Look At Life: Guilt

6th October 2017

One of Life's Worriers? Guilty as Charged…

by Lisa Botwright

I seem to be feeling guilty all the time: a constant niggling like an itch that needs to be scratched. I’m a nice person (I hope) and I certainly haven’t committed any dastardly crime that I know about. I’m talking about the type of guilt that’s there every time I eat battery-farmed chicken or pour too much bleach down the toilet. If I use too much electricity, will the resulting carbon emissions be enough to finally melt the polar ice caps and drown half of Cambodia? That kind of guilt.

Guilt colours my feelings about almost every act I perform on a daily basis. I’m even feeling guilty right now, as I brought work home and thus had to turf my daughter off the computer, despite the fact that she was doing her homework.

It all started when I was a teenager and began to feel uneasy about eating meat. That’s not unusual. It’s estimated that between 4% and 14% of the UK population call themselves vegetarian. But after nearly ten years I caved in and went from tofu burgers to rare steak in a single evening. I was pregnant at the time, but that’s no excuse. I do try and buy organic meat, but it’s hard on a budget, isn’t it? Especially with hungry, carnivorously-inclined children. It’s no use eating fish, either, just to alleviate the guilt. That’s even worse. Over-fishing means we’re slowly killing off entire species of fish. In fact, scientists predict that by 2048, there will be no more edible fish in the ocean. What on Earth will we say to people after a messy relationship break-up then?

It’s not just meat and fish either… that nutrient-rich green fruit beloved of hipsters and instagrammers is now so valuable that it’s causing massive deforestation and replacing cocaine as the new currency for Mexican gangsters. Avocado? Avocadon’t.

There are so many things to feel guilty about. Having sold off most of the great manufacturing industries, the UK is now dependent on the service industries to keep its economy going. So we live in a society where we have to spend money to keep the wheels in motion, and powerful, subtle but sophisticated forces are at work in order to encourage us to do so. We go shopping every Saturday afternoon and buy lots of lovely new stuff every week. Great! Cheap clothes, cheap stuff for the house and cheap, plentiful food. But the result of all this consumerism is tonnes and tonnes of rubbish. Too much rubbish. Our countryside is being dug up and container ships, crammed full, leave our shores every day to dump our waste and recycling abroad. But do you know what? I love shopping and having nice new things. I just feel guilty every time I chuck out the old ones.

The way society gets rid of its rubbish is a good metaphor for how so many of us deal with the stomach-churning guilt involved in watching the news. We solve our distress by switching off, so that we’re no longer bombarded with painful realities. Out of sight, out of mind. Let someone else deal with it…

And yes, there are wonderful people out there who uproot their lives in order to work with refugees from war-torn countries or build orphanages or nurse children with Ebola. I like to pop a fiver in an Oxfam envelope every now and then. Hardly the same thing.

What about global warming? For the sunshine-deprived UK population, it’s difficult to connect the word ‘warming’ with the apocalyptic calamity that’s coming. Forget welcome images of longer, balmier summers and instead imagine one hundred years from now, when entire continents will be underwater because of our own apathy. But why should we feel guilty when it should be down to the government to take action? Well… the ever-wise David Attenborough says it’s up to all of us to make a difference. So yes, I feel guilty about all those carbon emissions when I leave the light on or use the tumble dryer.

To cope with all this angst, I like to pour myself a nice big glass of wine, but – you’ve guessed it – I feel guilty about what I’m doing to my liver.

So as a normal, relatively sane, law-abiding member of society, I feel constantly guilty about just about everything: from the moment I wake up in the morning and switch on my bedside light, to when I tuck into fish and chips at night for a treat. And short of running away to join a hippy commune, I’m not sure what I can do about it.

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