fashion. Your production as being exploitative of workers and damaging to the environment. Your material possessions looked down upon because they are not shared by others. The pleasures you take in life called base, animalistic, and not of a purer, higher origin. The to-do list and new year’s resolutions and other duties - usually self-imposed to meet the expectations of others - that remain uncompleted and unmet cast as laziness, incompetence, and a personal failure to be good enough to carry them out.

Anyone trying to impose guilt on you is an enemy to be shunned and neutralized. That person is doing it to try to gain power over you. It may be as petty as trying to make their own guilt less pointed by blunting it’s effects on the knowledge that they are no worse than the next guy. It could be as immediate as attempted dominance in a social or workplace environment. Or, it could be as profound as someone trying to rule your life from a distant center of political power. If life means more than physical survival to you, such a person is trying to kill you.

People have learned to live with guilt, to brush it off and pursue their own interests despite it. But they still carry the guilt, and it makes them hesitate at key moments. They can only go so far, only produce so much, only enjoy so much, before being pulled back by the stretched bungee cord of guilt. They remain confined in a narrow world circumscribed by the trivia of “acceptable” guilt, comforted by the knowledge that their guilt is no worse than anyone else’s, and so they at least don’t have to be guilty about that. But they remain terrified to venture out into the wider world on their own recognizance.

Ayn Rand got it backwards when she described John Galt as “the main without pain or fear or guilt”. Guilt comes first, and it is the cause of pain and of fear. Pain from a wound or a loss is natural. Fear of imminent harm is natural. But these kinds of pain and fear are not what diminishes a man. Fear of guilt, and pain when it is felt, are far from natural, and are wounds that cannot be healed except to remove their source.

You want to be free? Start there. Start noticing when you experience guilt. Analyze whose eyes you’re seeing it though. Analyze why you accept it. Then recognize that none of that says anything about you. When you feel legitimate and earned shame, recognize that it does not have to be turned into guilt. It can be turned toward a better life, and better relations with your fellow man. You’ll notice your self-esteem returning, and your capacity for meaningful action increasing. Recognize that you never have to feel guilt, and you can stop it.

Just stop it.

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