Sunday, 28 October 2012


I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
Chapter 13 – Say no to guilt and free your spirit – SAY YES
Tom suggests that we make or allow ourselves to feel guilty.  Guilt, he says, is an emotional payment for when we do something that we or society thinks is wrong, but that the feeling is pointless, it doesn't accomplish anything, and in fact it in some cases it means that we loosen our responsibility for an action by saying that we "feel really guilty about that".  It's as though you are splitting your good self from your bad self and are trying to reject the bad so it's not really you.  Being free of guilt doesn't have to mean being irresponsible.  You can shun guilt and still behave in a reasonable way.

Guilt is self-government.  It's about looking at the actions of the past, and the guilt is supposed to help us to resolve to do better in the future.  The higher your moral standards, says Tom, the greater the guilt.  The answer?  Lower your standards, accept disorder, make things easy for yourself.  If you don't expect so much from yourself then you'll feel a lot less guilt.

How does this match up to the "ink spots and grass stains life"?

I've been told many times that I suffer too much from guilt.  That my guilt debilitates me and lowers my self-esteem.  That I am constantly feeling guilty for not being perfect and that this is a result of my Catholic upbringing.  It's as though guilt is a negative thing.

I don't see my emotions as feelings of guilt, and I certainly don't equate them with my Catholic upbringing.  I believe that I have very high standards - and yes - I do strive for perfection.  Is that a bad thing?  I am always striving to be a better person, to be the best that I can be, to achieve more, to get more done, to improve things.  It does leave me disappointed with myself sometimes that I fail to live up to these expectations, but it just makes me strive all the more for the future.

If that's unhealthy, then I guess that I'm unhealthy.  If that's guilt, then I guess that I'm guilty.  I don't actually see any way out of the situation.  I am generally happy enough with myself, and good enough is sometimes good enough.  Will I ever achieve my ideal and stop feeling I could do or be more?  I don't know, but until I do, I think I'll always be working for it.

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