Empathy Vs. Guilt


Everything hinges on the right motivations. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions—that’s an old chestnut meant to deride anybody “idealistic” enough to possess noble/empathetic intentions. I think the road to “hell” is not paved with good intentions, but instead by flawed motivations.

For example, an altruistic act motivated by guilt.

Guilt and empathy are different. Empathy is connecting with the reality of the divine aspect of the other person. Guilt is more of a “defense mechanism.” With guilt, we are not fully embracing the divinity of the other person—but instead, in an ironic way, emphasizing the distance between you and him/her.

You feel you “should” do something—though honestly, your first instinct is to not do anything. And that is why you feel the guilt…because deep down, as a gut/immediate reaction, you didn’t want to do anything.

You act out of guilt not because of divine love (agape) but because you fear censure. You fear censure from your peer group, your political group, your religious group. Most of all, you chafe at the censure from your own internalized “voice” and presumed judgements of all these groups.

When you operate directly from divine love and a sense of connectedness with all things, there is no room for guilt.

So the next time you feel motivated to do something altruistic for someone else, check inside yourself and figure out if you are doing this out of guilt or agape. And if you are indeed doing it out of guilt, temporarily reconsider your actions until you can be motivated out of agape (note: sometimes, this won’t happen; and that’s OK. It might be that you need to spiritually develop more before you naturally feel that agape—or, it’s possible that your intended action just wasn’t the right one for the moment).