Remember (for your older folks) when your parents told you to eat ALL of your meal? For me, there was no dessert unless I ate all the parsnip on my plate – you might have a food that causes you to gag, as well. And I was left sitting at the table until I forced every last morsel down. We were told that there were starving kids in Africa, so I needed to eat up. After suggesting I would mail my remainders to the kids in Africa just once, I learned never to say that again.
When I left the nest, I discovered that eating a portion of my meal at a restaurant was a good thing for my health and weight. The parsnip guilt lingers to this day, but I am able to overcome it. In America, the response is to ask for a doggy bag, leave the restaurant with it, and if you did not leave it in the cab, stick it in your fridge. Ironically, there is no guilt in cleaning out the fridge of all the doggy bags that you did not get back to, because at that point, your parent’s voices are not in your head.
Other things I was conditioned to do included not licking a knife blade, not running with scissors, not eating dirt… the list is long. Certainly, that was all for my own personal well-being – I often imagine when I walk to the sink sucking the peanut butter of the knife that is now inside my mouth, that I might fall over and the knife would insert itself up the back of my mouth and pierce my brain. I don’t know that I feel guilt about that, but it does mean I quickly put the knife into the sink and walk away.
Then there was the rule that we must wait for everyone to have their meal in front of them before we started digging in. Automatically, I do this every time I eat out with friends or family. Even when people plead “oh don’t wait for me”, the guilt from my mother won’t let start eating.
I know that I have been guilted into behavior that suited other people all my life. If it wasn’t my parents, it was my schoolteachers. If it wasn’t my teachers, it was the bullies in my life. Then, it became my bosses or the people who felt they were “superior” to me in the workplace. Always someone or some people attempting to guilt me to do what they wanted, not what was best for the situation or … frankly… what was best for me.
I am not sure if this kind of guilt would be referred to as “trauma”. Whatever it is, for many people, this is learned behavior and often difficult to train ourselves to change for the reality of the situation. Do we need to eat everything on our plate? No! Do we have to wait for everyone to have their meal in front of them before I start eating? No? But it is still polite.
The question I have started asking myself is when is it appropriate or inappropriate to do what I was (always) told?
Certainly, I have guilt has been planted more recently in my life. As an adult, I have found many things that fascinate me, and one of those was the amount of water I would “waste” if I left the tap running while I was brushing my teeth.
I was brushing my teeth in a hotel room and realized I left the water running while I was brushing. I immediately turned off the tap and proceeded to feel guilty about wasting water. That guilt comes from being told by environment “supporters” telling the world that wasting water is such a terrible thing. I researched, and the volume of how much water you waste in one tooth brushing episode varies, although the most commonly used number is four gallons. With the world’s fresh water supply dwindling, surely it is good to be aware of, and feel guilt about, saving water at all times.
I still receive emails that include “Consider the planet, only print if absolutely necessary”. The old tropes about printing causing the death of trees on the planet are easily debunked. Trees for paper are a renewable resource, and there are few, if any, old growth forests being stripped for the paper industry. Do we need to be guilted into not printing to “save trees” when it is based on a common easily debunked myth?
What I have learned is that every time I feel some modicum of guilt, it comes from someone else telling me to do or not do something. And often, their reasons are based on ignorance – a lack of knowledge – and a repetition of some urban myth that informs much of their own behavior.
When you feel guilt, take a moment to stop and think about why. When you have the opportunity, research the truth of the guilt. Yes, you do waste water while brushing your teeth. No, kids in Africa will not be more hungry because you did not eat your parsnips. No, trees do not die when you print your tickets to that concert. Yes, people might be offended if you start eating when you get your meal, but no one will be offended if you wait.
Maybe…. if we all addressed our own guilt, we might get along just a little more.