Thursday, December 10, 2009


Guilt is, above all else, a great motivator.  If you figure out how to make someone else feel guilty, you have almost limitless power.  Mothers have known this for years, through the following techniques:

1. The trembling sigh.  As in, "Dear, you know I understand you can't come home for Christmas this year, of course what you do is important.  Don't give it another thought.  (Trembling, tear filled sigh.)"

2. The "but, you know:"  As in, "Sweetie, it's fine.  Go and do what you need to do."  Beat.  "But, you know, this may be your grandfather's last Arbor Day, and your Cousin Fitz goes to trial next week.  That's all I'm going to say."

3. The nothing-at-all.  As in, they don't say anything or do anything, but you just know they're cooking up something, so you give in because you are afraid of what that card may be.

4. The labor time/diaper change accusation.  As in, "I spent 78 hours in labor giving birth to you and you can't even take three days off of work to see your second cousin graduate from veterinary school?"

Fortunately, my own mother uses guilt only when absolutely necessary and openly acknowledges it, so it's above board.  My own Momz is a master of the trembling sigh.

Momz: It's okay.  I understand.  (Trembling sigh.)

Deb: Did you just play the Trembling Sigh?

Momz: Did it work?

Deb: Darn.  I'll see you at 6.  I'll bring the potato salad.

Momz: Bring Sven's, it's better.

Deb: Oh.  I understand.  (Trembling sigh.)

Momz: Well played.

So this kind of cordiality shows that guilt can, if applied appropriately, be a useful and hilarious tool for family negotiations.

However, some people use guilt in truly toxic, harmful ways, as well as guilt's obnoxious bullying older brother, shame.  Guilt and shame are two things our society seems to be trying to eradicate entirely, at least in an emotional sense.  What people seem to forget is that guilt and shame, when appropriate, are good things.

You SHOULD feel guilty if you do something awful.

You SHOULD feel shame in some circumstances.

And some people just need a healthy dose of both on a daily basis.

But, what do I know?  I'm just a blogger, trying to get by.  Go on.  Have your fun.  Don't worry about me.  I'll be fine.

(Trembling sigh.)


Barbaloot said...

There are some people in my family that have mastered the guilt thing SO well. And they're mean about it---not hilarious. I'll have to see if I can figure out to add that aspect to my own life...

Kristina P. said...

I refuse to play the guilt game anymore.